Beyond the Bath Basics

Today’s design trends cut across all styles, and the best place to start is the bathroom.

By Jennifer Shapira

Floor to ceiling tiles, recessed lights, glass-enclosed shower. (Photo Courtesy of Dee David)

Dee David is in the business of overhauling personal spaces. The owner of her eponymous Falls Church-based kitchen and bath design firm has seen an increase in requests to redo and renew bathrooms, which she and other industry professionals say is a product of the recession.

No matter their means, people want to spruce up their homes, she says. Even small enhancements can make a big difference to one’s quality of life.

From facelifts to total gut jobs, whether the goal is a tiny but functional powder room or a better circulating master, experts say if you’re thinking about putting your house on the market, a bathroom redo is paramount.

One of today’s absolute biggest trends is the removal of the tub in the master bathroom, says Joshua Baker, co-founder of McLean- and Middleburg-based BOWA Builders.

Sectioned out vanity room and bath/shower that Dee David created with soothing gray palette has his and her vanities with lots of storage space. (Courtesy of Dee David)

Instead, frameless glass-enclosed showers, many with elaborate tile work and multiple jets, have become focal points, he says. And it’s obvious why: They can be custom-fit to be roomier and infinitely more spa-like and, as the population ages, the showers are safer than tubs.

Of course, there are exceptions for those who like a good soak, says Baker. While it’s true that the best-case scenario is a master bath complete with a high-end, standalone soaking tub and full spa shower, if there are space limitations and the homeowner must choose one over the other, the shower always wins out.

In Style

Farrow & Ball wallpaper (Courtesy of Farrow & Ball)

Today’s bathroom design trends cut across all styles: traditional, transitional and contemporary or anywhere in between. Everyone wants a modern take on the essentials, from improved flow to storage. Homeowners want convenience and beautification above all else. As the population ages, it makes sense that chic-er commodes now sit at comfort height, and attractive grab bars are installed in walk-in showers. Vanities can be tailored to a husband and wife’s heights, says Baker, of a recent project.

Big masters were a big deal in the 1980s and early ’90s, but today the focus is less on space, and more on functionality, he says. Design solutions are where it’s at; for example, giving that little-used closet new life as a second entryway into the master bath.

Beautiful built-in vanities complete with storage (for towels and toilet paper) and display areas (to exhibit favorite possessions), or a spot for tuning into the morning’s news on an LED TV, just make for better movement.

Bath Vendors:

Dee David & Co. LLC
7906 Sycamore Drive, Falls Church, VA; 703-560-6601;

NVS Kitchen and Bath
8982 Hornbaker Road, Manassas; 703-378-2600

Case Design/Remodeling Inc.
701 Park Ave., Falls Church; 703-241-2980; 800-513-2250;

REVE Design Studio Inc.
5319 N. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington; 703-312-7060;

Blue Moon Construction, LLC
42582 Muirwood Court, Ashburn; 888-209-8352;

BOWA Builders
7900 Westpark Drive, Suite A10, McLean; 703-734-9050
201 E. Washington St., PO Box 205, Middleburg; 540-687-6771;

Reico Kitchen and Bath
6790 Commercial Drive, Springfield; 703-245-0414
7500-B Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-748-0700;

Alexandria Kitchen & Bath Studio
1502 King St., Alexandria; 703-549-1415;

Harvey’s Kitchens & Baths
22560 Glenn Drive, Suite 115, Sterling; 703-444-0871;

Kitchen & Bath Factory
4624 Lee Highway, Arlington; 703-522-7337;

Tile and Stone:

Architectural Ceramics
Alexandria Public Showroom
203 S. Union St., Alexandria; 703-299-6200;

Falls Church Showroom
7505P Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-714-0161

Fairfax Marble & Granite
13913 Willard Road, Chantilly; 703-378-1080;

Flintstone Marble and Granite
21760 Beaumeade Circle, Suite 105, Ashburn; 571-223-2970;

Stone World Inc.
25358 Pleasant Valley Road, Suite 100, Chantilly; 571-239-5167;

Potomac Marble & Granite
1235 Featherstone Road, Woodbridge; 703-497-6555;

Mosaic Tile
8400 Hilltop Road, Suite E, Fairfax; 703-280-4300
14801 Willard Road, Suite 400, Chantilly; 703-631-4848
10720 Richmond Highway, Suite F, Lorton; 703-495-8453;

