Recently, my husband and I traveled to Florida to visit our son. We splurged on a nice hotel, with a room overlooking the beautiful Atlantic ocean. The view was indeed beautiful, but the bathroom, however, while attractive to look at, was very poorly designed. I design bathrooms for a living, and have certainly learned a few things along the way about the battle between form and function. In my opinion, this bath was a glaring example of what happens when form wins out over function. The result was a bathroom that was very impractical, awkward, and uncomfortable to use. 

If you’re embarking on a bath remodel this year, here are some things to consider so you don’t make the same mistakes as the designer of this hotel bathroom. 

THE TUB/SHOWER PROBLEM:

Our hotel bathroom featured a huge soaking tub that was also the shower. At first glance, it looked very inviting. But as I tried to use it, there were some issues. Soaking tubs are very deep— about 20” in height on average, and some are even taller. This makes getting in and out of them difficult for some people (especially for someone like me, who is only 5 feet tall.) For many people, lifting a leg this high off the ground to get in and out is tough. This tub had a ledge to sit on, but it was very wide (about 9”), and tall, and there were nothing to hold on to, like a grab bar, for example, to help lift myself over and into the tub. I am able-bodied and physically fit, but for anyone with any physical limitations at all (like my height), this would be a very difficult situation. My husband’s assessment: “If you are comfortable stepping over a saw-horse and into a deep hole, then this kind of tub is for you.” 

 

SOLUTION:

If you’re considering a deep soaking tub, please be aware of this height issue, and think about how you will be getting in and out of it. At the very least, install a grab bar nearby— everyone will benefit from that at some point. Ideally, a soaking tub separate from the shower is the best scenario, but many bathrooms are not large enough to accommodate both. In many bathrooms I work on, people are forgoing the tub altogether, preferring a large walk-in shower instead. 

PRIVACY PROBLEM:

Another design element that made this bathroom awkward (even for a married couple like us) was that the wall separating the tub and vanity area from the bedroom area was made entirely of clear glass. There was no privacy at all. Anyone in the shower was on full display on the bedroom side. This might not bother some people, but I’m guessing that most folks prefer a bit of privacy. 

SOLUTION:

While this wall of glass was indeed attractive-looking, a simple solution would be to install a window covering on the bedroom side, which could be lowered when privacy is desired. 

THE SINK PROBLEM:

The designer of that bath thought a tall vessel sink would look nice, and I agree that it did. However, the vessel sink was installed on a standard height vanity cabinet, so the sink was much too high off the ground. The edge of the sink was literally up to my chest, which made for a very awkward experience brushing my teeth. 

SOLUTION:

To accommodate a vessel sink, the cabinet must be made shorter to make up for the height of the sink. If your vessel sink is four inches tall, for example, the vanity should be no more than 32” in height. Unless you are very tall, aim for a finished height of no more than 36” for the sink and the cabinet. If you are short like me, a finished height of 34” might be more comfortable. 

There were other issues also, such as no towel bars at all near the shower or the sink, terrible lighting, and glossy, slippery tiles on the floor. But on the upside, this bathroom provided the topic for this month’s column!

This bath project was a pleasure to design— it’s a spectacular blend of form and function, delivered with a punch of vibrant color, and an interesting mix of textures. I work with and appreciate all design styles, but my favorite style is modern. I love the clean lines and simple, minimalistic aesthetic. Modern design allows the freedom to combine colors and materials like these— hand-maid glossy ceramic tiles in vibrant teal, wood-look porcelain in warm brown, and stark white quartz.

Before the remodel, this master bath was very tiny, as so many baths in Fremont seem to be! We borrowed a couple of feet from the master bedroom and expanded into the hallway linen closet to create this new larger space. Besides its new size, here’s a list of what really makes this bath unique and special:

The vanity

The wall-to-wall vanity provides ample storage for both spouses— each has his and her own set of wide drawers, with a common space in the center below the sink. This couple decided on a large trough sink instead of two individual sinks; this gave them more counter space. The wall-mounted faucet keeps the countertop clear. We installed lighting below the floating vanity, used for accent, but also as a night light. The custom-made cabinet is made of cherry wood, with the grain running horizontally. To break up all the angles, I purposely chose a large round mirror.

