New bathroom design is all about luxury and pampering
BY SUSAN KELLY

It’s all about you. More than ever, bathrooms provide sanctuaries from the pressures of modern life. For most people, that means soothing and uncomplicated modern design, punctuated by natural elements. What’s new heading into 2015? The bathroom is becoming a place for inspiration and contemplation, with bold, creative and distinctive flourishes in the decor and plenty of storage, discreetly integrated.

For a real splash of drama, it seems no high-style bathroom today is complete without a free-standing tub. While not a new trend, so much design energy is focused on free-standing tubs that they are now de rigeur. “They really have become the showpiece of today’s larger bathrooms,” says Russell Dagenais, business development manager for Fleurco, a Montreal company that designs and makes tubs and showers. And it really is for visual impact, he says, since most homeowners use the tubs seldom if at all, enjoying them instead for their aesthetic virtues.

Last year alone, Fleurco’s offering of stand-alone tubs increased to 14 styles from eight. There’s a lot to choose from, from sinuously curved to squared-off and modern, to riffs on traditional shapes. Designers everywhere are pushing the envelope with such touches as Queen Anne-style legs, ornately sculpted fixtures, or a discreetly embossed design or texture on the surface.

But the place where most of us want to loll is the shower, according to Dagenais, where we want to have a seat. Once a custom touch added only on demand, shower seats or benches are now one of the latest trends in bathroom design. Fleurco makes several shower bases with seating, and some provide extra storage. Think of it as functional luxury. “And a practical touch for baby boomers or anyone with mobility issues,” he says.

And it’s not just the tubs that are free-standing these days. So are the faucets used to fill them, descriptively called “tub fillers.” Not every bathroom layout can accommodate wall or integrated taps. “That’s where free-standing tub fillers come in,” says Stephen Carrier, vice president of sales and product sourcing at Nortesco, a Canadian distributor of designer brands for kitchens and bathrooms. A free-standing tub filler is anchored into the floor and stands alongside the tub. The style can harmonize or contrast with that of the tub. Some, such as KWC’s Ono, become a sculptural element unto themselves.

Carrier sees a trend toward adding more flair to faucet design. Look for faucets to be sculpted into interesting, even conversation-starting, shapes, he says. Some have patterns embossed upon the surface or are adorned with semi-precious stones. He finds demand is strong for gleaming gold taps, or those with Swarovski crystals or brightly coloured accents. “People are more adventurous when it comes to finishing touches like the faucets,” he says. “It’s a good way to add more design flair.”

That’s not to say the shower area is being neglected. It remains a major feature, either as a complement to the free-standing soaking area or increasingly in lieu of a tub. And there’s a high level of personalization going on here as well. “It’s more about function in the shower, about making it a spa-like experience just for you,” said Gaelle Marrasse, marketing manager for Aquabrass, a Montreal company that designs and manufactures faucets, fixtures and accessories for the bath.

In a tub you lie and soak; in a shower you multitask. Aquabrass makes shower systems with rain showerheads, mist and chromatherapy options, plus three scents from which to choose in the aromatherapy diffuser. It also offers a sound system with waterproof speakers for the bathroom. Water chutes are a spa-like touch that Marrasse says are wildly popular now. A niche is cut into the bathroom wall from which water cascades. For a unique touch, she suggests using a shower fixture in an unexpected way. For instance, a rain head usually placed on the ceiling can be installed on the wall to create a waterfall effect. “You don’t have to overspend to get something special and on trend,” she says.

That philosophy is carried over into the vanity area. Some forward-thinking designers are repurposing furniture or revamping existing vanities to resemble furniture pieces found at upscale flea markets or antiques dealerships. It’s all about making the vanity a unique focal area.

Most Montrealers still prefer to add impact with sleek, floating cabinetry, according to Pierre Descoteaux, chief executive officer of PierDeco Design in Montreal. It’s part of the look of today: highly contemporary with clean lines. “And once you lift everything, even the fixtures, off the floor, the bathroom seems larger and you can really show off the flooring,” he says. “Plus it’s easier to clean.”

For a wow factor, Descoteaux suggests placing twin vanities side by side.  Or, add some colour, a big trend heading into 2015, especially if that colour is black. At PierDeco, black vanities with matching black sinks are a hot seller now, with crimson a close second. “Undermount sinks are very in, and many manufacturers now make sinks in a range of colours besides black, so you can match or create a contrast with the countertop,” Descoteaux says.

In the quest to create more individual, personalized spaces, there’s a move toward adding more colour to tiles as well, according to Kristina Panzera, marketing director and ceramic tile buyer for Montreal natural stone and ceramic specialist Ciot. “We still sell a lot of white tiles, but the stark all-white bathroom trend is fading,” she says.  In past seasons, neon shades were proposed by designers and rejected by consumers. She finds the 2015 offerings warmer. They include such colours as deep cherry red, turquoise, and dark shades of blue, including navy.

It’s also important to think texture. Tiles with matte finishes or that imitate cement are trendy, as are tiles with a raised surface pattern. Varying the size, shape and finish of tiles can also add design interest. Porcelain tiles that imitate wood continue to be a big trend, especially when played against white, but they are now also grainier and have a rustic look and feel. There are so many options to add elegance and flair, but it’s important to feel at home. “It used to be people imitated the hotel look in bathrooms,” Panzera says. “Now they want both luxury and a homey look, and hotels are imitating them.”

Yvon Robert, director of marketing at Plomberium Doraco-Noiseux and Baliscus concurs that homeowners are seeking rustic elements in the bathroom. “Rough materials, such as barn wood, concrete and natural stone are very popular. We’re seeing barn wood on walls, sinks and shower floors made of concrete, and a very high-end concrete look created by new composite materials in some bathtubs.”

Robert also loves the grey limestone sinks and bathtubs manufactured by Montreal-based Unik Stone Co.; they add an organic element to any bathroom.

Another trend, he says, is vanities and storage units of combined materials: wood for rusticity and acrylic for a contemporary touch. The Origine vanity by Quebec-based Vanico Maronyx is made of recuperated wood, salvaged from the bottom of logging rivers and preserved underwater for a century.

And finally, says Robert, a classical look in the bathroom “is coming back into style, but with clean lines and rounded edges,” as characterized by the DXV Collection from American Standard. “There is a revivalism of classicism,” he says.

It really is all about you.