Best Tile Lorton
8196 Terminal Road, Lorton; 703-550-2352;

Mid-Atlantic Tile
4121 Parke Long Court, Suite 110, Chantilly; 703-378-6610;


Multiple locations
419-A Calvert Ave., Alexandria; 703-836-6526;


Alexandria Lighting
701 N. Henry St., Alexandria; 703-548-2320;

Dominion Electric Supply Co.
14605 Lee-Jackson Highway, Chantilly; 703-631-8300; 1-800-525-5007;

Annapolis Lighting
10362 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax; 888-847-7295;

Dulles Electric
22570 Shaw Road, Suite 150, Sterling; 703-450-5700;

Lamps Unlimited
1362 Chain Bridge Road, McLean; 703-827-0090;

Lamp Factory Outlet
6412 Springfield Plaza, Springfield; 703-569-5330;


Woodbridge Glass
14312 Jefferson Davis Highway, Woodbridge; 703-494-5181;

ABC Glass and Mirror Inc.
8395 B Euclid Ave., Manassas Park; 703-257-7150;

Showers, Saunas, Tubs
5739 Telegraph Road, Alexandria; 703-960-0220;


Color Wheel
1374 Chain Bridge Road, McLean; 703-356-8477;

Color Wheel Paint Center
2802-D Merrilee Drive, Fairfax; 703-356-8477, ext. 2

Leesburg Paint
305 E Market St., Suite V, Leesburg; 703-771-2612;

Baker mentions one such micro-improvement that clients love: the convenience of outlets hidden inside vanity drawers. Appliances like hairdryers and razors can stay plugged in and off, out of sight until needed. The result: no cluttering up of valuable real estate on beautiful, carefully chosen granite or marble countertops.

Other storage solutions that can make a difference: Consider an heirloom corner etagere, open shelving or a pretty basket that stocks tightly rolled, easy-to-grab plush towels, or a carved-to-fit cubby inside the shower to park bottles of shampoo and body wash.

“I always add a little niche,” says Stephanie Kelley, a Fairfax interior decorator ( “If you don’t, you’re stuck with those ugly things that you have to buy at the store to hold your shampoo, and they never look good.”

Another must: “If there’s room, always put a bench in the shower,” she laughs, “because women have to shave their legs.” Kelley recalls one client whose lower half was measured expressly for the purpose of a custom-built seat. Useful and luxe, the bench is essential for that home spa feel.

This BOWA master bath renovation in Great Falls features his and hers vanities, beautiful finishes and a heated floor .

Crystal Cubes

Today’s frameless glass showers resemble crystal cubes that often showcase intricate tile designs and mosaics on the floor or walls. Sometimes thought of as the bathroom’s ‘jewelry,’ pricier materials are often used in the shampoo cubbies, or banded on the sides of the shower’s walls as accents.

Gone are the days of a solitary shower head. Today’s shower includes, at minimum, multiple shower heads and adjustable hand-held jets in varied heights to literally treat each body part, says Schwartz.

They are also larger, often built to comfortably fit two and always include a bench. Homeowners can choose to enjoy a steam shower, “where you can actually sit and take a steam bath within the shower itself, like you would at a spa,” says Baker. While it requires changes to the bathroom’s ventilation, a steam shower’s sophisticated controls allow you to take your time and finish up on your own clock. The same is true of heated tile floors, now much more common in a master redo: Set the timer to begin heating before you get out of bed and the floor will be toasty beneath your feet. After showering, envelop yourself in a towel warmed on a heated rack. Such luxuries are becoming more essential in achieving the much-wanted spa-like feel in today’s renovated bathrooms.

Contemporary master bath features a marble and glass tile blend, Mississippi river rock and cararra marble. (Courtesy of Bob Narod Photography/BOWA)

If frameless glass showers seem trendy because everyone wants them, it is one trend that experts agree has definite staying power: They make any bathroom look larger, aren’t defined by a particular style, and always look glamorous.

The look “is more expensive but it lasts forever, and it probably won’t go out of style because it’s so simple,” says Donna Evers, president of Evers & Co. Real Estate in Washington, D.C.

Minimal maintenance keeps them in shape. The shower’s multiple heads have another important function: Fire away on soap scum and “it’s almost like self-cleaning shower,” says David.