The tile

The client chose the gorgeous hand-made ceramic tile from Heath Ceramics. I opted to run the subway tile vertically rather than horizontally to break up all the horizontal lines, and also to draw the eye up to the skylight in the ceiling. The entire bathroom floor and shower wall are tiled in wood-look porcelain, giving the illusion of more space. The brown of the wood plank tile also balances the brown color on the other side of the bathroom.
I really love the high contrast of the teal with the brown.

The shower

The large ceiling-mounted rain shower head, along with the hand-held shower head are pure luxury. And please note that we intentionally placed the valve on the right side wall, which is the entry point of the shower— that way, the clients only need to reach in to turn on the water instead of walk all the way into the shower. The two recessed niches provide storage, but also looks like modern art to me, with the juxtaposition of opposing colors, lines and shapes. The clear glass shower walls allow all the colors to be viewed with no obstructions.

The color scheme

Three colors— warm brown, vibrant teal, and crisp white are combined throughout. I was aiming for planes of color, again with a nod to modern art. I selected a matching teal paint color to use on the wall behind the toilet to continue the color from the tile, but all the other walls and ceiling are bright white like the countertop.

The result is a roomy, colorful, modern, stunning bath for two. I only wish it was my own bathroom!

Every year, there are countless articles about what’s in and what’s out in interior design. Professional forecasters and trend-spotters steer us into selecting things that they deem are “on trend” for any number of reasons. Please don’t get me wrong— there is such a thing as outdated decor (I’m thinking back to my own first condo in the late 1980s with the blue geese artwork!) But, while I read all of those articles in order to stay current within my industry, I very much take my cues from my clients, not the forecasters, when it comes to designing their interiors.

Most clients don’t care if rose gold is in or out this year; they only know whether or not they like it. If they don’t like the color blue, then it doesn’t matter that all shades of blue are extremely popular right now. If they don’t like it, then I don’t use it for their design. My point is this: Don’t overthink things and don’t drive yourself crazy. Please design your interiors to fit your own personal taste and lifestyle.

In 2018, in the world of kitchen design, for example, we are now being told that stainless steel appliances are “out” and black stainless is “in.” Does that mean you should not get stainless appliances for your kitchen? Not necessarily! Will stainless appliances ever really be “out?” In my opinion, no they won’t. I pick the finish based on all the other colors and finishes in the room. Sometimes it’s best to use black, sometimes white, sometimes paneled, sometimes stainless. 

And in bath design, we are told that free-standing tubs are all the rage. Should you get one? Maybe, but maybe not! Do you love them? Do you have space for one? Are you a bath person? If not, then forgo the tub and stick with a wonderful walk-in shower instead. 

Is there such a thing as “timeless” design? I’m sorry to say that honestly don’t think so. Everything goes in and out of fashion, but not all of it, and not all at the same time, fortunately. But here are some examples of trends that I think (and hope) will stand the test of time: 

  • Mixing materials and finishes: I love this trend and I truly hope it is here to stay. Not all wood has to match, and not all finishes have to be the same. For example, even if all of your door hardware is brushed nickel, it’s fine to throw in a little gold somewhere— perhaps a gold light fixture, or a gold and glass table. Take liberties by mixing rustic and modern, matte and polished, angular and curved.
 
  • Unique and artistic light fixtures: Use light fixtures as if they were pieces of jewelry. Look for unique shapes, colors and materials and choose one or two special places in your house to showcase them. Over your dining room table, for example, or even in a powder room for a special touch.
  • Global influence: In the world of food, I love “fusion” cuisine, where flavors from different cultures come together to create unique and delicious dishes. I also love this idea for interior design. Blending colors, fabrics and styles from different cultures leads to rich, welcoming and interesting rooms.

It’s hard to believe we have said goodbye to 2017 already! Why does it seem like it went by in the blink of an eye? With this first column of the new year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite design projects from 2017, and what I like most about them. They all came out beautifully, capturing the needs and wants of the clients, and each space has its own unique personality.  Perhaps they will inspire you for your own projects in 2018.

Brown and White Kitchen

Why I love it:

  • The color scheme is neutral, yet has a lot of punch because go the high-contrast chocolate and white color scheme. 
  • The countertops have some sparkle in them, which is set off beautifully under the LED lights. 
  • The cabinet hardware is very cool, with a great mix of stainless steel and oil rubbed bronze. Perfect for this kitchen.

