Bathrooms Go High Tech


YEARS OF EXPANSION in the size of houses have made the bathroom bigger. Now it's getting smarter. Remote-controlled steam rooms and fully-loaded showers with built-in audio, lights and heating-even aromatherapy-are just a couple of the high-tech features that have been making a mark on bathroom design this year. The bathroom isn't the in-and-out, utilitarian room it once was. It's becoming a home spa. "People want to stay in the bathroom longer and longer," says Patricia Ee, sales and marketing director at Canaroma Bath & Tile in Vaughan. "They are turning it into a place to relax and calm down."

Or as Vanessa Perfetto, assistant manager of Atlantis Bath Centre, puts it: "A lot of people these days think of the bathroom as their getaway place."

But the newest trends in bathroom design are not just about relaxation. They're about maximizing space, giving even diminutive bathrooms the illusion of grandeur. Vanities and sinks-and even the toilet bowl-are moving up off the floor. Floor tiles a re getting bigger. "All of this makes a space look big," says Perfetto. "But it also makes things easy to clean."
We asked designers and retailers for their take on the yea r's top trends. Here's what they say is driving design in their market.

FLUSH-MOUNTED SHOWER HEADS AND FAUCETS. In a nod to clean, uncluttred surfaces, the shower head is being integrated into the ceiling. The new flush-mounted shower heads measure less than half an inch dee and are installed flush with the ceiling. "You get the luxuroius experience of a rain shower, but with no visual clutter and none of the shadows cast by a suspended fixture, " says Anthony Gaudio, general manager at Amati, a supplier of high-end kitchen and bathroom products.

CHANDELIERS. Crystal adds instant elegance to traditional and modern bathrooms, whether it's a ceiling-hung pendant over the bathtub or a pair of wall sconces flanking a vanity. "The large chandelier that used to belong in the dining room is now finding its place in the bathroom, too," says Gaudio. "Even in a very contemporary space, it creates ambience and softens the mood."

FREESTANDING BATHTUBS. Bathtubs and showers have been going their separate ways for a while now. But this year's most sought-after tubs, with their slim edges and organic forms, are the focal point of the modern bathroom."A beautiful bathtub is not just a comfortable place to soak; it's a piece of sculptural art," says Canaroma's Patricia Ee. It's also more likely to be made of solid-surface material rather than old-school porcelain. The British manufacturer Victoria + Albert, for example, uses volcanic limestone mixed with resin to create a bathtub that retains heat well and can be buffed back to a smooth surface when scratched.

TEXTURED TILES. The latest technologies allow ceramic and porcelain manufacturers to create tiles that look and feel shockingly similar to wood and stone. The benefit, Ee says, is that faux wood, marble and slate are much less expensive than the real thing. And their non-porous surfaces make them easy to clean and maintain.

PERSONAL STEAM BATHS. Complete with towel warmer, aromatherapy pumps and colour-changing lights activated by a smartphone app, the hammam is coming home, says Natalie Hess, president of Nortesco, a distributor of designer brands for bathrooms and kitchens. The residential steam shower Nortesco sells is equipped with a steam generator by the u.s. company Mr. Steam, which raises water temperature quickly. It is also fitted with a custom glass door that keeps the steam from escaping, but features a flap at the top to allow hot, humid air to escape afterwards. "Imagine after a hard day at work coming home to a steam bath with dimmed lights and a little music," says Hess. "It's the ultimate in relaxation."

SPLASHES OF COLOUR. The minimalist bathroom gets a pop-art jolt of colour - in the hand les of a chrome faucet or the doors of a wall-hung vanity. With the shift from wood tones to high-gloss surfaces comes an appetite for bold, bright and unexpected colours. Hess says her company now distributes vanities in more than 72 colours, including splashy Radiant Orchid purple (Pantone's 2014 colour of the year) and lipstick red. "People don't seem to be so afraid of experimenting," she says.

SMART SHOWERS. A thermostatic shower system features valves in the handles that create a constant water temperature, says Pierre Descoteaux, chief executive officer of bathroom design company Pier Deco. No more waiting for the hot water to reach the shower head, and no more dips in temperature when someone flushes the toilet or turns on another tap. "People are looking to recreate the hotel effect in their own homes," Descoteaux says.

WALL-MOUNTED TOILETS. There is no more conversation-worthy novelty in the bathroom than the suspended toilet, which is already enjoying immense popularity in Italy. Instead of sitting on the floor, as toilets long have, this new variant is mounted to the wall on a heavy-duty racking system, with the drain hidden behind the wall. The "floating" toilet may feel little precarious the first time you sit on it, Descoteaux says. But it's a cool, contemporary look that facilitates bathroom floor-cleaning. "When everything is off the floor this way, even the smallest bathroom looks bigger," he says.

LARGER FLOOR TILES. Many of Vanessa Perfetto's clients at Atlantis Bath Centre are choosing large tiles for their bathroom floors. Carrara marble tiles that measure 20 by 20 inches are among the most popular, followed by porcelain, granite and limestone. The extra-large size, she says, gives the illusion od space, even in a small bathroom. "The bigger the tile, the wider theroom appears," Perfetto says. "And there's less grout to worry about."

DARKER TONES. After an eternity of white, cream and light grey, deeper, darker hues are creating moody bathroom drama. Perfetto says she sees this trend in the increased sales of black toilets and sinks, but also in burnished bronze faucets, teak vanities and wood-toned ceramic and porcelain tiles. "For years, everything in the bathroom was white and light grey, but now I am starting to see darker bronzes, greens and golds, too."

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