And, it may seem odd, but contemplate the drain. Traditionally, not a very sexy thing to consider when it comes to bathroom redos, but John Ronay, president and director of field operations for Blue Moon Construction, says he’s adding such innovative personal touches (“We call them ‘funner features’”) like soothing LED-lit channel drains that illuminate the shower underfoot. Longer and thinner, and less, well, drain-like, clients are finding that they are much more aesthetically pleasing, adds Baker.

BOWA master bath renovation includes matching vanities and roomy walk-in shower.

Stay Neutral 

Experts agree that one is the magic number for a bathtub in the home. It doesn’t matter where it is—hall bath, guest bath, no matter—the requirement is one if you decide to sell, says Evers. The self-described house addict has renovated two dozen properties, and regularly consults sellers on ways to whip their bathrooms into shape to appeal to buyers. 

“A master bath becomes a form of self-expression even more than the powder room,” says Evers. “If you stay in your house 20 years and the styles change, you don’t want to be stuck with something you’re going to have to quickly renovate in order to sell it.”

Experts agree the best bang for your buck is to install fixtures in neutral colors. White is really where it’s at, says Evers. If you’re thinking about selling in the future, think understated.

“People say ‘white is so boring,’” says Evers. “But it’s not.” You can still show your own personality. Kick it up a notch with splashy accessories like bright colored towels, window treatments, lighting fixtures, even paint color–all easy pieces to change out when, and if, the time comes to sell. “Your home is your home,” she says, “but it’s also an investment.”

Transitional style has a broad, safe appeal, says Kelley, suggesting that it’s a good look for the potential seller’s bathroom. But, she adds, that doesn’t mean it has to be plain.

Bling It

David’s master bath for a home in Alexandria fit the couple’s needs to a T. The wife insisted on a bathtub because “that’s how she melts away her stress of the day,” says David.

The walk-in shower is a frameless glass enclosure, its floor tiled in gray-toned stones that provide a stimulating foot massage. The custom-built master bathroom incorporates dual vanity spaces, hers larger—obviously—for primping purposes, laughs David; the other side, just right for his needs. If space allows, says David, there’s a trend toward zoning the bathroom by purpose and privacy. Specific spaces were carved out; bathing is in one area, the vanities are set apart in another. Recessed lights provide task lighting; matching curvy mirror-mounted sconces cast a warm glow.

Long, rectangular tiles were designed and placed from floor to ceiling, creating an elegant, contemporary feel. And, the palette of grays creates a soothing environment.

“Every woman wants a little bit of glamour or glitz in her life,” says David. And a bathroom is a perfect place to add sparkle.

David’s master bathroom for the Alexandria townhouse represents a down-to-earth contemporary feel with an out-of-this-world element. Like a starry night, the tub’s Caesarstone surround shimmers, says David, and makes the bathroom feel luxurious.

But adding sparkle doesn’t have to be pricey. “You can spend $3 on a crystal doorknob to get that bling,” she says, “and it looks cute!” She’s hung crystal chandeliers in small Arlington bathrooms, and added bigger ones when space permits.

Chandeliers, though glamorous, don’t always have to be traditional in look and feel. They can be more contemporary: Instead of the waterfall effect, a trio of crystal pendants can serve as a modern take on a stylish look.

Spacious shower with dual shower heads and bench. (Courtesy of BOWA)

Luxe for Less

But even if a glass-walled shower is not in your immediate future, you can dress up (or change up) a shower or bathtub with a statement shower curtain. You don’t have to shell out big bucks to improve the space.

Designers say the trend now is for bathrooms to be calm, nature- and Asian-inspired sanctuaries, often in tones of beiges and grays. That doesn’t mean you can’t paint the walls, or even one wall, a rich, striking color. Or consider wallpaper in a favorite print or pattern. Add touches of glamour with architecturally interesting lighting fixtures. Purchase an attractive mirror that fits your style, and pair matching sconces on either side. Even something as simple as a minimalist vase of fresh-cut flowers beside the sink will jazz up the room.

Ashburn interior designer Andrea Schwartz ( places smooth, flat rocks to the bottom of a basin to add to the space’s calming atmosphere. If you have natural light, choose an orchid at your local garden center. If not, Schwartz says to go with the faux—silk versions are available at most home goods shops.

