Bathing Beauties

Much like kitchens, once-utilitarian bathrooms are still expected to perform but now have to look good doing it. Today’s baths are up to the task, offering more functionality than most of us ever even hoped for.

Sink, shower, tub and toilet. The elements are always the same, but there is no such thing as a basic bath today.

“Never before have we had so many options in style, function and design,” says Connie Holl, manager of Gerhards, the largest kitchen and bath showroom in Madison. She says homeowners increasingly have numerous options for cabinetry, flooring, fixtures and other features at various price points. One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make, she adds, is to assume that something is impossible because of budget, space or other considerations. “If you can put your vision into words, we can help make it a reality,” she says. 

Sometimes, even pictures will do, says Maria Kovach, of Marling HomeWorks. After all, a file of magazine clippings that illustrate a homeowner’s dream bath has long been a staple of the design process. Now, smartphones make it even easier to collect images. Nothing is off limits, Kovach says. She encourages clients to snap pictures in restaurants, showrooms and even friends’ homes.

“Leave no stone unturned,” she advises. “If you walk into a bathroom and you see some hardware you really like, take a picture of it. Having visual aids is helpful.”

Just don’t forget to text or email the images to your designer even if you show them to him or her in person. “I’ll have clients call me and ask if I remember the pictures they showed me, and two weeks later I don’t always remember exactly,” Kovach says.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Of course, a picture or a clipping is only a starting point. Anyone who has shopped for just about anything knows that there are tons of nearly identical options at myriad price points. Shoppers have to read the small print, diligently compare features and model numbers, and ask a lot of questions if they can’t discern the differences on their own.

But just because two things look alike on the outside doesn’t mean that they look alike on the inside. Bella Domicile’s certified kitchen designer Dondi Szombatfalvy cautions homeowners to remember that there is more to bathroom fixtures than simply style. Items have to function, too, and what goes into them in terms of design and materials can make a big difference in how well they operate.

For example, sometimes it is the inner workings of a faucet that account for the difference in price. Parts made of plastic might not hold up as long as those made of ceramic or metal, and cheaper options might be hard or impossible to repair. Szombatfalvy advises homeowners to ask merchants to compare similar models if the differences are not immediately apparent.

When it comes right down to it, Szombatfalvy prefers reputable brands, such as Kohler and Moen, for things like faucets; she knows that most can be fixed if there are problems, and the companies reliably replace broken parts. “You just call them and they send it out,” she says. “That’s a sign of a good product.”

She also cautions against brands that lack reputation and history in the marketplace. Even if the up-front price tag is lower, untested products could lead to bigger costs down the road. “What concerns me about a brand I’ve never heard of is, if you need replacement parts for it, how likely is it that you’ll be able to get them? You’ll end up replacing that faucet instead of repairing it,” she says. “It costs you just to have a plumber show up in front of your house, so a cheaper product isn’t always the best if you have to buy a new one and replace it every three years.”

Quality Counts

Every building or remodeling project requires balancing style, quantity and quality. Most homeowners aim to maximize each. Yet Dale Ganser, owner of Raywood Development, is trying to shift the scales a bit to favor style and quality over quantity.

Ganser’s company develops urban infill properties that bring modern styling and amenities to existing city neighborhoods. One of the company’s pocket communities is 215 Femrite in Monona, which features alley-loaded homes on small lots. Raywood Development’s homes evoke yesterday’s Craftsman styles, but include, for example, the multiple bathrooms that contemporary families expect.

“Our goal is to reduce the home’s footprint and square footage yet design-in the upscale details that people are looking for,” Ganser says.

Style Points

Style is important to all homeowners, and the era of serviceable bathrooms is over. Now bathrooms tend to follow the rest of the home in terms of style and quality, says Travis Ganser (no relation to Dale), who owns the Ganser Company, a full-service remodeling business. And when it comes to creating the perfect space for a client, he notes, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

“It’s the whole composition,” Ganser says. “It’s the orchestration of several pieces that gives the effect.”

Ganser says spa-like spaces are in great demand among his clientele, who want bathrooms that are comfortable, relaxing and restorative. “They’re a destination,” Ganser notes. “[People] want more of an intimate retreat within their own homes.”

-Jennifer Garrett

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