Blue and White Kitchen

This kitchen was a big challenge, with the different ceiling heights and step-down family room.

Why I love it:

  • Great use of space: we created a large pantry at the awkward, narrow area up the steps, and also expanded into the family room, creating extra storage and serving space for entertaining. 
  • I’m definitely a “blue person” so I love the color scheme. The cabinets look so crisp and clean against the soft blue walls. 
  • The backsplash is gorgeous— a mixture of blue and white marble tile, in a herringbone pattern. Kudos to the really talented tile installer we used on this project!

Open Concept Kitchen and Living Room

Why I love it:

  • Opening up the wall separating the two rooms made all the difference in the world. The original kitchen was cut off entirely from the living space— now it’s a great space for the whole family to hang out together. 
  • I love the touches of yellow to brighten up the gray and white color scheme.
  • I love the backsplash tile— it’s a really interesting combination of stones, colors, and textures. 

Elegant Powder Room


Why I love it:

  • I love the custom bow-front cabinet— it was designed especially for that tiny space, adding some much-needed storage, with lovely curves and elegant lines.
  • I love the touches of “bling”— note the crystal light fixture, cut glass cabinet knobs, and the slight shimmer present in the wallpaper. 

Compact, Contemporary Bathroom


This bath was part of a larger remodel project, where I was tasked with reconfiguring an existing laundry room and powder room to include a full bath and expanded laundry/mudroom.

Why I love it:

  • Lots of functionality in a small space, including a walk-in shower.
  • Despite its size, the monochromatic color scheme, frameless glass enclosure, and plenty of new lighting makes this bath feels light and airy, and larger than it is.
  • The accent tile in the shower is a really striking mixture of glass and marble tiles. 

Brushing your teeth, shaving, styling your hair— those mundane tasks are a necessary part of our daily lives. But what if you could start and end your day in a calm and tranquil space? How might a soothing ambiance alter your mood and set you up to tackle the workday or prepare for a restful night’s sleep?

These homeowners were seeking just such an environment. They desired a space that would exude a Zen-like feeling in their home, and provide an oasis in which to refresh and rejuvenate. Here is how you can incorporate a similar vibe in your own home.

  • Use calm colors. You’ll notice my use of harmonious colors, rather than bold contrasting colors. Neutral earth tones are always a great choice for restful spaces. Keep colors “quiet.” Please notice that I don’t necessarily mean light colors. It’s fine to use darker colors also— notice the dark granite, dark wood cabinet, and dark finish on the fixtures. Contrast adds interest, but the overall look should not be jarring.
         
  • Incorporate natural materials (or at least great imitations!) Notice the use of stone, glass and wood in these baths. You might think that natural materials are more difficult to care for, and sometimes that is indeed true. For example, marble is quite porous and requires regular sealing to reduce the possibility of staining. I don’t usually recommend marble in the bath, except on a backsplash or as an accent in the shower. Fortunately, nowadays there are are easy-to-maintain porcelain tiles that look amazingly similar to real wood and stone, which allow you to get the look you want without the high maintenance. I use these materials in many of my bath projects. Likewise with countertops. Quartz counters are man-made, but are an excellent choice for baths. They are non-porous, anti-microbial, and never need to be sealed. And they are available in many patterns that strongly resemble marble and granite.
         
  • Minimize the clutter. I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again. Too much clutter does not make for a calm and tranquil space. Do your best to go through all those beauty products and keep only the ones you actually use. Make sure each item has a “place to live,” be it a medicine cabinet, drawer, or wall cabinet. Having an uncluttered space will definitely help maintain that Zen feeling.
         
  • Consider incorporating clean, angular, contemporary lines in your design. You undoubtedly noticed that two of the baths in the photos feature Asian-inspired design elements. This type of decor is certainly not mandatory to create a tranquil oasis, but the reason it does work is because of the simple, clean lines and minimal ornamentation.
         
  • Put your lighting on dimmers. I often include lighting in the shower and over the tub, and when I do, I always specify dimmer switches. Even your vanity lights should be on dimmers. Imagine a luxurious shower or bath with relaxing low lighting. And if you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ll appreciate not having to turn on those bright lights.

