Shower evokes ultimate in luxury

The shower stall is taking over the bathroom.

Once relegated to the background as a cramped space with a single dripping showerhead, the shower stall now has come onto its own. In many master bathrooms, the shower stall evokes images of a luxury hotel room with rich, marble tiles, two or three pulsating showerheads and a body spray.

This movement toward shower stalls is even prompting some homeowners to remove the whirlpool tub.

"About 50 percent of our home buyers are getting rid of the tub and just doing a big walk-in shower with body sprays," said Scott Lowell, president of Lowell Management Services Inc., a custom builder in Lake Geneva, Wis., that also builds in the Chicago area. "A lot of people think they need a tub for resale, but they never use it."

Many custom shower stalls are six feet by six feet and come complete with a body spray or steam shower. Benches, shaving niches and recessed soap holders also are common.

Some shower stalls are built without a door, a design that helps highlight the spa environment and tile selections. Others feature clear glass doors instead of frosted glass.

Clear shower doors create a clean, sophisticated look and also highlight all the fancy tile and fixtures. In many cases, the door is built "frameless," without all the framing that can detract from the view of the shower area. There also are doors with thicker glass -- three-eighths-inch instead of the more standard quarter-inch.

"We're seeing some real fancy shower doors with heavy glass on a pivot kind of hinge so you can swing them both ways," said Brian Bart, general manager with Tom Bart Construction, which is building homes in the southwest suburbs. "It looks nice and from a functional standpoint it's easier to use."

Shower door handles also can be upgraded for a sleeker look and easier operation.

When pulling together all the styles and finishes, home buyers should remember to strive for continuity. Many of the body sprays and multiple shower heads present a contemporary flair that can look out of place in a highly traditional setting.

"When you think about a bathroom with a classic, traditional vanity, but you also want a body spray, it's important to meld those areas together into a cohesive design," said Gulio Giometti, president of Catalina Kitchen Studio in Orland Park.

This can be achieved by using a sink faucet with similar styling and finish as the shower faucet, for example. Some of the shower tile pattern also can be duplicated in the main bathroom area for continuity.

The tile should help pull together the other elements in the room. Many of today's shower stalls are covered with rows and rows of fancy, decorative tile. And builders offer many porcelain and natural stone tiles as upgrades.

Granite and marble are popular in the custom home market, but often are out of reach for those in lower price brackets. One solution is to buy a ceramic or porcelain tile with a marble or granite pattern. Many such tiles offer a realistic stone look at a fraction of the cost.

Throughout all tile materials, earth tones continue to be popular, because they add a warm, natural look. The sky is the limit in terms of colors and patterns.

Some designs might include a nautical blue and white pattern with a few random yellow accent tiles. The theme then can be carried to the countertop area and bathroom floor.

Since tile has such a large presence in the bathroom, it is one area where buyers' often spend extra money.

"You could spend a couple thousand for tile upgrades alone," Bart said.

One way to create a high-end look on a small budget is to use the builder's standard tile for most of the shower stall, then splurge on accent tile. A decorative border tile with rope, floral or geometric carvings would provide an accent against basic cream tile, for example.

The decorative tile could be used to make a large rectangle that frames the showerhead area or to frame the top of the wall tile. The fancier tile also could be carried through to the floor outside of the shower.

Another option is to change the way the tile is laid.

"Sometimes if you use an inexpensive tile and put it on an angle, you can really create a custom look," said Peggy Holloway, design counselor with Ferris Homes, which is building homes in the northern suburbs.

Who says a home spa has to be expensive?


Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or,