A tub of bubbles at twilight. Fuzzy slippers on a warm stone floor. A softly glowing nightlight.
If that’s your description of a spa or someone else’s bathroom, think again. Your bathroom might be the perfect candidate for transformation. And it could pay off when it’s time to sell your home.
Hearing Susan Frens’ plans for bathroom renovations is like learning which treatment the pediatrician chooses for her kids. Or discovering E.F. Hutton’s investments. The designer at Frens and Frens Restoration Architects and her husband bought a home built in the 1880s. And now they’re renovating four bathrooms, including a large main bath on the second floor and a tiny one with charming quirks in the attic. I’m all ears.
Susan discusses her designs in layers, from visible surface designs to invisible infrastructure. For each layer, she describes features that are luxurious, “green” and sensible for maintenance and economy.
At the surface, exquisite tiles for floors combine materials of pre-consumer products, the look of natural stone, and factors to render them less slippery. Richly colored glass wall tiles appear to have depth. Natural and borrowed lighting — from exterior and interior windows — cut electricity use and energy bills, while pleasing the eye. New automatic moisture-sensing fans reduce condensation on surfaces; some have glowing nightlights with energy-saving bulbs.
State-of-the-art dual-flush toilets minimize water consumption while maximizing performance. Beneath tiles and paint, an efficient geo-thermal system heats and cools air and pre-warms water, Susan explains.
The pièce de résistance is the bathroom adjoining the main bedroom, adapting a floor plan Susan and her husband saw in Japan. A long narrow bathing room holds a deep soaking tub (no more cold shoulders!) on one end, a spacious showering area at the other, and a floor drain in the middle.
A wall separates the bathing area from the toilet and an antique marble-top table holding the sink. When the project is finished, natural lighting and muted blue-green glass tiles will evoke the ambiance of a relaxing garden pond.
According to Holly Gross, realtor at Holly Gross Group at Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, many of those features — soaking tub, spacious shower and marble counters — are coveted by home buyers and provide a return on investment. High-quality name-brand fixtures, not gold faucets or unusually-designed amenities, have a wide appeal, she says. Other bathroom features that hold value during home resale: whirlpool or bubbling tubs, double sinks, and granite tiles and countertops.
Lush and Lovely
Lush with ferns and lighted by sunshine, the new Green Wall at Longwood Gardens (see photo) resembles a picnic courtyard. It’s actually a hallway of restrooms that can boast about beauty as well as top-notch environmentally friendly facilities. The Conservatory’s lavatories also offer inspiration for residential bathrooms.
In individual restrooms, low-flush commodes and motion-activated flushers and faucets conserve water. Etched translucent glass in each room’s domed ceiling allows natural lighting; motion detectors automatically turn light fixtures on and off. Stainless steel doors, polished concrete floors, and coated stucco walls make for easy cleaning. The perfect finishing touch is the bloom-filled vase on each counter.
“Sustainable practices are important at Longwood Gardens, and the Green Wall and bathrooms are an excellent example,” says Patricia Evans, communications manager at Longwood Gardens. “We wanted to show our guests that utilizing environmentally friendly design, products and practices can be beautiful and functional, as well as earth-friendly.”
Although motion sensors may require more technical maintenance than most homeowners can manage, and 47,000 ferns (that provide oxygen and clean dust and toxins in the air) need more space and horticultural expertise than most homeowners have, some features at Longwood are ready for transplanting:
• Etched glass and natural lighting
• Low-flush toilets
• Plants — a few — that thrive in low light and moisture on the rim of a tub or windowsill
• A bud vase with a seasonal flower.
In Susan Frens’ “new” third-floor bathroom — about the size of an airplane toilet and has angled ceilings — borrowed lighting brightens the room.
By placing an interior window in the wall between the bathroom and a larger sunny room, the bathroom borrows the other’s cheery natural light. Use glass blocks or obscure glass — textured or etched — to ensure privacy, she recommends. The choice for her room: a pane etched with the pattern of winter morning frost.
Big Ideas, Small Spaces
Bathrooms need not be the size of the Taj Mahal to be high value and performance or fashionable enough to make a splash in Architectural Digest.
In fact, suggests Geoff Wilkinson, agent/owner at Keller Williams Real Estate, Exton, the return on investment to demolish walls and build a large powder room in a small Cape Cod home or modest townhome wouldn’t justify the cost. There are fixtures and décor to create small bathrooms that are warm and welcoming, he says.
Web sites, home centers, designers and architects are full of ideas and products to get you going.
To expand spaces visually, Jeff Norman, owner of Jeffrey A. Norman Architects (Kennett Square), recommends creating a line of sight to four walls. Replace chunky vanities with pedestal sinks, cantilevered countertops or surfaces supported by legs. Consider a wall-hung toilet. Install a recessed medicine cabinet to look like a wall-mounted mirror. Then use a palette of airy colors throughout the space — “the lighter, the more spacious the room will feel,” he says.
Even a small space can become a personal spa, continues Jeff. Turn a 3’ x 4’ bathing space into a tropical steam shower using two walls and ceiling with tiles, two surrounding glass walls, a hidden steam unit and small bench. Or create a vertical whirlpool effect with multiple shower mounts for pulsing, streaming jets of water as you stand. Outside the shower, warm your floor with electric heating mats under stone or tile.
Prized features — heated toilet seats and towel racks, for instance — “show a buyer you’ve thought of every detail,” says Geoff Wilkinson. “But highlight the granite and high-quality fixtures. Regardless of its size, that’s what makes a bathroom sing.” -CL-