By incorporating some of these ideas, you too can create a wonderful, tranquil bath.

Excited about the upcoming arrival of baby number two and a lengthy visit from the grandparents, these clients challenged me to reconfigure their existing laundry and powder rooms into an improved space which would include a larger washer and dryer, plus a full bath with a shower. They also desired a little more space for jackets, shoes and all of the items needed when leaving and entering the house through the garage. By removing one wall and adding another, and borrowing a few feet from the adjacent hallway, I was able to fulfill their requests with a lighter, brighter, more modern laundry room, bathroom and “mudroom.”

Before:


(Scroll down for “after” pictures)

The new bath could have been featured in my previous article about tiny baths—it is quite small, but it does provide the basics in a very attractive way. The all-glass shower features two shelves for toiletries and beautiful glass tile accents. I used the same large tiles on the walls and the bathroom floor to visually enlarge the room. The matching 2 x 2 mosaics were used on the shower pan, which we made flush with the floor to gain as many inches as possible inside the shower.

The medicine cabinet provides some additional storage, and by using a pedestal sink rather than a vanity cabinet, I kept the room from looking too crowded.

There is plenty of light, with an LED recessed can light in the shower and the vanity light above the sink. We also updated the lighting in the laundry area with LED recessed cans.

The creamy off-white wall color was chosen to blend with the tiles, and again, to keep the room looking light and bright.

I used the same tile flooring and wall color in the adjacent mudroom and laundry area for continuity. They had purchased a few hand-made ceramic tiles on a trip to Europe, and we were able to incorporate them into the floor, adding a personal touch.

The new laundry area features a large stackable washer and dryer. Custom cabinets were designed to fit alongside it, providing plenty of storage for supplies, and a small countertop to hold the laundry basket. (At the time the photos were taken, the cabinet had not been completed yet, which is why it does not appear.)

In the mudroom space, we placed a bench seat with open cubbies below for shoes, a shelf with cubbies above it, and several hooks on the wall for jackets and bags,

After:

It’s amazing what can fit into a relatively small area, with a bit of creativity, and a few compromises. The finished space is just what the clients wanted, and the best part is that we finished in time for the new baby’s arrival!

Let’s face it: some bathrooms are just plain tiny! You know what I mean— bathrooms where the door barely clears the front of the toilet; or where you have to contort yourself to get past the toilet and get into the shower.

I’ve designed dozens of bathrooms over the years, learning quite a few things along the way about how to make the most of a very tiny space. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How can I make this small bath look and feel bigger?” Please allow me to share some tips with you on how you can create a beautiful space in a tiny footprint.

NOTE: Despite the camera tricks (gotta love the wide-angle lens!), the baths shown in these photos are very small, meeting the minimum requirements for California building codes.

  1. Create the illusion of space. A wall-mounted vanity can expand the floor space, and large mirrors can give your bathroom an airier, lighter feeling.
        
  2. Add lighting. Most baths, even small ones, can benefit from multiple sources of light. For example, add a recessed can light in the shower, or above the toilet, in addition to the vanity lighting.
        
  3. Use lighter colors. Keeping wall tiles and paint colors on the lighter side will help to visually expand the space. Also, using the same tiles on both the floor and the shower walls can make a difference. Minimizing contrast helps keep rooms looking more spacious. Of course, you may opt to add some contrasting colors and materials purely for aesthetic reasons. This is always OK to do!
        
  4. Consider custom cabinetry. Custom cabinets can be expensive, but they allow you to make the most of every inch of space. In one bath, we made a custom cabinet to use the entire wall-to-wall space above the toilet. There are no ready-made cabinets that can do that.
        
  5. Move the plumbing. This can also add to your overall remodeling cost, but it can make a huge difference in functionality. In all of the baths shown, we moved the shower plumbing to the wall opposite of where it was originally. Wedging yourself around the toilet to turn on the water is not comfortable at all; think about moving the plumbing to the opposite wall, so you have ample space to get in and out of the shower. In one bath shown, the original shower had been squeezed into a very tiny alcove. To create a much larger and more comfortable shower, we moved the toilet into that alcove and moved the shower into the space where the toilet was. That allowed us to use the full length of the bathroom for the new shower. We even added a bench seat in the shower.
        
