Toronto interior designer Dvira Ovadia recently designed a Toronto home with seven bathrooms, and to each of them she gave its own distinct style. The current vast range of materials and fixtures makes that task easier than it would have been a few decades ago.
The bathroom, once an afterthought in interior design, is now as much a showpiece as any other room in the house. New materials and the introduction of technology have helped to transform this once-humble space into a sanctuary.
From new composite materials such as marble-like porcelain to such fixtures as wall-mounted toilets, technological advances are making their mark on the emerging 21st century bathroom.
Then, there’s marble. An engineered porcelain alternative to this venerable, old stone is less expensive, more versatile and requires no maintenance. It comes in standard tile sizes, such as 12-by-12 inches or 12-by-24 inches, as well as in large sheets measuring three-by-five feet or even six-by-five. Large sheets allow for a seamless look, an aesthetic now in vogue that once was possible only with standard marble slabs. Especially popular in the large sheets are porcelain substitutes for Calacatta Oro marble as well as Statuario Venato, says Anthony Gaudio, general manager of Amati Canada, a bathroom and kitchen design shop in Thornhill, Ont. “You can’t tell the difference from the real McCoy,” he says.
Technology has also had an impact on the design of toilets, showers and bathtubs, opening up new possibilities for customization. There are new digital shower systems that can be preprogrammed for each member of the family and controlled remotely with an app; toilets with built-in bidet functions; and wall-mounted toilets that look positively space-age.
The Geberit in-wall carrier system allows for the hanging of a toilet bowl on the wall at one’s desired height. The tank is concealed in the wall, creating a minimalist look that’s ideal for small bathrooms. (The average toilet tank measures 12 inches from the wall, bringing the fixture out 28 to 30 inches).
European-style bidets have always been a niche market in North America but technology is changing that, too. The Toto Neorest and the Duravit SensoWash are among the new cutting-edge toilets with washing and drying functions – even heating functions built into the seat.
“Some people find it a little much when they see it,” says Francesca Pietrobon, showroom manager at Muti Kitchen and Bath in Toronto. “They joke ‘Will it make my coffee, too?’ ” However, travellers passing through Tokyo’s Narita International Airport will see Toto’s smart toilet installed there in the public washrooms.
Even showers are multi-tasking fixtures. Digital technology means that showers can now double as steam rooms, Turkish baths, hammams and saunas – all of which can be controlled from a panel on a wall or remotely. Some systems even offer aromatherapy, chromatherapy and music functions. Mr. Steam, Steamist, Effegibi of Italy and Kohler are among the manufacturers of these digital-control steam and shower systems.
Ashley Watson, assistant showroom manager at Cantu Bathrooms and Hardware in Vancouver, says having technology “in your home is a must-have.”
“Health and wellness is of great importance on the West Coast,” Watson says. “Incorporating a steam shower in your home is a great way to provide self-care in our often-busy lives. The combination of steam with aromatherapy allows you to relax after a long day at the office by adding some lavender, and can help you fight off a cold with eucalyptus. After playing soccer in the rain, from the convenience of an app, you can remotely set your steam shower to be ready when you arrive home. It’s an incredible health benefit.”
The fact that they can be pre-programmed for different users is especially appealing, adds Karine Perreault of Batimat, a high-end plumbing supply shop serving the Montreal market.
Another factor influencing shower design is new linear drains, such as those offered by ACO Canada. These shower-floor drains allow designers to create unique shower rooms and spaces. There’s no longer a need for a shower base or curb.
Not surprisingly, as the shower has become the preferred way to wash, bathtubs have declined in regular use. But, like landline telephones, many people assume they need one. This has repurposed the bathtub from a functional item to a showcase piece, a work of sculptural art. Built-in or drop-in tubs have given way to standalone soaker tubs in a vast array of styles. They are often installed as a focus of the bathroom.
Innovative accessories are also available. Vanity lighting has moved away from wall sconces and bar lights to pendulum lighting, although chandeliers continue to be popular when paired with ornate vanity mirrors.
Vanities are now more frequently wall-mounted and off the floor. And small is big. Rather than an 80-inch vanity of yesteryear, the norm is now two smaller vanities, often placed side-by-side but not exclusively.
Erin Brick, marketing manager at Fleurco, a Montreal-based manufacturer of high-end shower doors, tubs and other bathroom fixtures, says floating vanities are especially popular because they make a bathroom feel more spacious. And while bathrooms may be shrinking in size, the need for storage has stayed constant. For that reason, Brick says, Fleurco has brought back the medicine cabinet. The company’s updated version is mirrored, and can be mounted or recessed, bevelled or flat-edged. “Functionality is required for smaller bathrooms,” says Brick. “It has a modern, clean look.”
Recessed shelving remains in fashion, too, especially in the shower where it keeps things looking clean. And cocktail tables are the new cool thing, usually placed beside a soaker tub.
The colour palette hasn’t changed much; neutral and natural greys, whites and beiges continue to dominate. Espresso-coloured millwork is out; lacquered white and neutral tones are being used on bathroom cabinetry.
Muted earth tones are slowly bringing colour back into style. Simas of Italy has unveiled a collection of coloured ceramic bathroom fixtures in browns, blacks, greens and blues.
After years of chrome faucets, rain heads and slide bars, brass and gold-tone plumbing fixtures are making a comeback alongside the stalwart matte black. Totally new is textured finishes on chrome plumbing fixtures, an engineered 3D-look we will likely see more of in the next few years.
To be sure, many changes in the bathroom are being driven by technology but demographics is also exerting its influence. Higher toilets, such as Kohler’s
comfort-height versions, cater to anyone with back problems or bad knees. Showers without curbs, meanwhile, are an offspring of the U.S. federal Americans with Disability Act (ADA).
All in all, there has never been a better time to make over and personalize the bathroom, says designer Dvira Ovadia, of the eponymously named Dvira Interiors. “Today’s design fits with today’s culture. People want things cheap, low maintenance, carefree and to look luxurious,” she says.
Whether a bathroom is large or small, Ovadia says, she likes to take the wall behind the vanity and make it a design feature. “It’s one of my signatures,” she says. “It adds another layer. That’s the wall you are facing all the time. It should be special.”
Ovadia says a pearlized mosaic accent wall behind a white lacquered vanity was one she recently designed that she particularly loved. She says it showed off everything in the room, especially the mix of brushed brass, crystal and chrome plumbing fixtures, lighting accessories and vanity pulls and knobs. “The all-over look was both modern and classic,” she says. And it garnered a NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) award for her design company. •