Other improvement tips: Place ceramic floor tiles on a diagonal to make the space seem larger. And, use mildew-resistant grout that matches the tile, says David.

Match the hardware on everything, Evers suggests, from the shower door to the faucets, from towel bars to grab bars, even the flush lever on the toilet. Brushed nickel and polished chrome are good choices; they’re stylish but not too trendy.

Modern, Tranquil Spaces

“I find that most clients that approach me tend to want bathrooms that are more soothing, spa-like and tranquil,” says Patrick C. Carter, owner of Arlington-based architecture and design firm Reve Designs. To Carter, that request translates into a more simplified design—softer colors, natural materials—with a contemporary, modern aesthetic.

“Eight to 10 years ago bathrooms were much more traditional and fussy. Today, people live hectic lifestyles,” he says. “They want to feel relaxed while they are preparing for, or unwinding from, their day.”

Carter recently completed two such projects, both incorporating natural stone set in more modern surroundings: a 1920s Arlington bungalow and a house in Reston.

For the Arlington job, Carter redid the high-traffic guest bath, and the couple chose high-end materials because they like to entertain. Carter finished the space with a dark gray marble floor, and tiled the walls in a combination of flagstone and glass. 

Planning for the possibility of mobility issues for the Reston couple, Carter created a wide steam shower and added a cantilevered bluestone bench. And, in a nod to the couple’s home state, the Wisconsin natives integrated modern Kohler fixtures.

These are welcome settings. Clean, simple lines and open, comfortable spaces with a bit of color or nod to nature make for a modern aesthetic.

At the end of the day, the client’s bathroom is a place to relax and recharge, says Carter of the spaces he’s curated. “It’s that feeling of being somewhat pampered and able to just wash the stress off and go to bed in a different state of mind than when you walked into the bathroom.”


Q&A With Joshua Mollet, Showroom manager at Alexandria Lighting

What are some trends in bathroom lighting that you think have staying power?

“I would say clean, simple fixtures. If something can be ambiguous as far as design style—doesn’t really fit into one design style—[it] will stay around much longer. If a look fits into one design style, i.e. modern, this will be considered dated in just a few years.

“Earth tones have longevity: beiges, browns, grays, off-whites. Just remember, the more the fixture looks unique, the more it could be dated when the design style moves on. But this shouldn’t stop a homeowner from wanting to be more individualistic, especially if they plan to stay in their home for many years to come.”

What was one recent bathroom project you really enjoyed working on, and why?

“I recently worked on a powder bath in a new-construction home in Northwest D.C. The entire house is ultra-modern, clean and refreshing; gray tones and dark wood finishes. I instructed my customers that the powder bath is the one area that you should go crazy and out-of-this-world in design style. This room is used for one purpose only.

“The entire bathroom was tiled to the ceiling with clean, simple, warm earth-tone tile. Above the floating vanity was a clean, long rectangle mirror. We looked through all of my catalogs and finally found the perfect light. It’s a pendant that is brushed steel in finish but has a small cluster of circles around the bulbs. From the canopy at the ceiling, past the cluster of metal circles around the bulbs, this fixture has small silver chain going right through it. It looks like a piece of art.”


Courtesy of Kohler; Yuriy Chertok/Shutterstock; Konstantin L/; Lucy Baldwin/; pics721/; Gina Smith/

Trends Designers Would Like to See Gone for Good

There are a number of bad trends in bathrooms that industry professionals and design experts would like to see gone for good. Whether it’s about reconfiguring a traditional builder-grade style bathroom or gutting a 1970s-era space, designers have definite opinions about what they don’t like. Read on to see what causes experts to get steamed:

Tim White, sales and design consultant at Architectural Ceramics, in Alexandria: “It’s a bad idea to pigeonhole yourself into a particular color of tile. That makes it obvious that the tile is of a certain period. You don’t want people to say, “Whoa, that’s so 1999.’ Don’t tile a bathroom bright orange.”

Interior designer Patrick Carter: “I, personally, hate medicine cabinets. And I’m finding my clients don’t like them, and we’re ripping them out a lot, replacing them with more cabinetry for storage.” Despite some technological advances, Carter says he vented to one of his employees: “If I have to deal with another medicine cabinet, I’m going to scream because they’re tedious. It’s a bit of a frustration for me. That’s not what I want to be designing around.