  6. Add efficient storage. Tiny baths can still offer adequate storage, but I would also advise you to minimize the toiletries you need to store in the bath. Lots of clutter instantly makes a bathroom look and feel smaller. Consider recessed niches in the shower (your contractor can make them in almost any size), extra tall or wide medicine cabinets, and cabinets above the toilet.

The beautiful bathrooms in these photos are a perfect illustration of the old saying: Good things come in small packages.

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If you’re embarking on a kitchen or bath remodel, one of your most important decisions is the countertop. Which materials are available and what are the pros and cons of each? Let me give you an overview of your choices, and my take on each.

Granite:

I get asked frequently if granite is still “in.” It’s true that many of my clients are preferring Quartz over granite, but many still prefer the natural beauty and uniqueness of granite. I don’t think granite will be going “out” anytime soon, although I think many people will be looking at more unique colors and patterns going forward. There are some granite patterns that are more ubiquitous out there— those are the ones that may end up looking dated in several years.

Pros: With granite, you can get an enormous “wow” factor— brilliant color, amazing pattern, and a true one-of-a kind kitchen or bath. Granite is extremely durable, and is a great choice for busy kitchens, as it stands up to knife nicks and high heat quite well.

Cons: Because it is a natural stone, it is porous, and can possibly stain, especially the lighter colors. Take care to wipe up spills right away, and plan to seal your granite every few years to protect it. If you’re planning on putting new granite on top of your existing kitchen cabinets, make sure they are sturdy enough to support the weight of the granite slab— your contractor should look at your cabinets and determine whether extra support is needed.

Marble:

Marble is stunningly beautiful and elegant, and is especially lovely in traditional kitchens.

Pros: It is the preferred material for pastry and baking because it stays cool. If you are an avid baker, you might want to create a baking station in your kitchen and use marble for that countertop.

Cons: It is much softer than granite, and can very easily stain, even if you seal it regularly. It is a bit harder to maintain, which is why most people tend not to use it in their whole kitchen. You might see marble used on an island, or a bar, or on the backsplash as an accent.

Engineered Quartz:

There are many brands of man-made quartz materials that you may have heard of. Silestone, Caesarstone and Cambria are among the most well-known. Quartz is surging in popularity, due to it’s durability and it’s vast array of colors, and now patterns too. If you tend to prefer solid colors over patterns, or want a very modern look, then quartz is a great choice. Quartz is also now available in patterns that resemble granite and marble, so if you like the look of natural stone, but prefer a lower-maintenance product, definitely look at those options.

Pros: It’s available in myriad colors, including the ever-popular neutrals, but also vibrant colors like orange, fire engine red, cobalt blue and lime green. Quartz is non-porous, making it very stain resistant. It is durable, and holds up well in busy kitchens.

Cons: Because of the resins used in the manufacture of quartz, it can possibly scorch if very hot pans are placed directly on it. Make sure to always use trivets to protect the surface.

 
Other choices: 

Tile:

Not too many people are choosing tile for their counters these days, although if you have a historic home that you are refurbishing, tile may be the best choice for aesthetics and authenticity. Most people don’t care for the grout, as it can be notoriously hard to clean. I love using tile on backsplashes and in showers or on the floors, but not on counters.
 

Laminate:

If you’re on a tight budget, laminate is a great option. It is very affordable, and comes in a host of colors and patterns. New laminates now can even look like stainless steel, or bamboo, or wood. It is easy to clean and maintain. But it can scratch or burn if you’re not careful. I like to use laminates on desktops. In my own home office I have a blue laminate countertop that is now 11 years old and still in perfect condition. 
 
There is no wrong choice for your kitchen or bath— but one product may suit your needs, lifestyle, taste and budget better than another. 

icp_1301Glass tile provides amazing color and pattern, and is a gorgeous accent in your shower or at your vanity area. Borders, stripes, entire walls— your creativity is your only limit.

There are considerations to using glass tile in a bathroom, so let’s discuss some of those.

