A well-appointed primary bathroom has long been a must-have amenity in the high-end home. Over the past decade, sprawling square footage, his-and-hers everything, coffee bars and closets outfitted with cabinetry and displays that rival the finest boutiques have become de rigueur. “In million-dollar-plus homes, it’s expected,” Robert Mongillo, principal of JMDG Architecture Planning + Interiors in Naples, says. “Many clients want to feel as pampered in their homes as they do when they’re going to the day spa.”
Designers are being asked to make room for freestanding baths, saunas, yoga areas and massage tables. Locally, Jenny Provost, K2 Design Group’s CEO and design principal, says her team is currently awash in primary bath designs that range from refreshes at $35,000 to total renovations costing upward of $200,000. Washroom square footage is trending on the sprawling end of the spectrum, Provost says. In fact, she’s now working on one of the biggest baths she’s ever seen. “It was so large that I actually reduced the square footage by making part of it a private walled garden with an outdoor shower,” she says.
But not everything is big-picture. Local design star Dwayne Bergmann advises clients to pay special attention to the powder room. It’s a space anyone visiting is likely to see, he posits. His bathrooms and powder rooms are bathed in attention-grabbing elements. “I’m typically looking for a statement piece of art, a color that may not be reflected broadly in the other rooms, something oversized or simply a different scale than might be expected in the space,” he says. The designer may incorporate unorthodox vanity cabinet profiles or lighting presented in an unexpected way, “like hanging a chandelier from a metal arm, creating light ‘pockets’ out of wall moldings and treatments, or creating shadow lighting behind mirrors and vanities.”
The modern bath doesn’t shy away from spectacular—and expensive—accents that were once saved for more public areas. Surfaces—flooring, backsplashes, walls and floors—remain an obvious way to make an impact in a bathroom. Experts say that while the form and function hasn’t changed much, the materials are constantly changing. Victoria Magilewski, project coordinator at Natural Stone Concepts of Naples, seconds that. She says granite—the go-to stone of the early 2000s—has been replaced by quartzite, dolomite and marble, all of which lend themselves to a more contemporary design. “These materials are very fitting for today’s current style, which is composed of predominantly cool, earthy and neutral tones with a luxuriously clean, European-inspired simplicity,” she says. Ultraluxe surfaces like Taj Mahal quartzite, Mont Blanc marble, Olympus White marble are popular at Natural Stone Concepts, while Cristallo Extra Prime—a slab with a minimum price tag of $12,000—is in demand at UMI Stone in Naples. Homeowners looking for more dramatic selections can try Calacatta Viola and Breccia Capraia, which are white Italian marbles with deep mauve, violet and teal veins running through them.
And there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. Porcelain and ceramic tiles work in bathroom designs that range from traditional to ultramodern. Some designers are loving zellige—handmade tiles with an iridescent and organic texture—and using it everywhere: on walls, floors and ceilings. Other natural fit for bathroom counters (so long as it’s sealed properly) are limestone and travertine. Oliver Bleich, of noted bathroom product purveyor KEUCO, also extols on the abundance of composites and mixed materials that incorporate renewable resources in traditional products, like wood chips and resin fabricated into sinks. “We’re seeing more matte and wood finishes being used in bathrooms, like reclaimed oak being repurposed for custom vanities,” he says. Mosaics, architectural features and coquillage are other big washroom wow factors. “We recently applied natural plaster to a wall and worked with an artist to insert shells. It’s completely impervious to the elements and the masonry and shells are works of art,” says Naples- and Chicago-based designer Frank Ponterio.
Of course, you can make a statement with manmade materials, too. Hand-painted wallpapers from brands like Gracie and de Gournay create the perfect backdrop for bathing beauties like the copper Clothilde tub by Waterworks (priced at $55,233). Makers like Cerasa, York and House of Scalamandré offer vinyl selections that are stylish and hardworking enough to hang in the bath. “We love the new dimensional vinyl wallcoverings, but it’s imperative that they’re microperforated when being installed in Florida. The wallcovering needs to breathe to prevent potential mold growth behind it,” Provost says.
But the modern bath is not all about aesthetics. Top-of-the-line technology is an absolute must in today’s en suite. Smart controls for flooring and shower temperature, water conservation, motion-sensor lighting and leak detector sensors with mobile alerts are some of the defining features requested by today’s homeowners. “Part of this evolution of the modern [primary] bath is the increased demand for touches of luxury and automation,” Magilewski says. “It’s all about the palatial frills.” Integrated audio systems, built-in screens for streaming and lighting schemes programmed for different times of day also help create ambiance and comfort. “When everything is installed, there are apps that you can access on your phone 15 minutes before you leave the beach. You can start the bath, get the water to the right temperature, turn the lights to your go-to level, start the music, kick on the steam shower, and bring the shades down,” Ponterio says. “You come home and instantly relax without having to go through any of the steps.”
Even the most mundane items, like mirrors are getting tech-driven makeovers. “Clients want to see themselves in a mirror that mimics natural sunlight,” Bleich says. “It’s also important that the light source ‘frames’ the face, so there are no visible shadows.” High-quality glass and non-silvering edges produce a clear reflection, and wall-mounted flat mirrors (including smart mirrors with anti-fog capabilities and TV screens) and cabinet mirrors are integrated with illumination that can be brightened or dimmed as needed. Other no-longer-ho-hum additions include warming drawers and refrigerated cabinets to keep meds and beauty products fresh and vent fans with antibacterial LED technology. Even smart toilets and bidets by makers like TOTO have become nonnegotiables in premiere baths—despite the hefty price tag. “It’s $22,000 for a TOTO toilet that does every unspeakable thing,” Ponterio says with a laugh. “But from what I understand, once you experience one, there’s no going back.”