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Washingtonian: No Room for Modesty: Local Bath Trends

5/1/2013

It's official: We're no longer prudes in the nude-at least in the comfort of our homes. Perhaps it's the rise of spa culture or that we're inspired by hotels and spas overseas, but new and renovated bathrooms in Washington homes are leaving little to the imagination.

Bathrooms large and small are emphasizing the big (tile) and the open (more windows and glass). Natural light is a hot commodity. Showers are edging out tubs so they can occupy more space, and forget concealing things behind curtains or frosted-glass doors-instead, think clear glass (that is, if there's any partition at all between the shower and the rest of the space). For those still dedicated to bathing, simple and elegant tubs-freed from being encased in decks and unburdened from fancy whirlpool systems-take the place of honor, sometimes in full view of the bed and fireplace.

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Blurring the Line Between Bed and Bath

Architect Janet Bloomberg of DC's Kube Architecture was trying to devise different schemes to allow as much space and light as possible into the master bath of a 12-foot-wide rowhouse in Foggy Bottom. The conventional path would have been to wall it off from the bedroom, but the owners were looking for something more open. Another option was to build glass walls. A third choice was simply to have everything in the same space with no barrier at all, and-wouldn't you know it?-"that's what they wanted, which I found shocking," Bloomberg says.

Now that the project is done, she sees the merits: "What's cool about it is it's so effective for a rowhouse." Any room partition necessarily chops up space and blocks natural light, so when space is at a premium, it makes sense to forgo modesty. "If you're willing to do it, as an owner, it's the best use of space you can think of."

Lots of examples are on popular design websites such as Houzz.com. The technique's popularity can be attributed to luxury hotels such as the W, whose guest rooms in Barcelona and Montreal, for example, offer a seamless transition between sleeping and bathing.

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For homeowners who live far enough from neighbors that privacy isn't a concern, windows get the super-size treatment, framing the nature beyond as if it were a work of art on the wall. Jonas Carnemark of the Bethesda design/build firm Carnemark performed that feat for a home in Potomac Falls overlooking a golf course. He kept the rest of the colors muted, so that the view, along with a vivid red artwork adjacent to it, would steal the show.

Even more dramatic is the Great Falls bath that Kube Architecture built for a couple who travel often for the World Bank. Modesty wasn't an issue, particularly with a wooded three-acre property bordered by county-owned land. A huge plate-glass window brings the space directly into the forest, where the changing seasons alter the look of the bath. "That is my favorite bathroom that I've ever done," says architect Janet Bloomberg.

All the Shower's a Stage

It used to be real-estate gospel that the master bath had to have a tub for resale purposes. Not anymore, as busy homeowners recognize that they rarely-if ever-take baths, choosing instead to invest in a bigger shower, which they use every day.

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Luxury tile can be a bathroom's biggest cost, according to designers, but because the space is used every day, Jonas Carnemark urges clients to spend as much as they're able to: "Treat yourself to the luxury you can afford, and really think about what it is that makes you smile. Put the money where the smiles are."

 

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