Cleaning and Maintenance: Many clients ask me about this issue. Because of the smooth surface of glass, it is actually relatively low maintenance. All you really need is a little glass cleaner and a cloth. The larger the tiles, the easier they are to keep clean, although those small mosaics sure are beautiful! The glass itself is quite easy to keep clean, and because glass is non-porous, it is naturally mildew resistant. But mosaic tile means more grout, so more effort will be required to keep the grout clean. Make sure the grout is sealed properly after it is installed, and reapply the sealer every year or two for best results. The best thing to do is to start the habit of using a squeegee in the shower. After each shower, use the squeegee to wipe away the water from the tiles. It takes a few extra minutes, but it is really worth it and will help you avoid having to deep clean the grout. At my own house, my husband and I squeegee daily, and our 15 year old bathroom tile still looks like new.

icp_1489Glass tile can scratch, so make sure to use a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft cloth.

If cleaning and easy maintenance is your main concern, then you’ll be better off with large tiles instead of small mosaics.

Cost: Glass tile is definitely more expensive than other types of tile such as porcelain or ceramic. But the good news is that you don’t necessarily need to use a lot of it to make a beautiful design statement. One simple border in the shower, for example, can really dress up plain tile. You can offset the cost of the glass tile by selecting more moderately priced tiles for the rest of the shower walls and floor.

Versatility: Glass tiles can be used almost everywhere with great results. If you like curvy lines, then small mosaics are for you. They can be cut to create wavy lines, or cover the front of a curved shower bench seat. Straight lines are always easier for installers, however, so you might consider vertical stripes, or multiple horizontal borders instead.icp_1582

Beware of using glass tile on the floor; some glass tiles can be used on a shower pan or on the floor, but others cannot. Some glass is not strong enough to withstand people walking or standing on it. Make sure to ask at the tile store if what you selected can be used for the application you have in mind.

Design ideas: These photos should give you some creative inspiration of how you might use glass in your bath. Think about using more than one horizontal stripe, or one wide vertical stripe. Cover the face of your shower bench seat or use it inside of a recessed niche. You could also use glass on your backsplash, either in the 4″ or 6″ size, or on the entire wall behind the vanity. If your budget allows, using glass on one or more entire walls of the shower is a stunning look. With so many colors, patterns and sizes of glass tile available, your options are limitless.

 

icp_0923This family has four adorable young children, and wanted to reconfigure their out-dated baths to increase space and add functionality. These two baths were back-to-back in the house, in between the kids’ bedrooms. They needed to be child-friendly, with easy-to-maintain materials, but also coordinate with the rest of the house in terms of color and style. The left-side bath had a very tiny, claustrophobic shower awkwardly situated behind the bathroom door, and only one sink. The right-side bath had a tub/shower combination and again, only one sink.

The clients and I considered different options for the two baths. One option was to remove the wall separating the baths and create one large, open bathroom space with a bathtub, a walk-in shower, and four sinks and vanities in the center, sort of like a kitchen island, for the four children. But, after weighing pros and cons of our options, ultimately we decided to keep two separate bathrooms. Here’s what I designed for them to give them the flexibility and space they needed:

  • In the bathroom on the left, I moved the walk-in shower from the tiny little space behind the door to the back of the bathroom. This allowed for a much larger shower, and also provided a striking focal point in the space. The toilet was moved several inches in order to create the space. The window was left in its current location, but is now inside the shower.
  • Relocating the shower gave us space for a much needed second sink.
  • I also recommended reversing the door swing on the bathroom door—in the old bath, it blocked the entrance to the tiny shower, and, had it remained as it was, it would have blocked access to the sink. Reversing the door swing provided much more floor space.
  • In the bathroom on the right, we kept the tub and shower in its existing location, but removed the overhead soffit to make it more spacious and bright.
  • We added a second sink, while still being able to keep linen storage in the bath. The new linen cabinet even has a pullout laundry hamper.
  • In both baths, we plumbed for a hand-held shower on a slide bar. This allows the showerhead to be adjusted for the varying heights of all four children (adults too!), and also allows for convenient cleaning of the tub and shower.
  • For consistency and flow throughout the house, I recommended keeping the colors neutral and using the same materials in both baths. However, I did change the tile design to keep things interesting.  Notice the asymmetrical vertical stripes in the shower, and the large arch feature in the tub- the same glass mosaic is used in both spaces, but with very different results.
  • The wall and floor tiles are porcelain, and the countertop is engineered quartz, for easy cleaning and maintenance.
back-to-back-baths

The end result is two beautiful and functional new bathrooms that fit the needs of this busy family.