“To me, Jacuzzi tubs are disgusting. They breed bacteria when the water sits in them, so I just have a real problem with that. And if you are elderly or going to be aging-in-place, bathtubs can become very dangerous, when you get in and out of them.”

Designer Dee David: “Rain showers because they’re a pain to install, and they don’t get the shampoo out of your hair. But I love the [multi-jet] shower towers; they’re so easy to install.”

Joshua Mollet, showroom manager at Alexandria Lighting: “Two trends that I hope never come back are: polished brass finish. This is a dated, ‘80s finish. Satin brass and aged brass are already coming back in style, though. But polished brass looks too new and gimmicky.

“The other trend that I pray to God never returns: ‘70s swag pendants in the bathroom, flanking a mirror. So dated, it’s scary!”

Of course, trends can be good, says decorator Stephanie Kelley, but there’s a trick. In order for them to have staying power, she says, “You can be trendy, but if you pick something that’s just really cool and kind of classic and natural, you can keep them for quite a while.”


Q&A With Sarah Cole, Director at Farrow & Ball

Has the guest bathroom become more important in today’s (U.S.) homes? If so, why?

“The guest bath definitely has become more important in today’s U.S. homes. As homeowners have begun to embrace using their home to express their own sense of style and personality, much like a wardrobe, the guest bath has become a simple way for a homeowner to express themselves and create a beautiful decorated space for their guests to enjoy.

“Adding a personal touch to these spaces helps your guests get a true sense of your style and your home’s unique flair. If your guest bath needs a refresh, it’s a simple and affordable way to spruce up your home while adding your own stamp to things.”

Does the guest bathroom allow for a bit more freedom when it comes to a homeowner’s personality?

“As guest baths are usually small in size, this allows for more freedom and flexibility to use vibrant pops of color or a wall of bold wallpaper that you may not ordinarily use in larger, more inhabited spaces.”

Are bold colors becoming more prevalent?

“Bold bathroom schemes are definitely on the rise with people being more daring with colors. Smaller spaces can be enhanced with bold, dark colors. Try using an indigo shade in the guest bathroom as this will create an intimate, cozy feeling; perfect for a smaller bathroom. Paint the walls in Hague Blue and All White on the skirting and woodwork. Pair with curtains and accessories in complementary blues and the rich shade on the walls. This will create a wonderfully cosseting feel–perfect for the end of a long day. Adding the touches of bright white keeps the bathroom feeling crisp and fresh.”

What is the biggest color trend right now?

“An on-trend and bold color scheme that is perfect for any bathroom is Brassica paired with All White. It has an intense jewel-like quality that transforms a bathroom into an enveloping cocoon. This rich purple provides the perfect backdrop to shiny silver accessories.

“Create a zesty, effervescent bathroom with this year’s must-have yellow: Babouche. A striking, graphic flash of this vivid hue will really lift a neutral scheme, and particularly complements grays.”

What are some small touches that one can add to a guest bathroom so that it feels really welcoming?

“From a decorating perspective, if you have a well-ventilated bathroom, using wallpaper on a feature wall can create a real impact and a certain ‘wow’ factor. For something totally different, use wallpaper on the ceiling of the bathroom so when reclining in the bath the full magnificence of the ceiling comes to life.”


Small Touches to Create Ambience

Having a beautiful bathroom is about a lot more than just the right fixtures. It’s about setting the mood to help rewind from a tough day. Interior designer Andrea Schwartz and interior decorator Stephanie Kelley offer up these tips to smarten up your space and put you in full relax mode.

• To achieve a Zen feel, add a collection of glass or natural stones in your sink.

• Add an orchid (real or faux) depending on the room’s amount of natural light and your own skill level. (It’s a matter of watering or dusting.)

• Embellish the sink with a pretty hand soap dispenser and/or a simple bud vase with a colorful bloom.

• Put recessed and overhead lights on a dimmer switch to enjoy lots of light or a softer nightlight effect.

• Add a chandelier to up the glamour quotient; it’s so much more spa-like.

• To keep the glass enclosed showers looking their best, keep a squeegee in the shower to rinse off water spots when you’re done.

• Add pops of color to a neutral palette with fluffy towels or beautiful wrapped hand soaps.

• Hang a piece of art to add interest.