Turning functional bathrooms into luxury living spaces

For Michele Guyton, the bathroom is more than a functional water closet; it’s a place to escape. So when she and her husband, Greg, renovated their Phoenix, Md., home, a luxe master bath was a priority.

“It’s one of my favorite spaces as a retreat,” she says. “I have three boys and we have very busy lives, so it’s a place to have a chance to wind down and have a bit of quiet time.”

The Guytons collaborated with architect Peter Twohy and contractor Rick Batton of F.C. Batton and Son on a whole-house combination outfitted with a top-of-the-line shower and anchored by a lovely view.

Creating enticing bathrooms isn’t a new concept — oversized bathtubs and separate showers, for example, were popularized in the 1980s — but homeowners today are customizing the rooms with thoughtful elements that integrate with their lifestyles. Carefully chosen layouts, fixtures and technology transform modern bathrooms into spaces deserving of extended stays.

A desire for privacy informed Michele Guyton’s choice of layout. She originally wanted separate his-and-hers bathrooms, but the home’s organizational challenges precluded that plan. Instead, she got one bath with two distinct spaces.
Prior to the renovation, the Guytons’ bathroom included side-by-side pedestal sinks, both facing a mirrored wall. In the new bath, the pedestal sinks are replaced by sturdy vanities, including plenty of storage.
With Guyton’s privacy goals in mind, Twohy used the bathroom space creatively. Instead of placing the sinks next to each other, they face each other, but are divided by a partial wall.
“We have sinks on opposite sides of a wall, so I can’t see Greg’s messy area,” Michele Guyton says, laughing. “And we have separate toilet areas. It’s actually a great space to share. There’s no reason to argue in the bathroom! It’s living together but with our own space.”
The layout also preserves ample natural light from a large window over the tub.
“And the view from the tub is truly extraordinary,” says Twohy. “You cannot see a single house and looks for miles over northern Baltimore County. It’s just astonishing.”
The rest of the bathroom lives up to the view, with sparkling chandeliers and doors that open to a well-organized walk-in closet. The aesthetics of the bathroom carry over into the closet, which features clean white drawers and shelves, a large window for natural light and a chandelier that matches the one in the bath.

"I like a lot of drama," says Guyton. "I like to be surrounded with things that are pretty. It's a really beautiful space."

Luxurious details might shine like chandeliers, but they might also come in rougher packages, says Owings Brothers Contracting Principal Joseph Smith.
“People are doing some creative stuff,” he says. “One thing we’re starting to see integrated into a lot of projects are barn doors.”
Smith and his wife are using a barn door instead of a traditional swinging door or pocket door in their own bathroom.
“It creates a nice, architectural look,” he says.
Aesthetics are only one element of inviting bathrooms; much of the room’s appeal often falls to the plumbing itself. In recent years, premium showers have become an important part of bathroom renovations.
“The shower is taking over the tub,” says interior designer April Force Pardoe. “People are doing larger showers, two-person showers, multiple types of showerheads. Steam showers take the shower up a notch, so it’s relaxing and meditative.”
Michele Guyton chose a glass-walled steam shower with multiple showerheads. “I wanted a shower where I’d be happy to sit. It’s a really cool space in itself,” she says.
Multiple showerheads, like Guyton’s, are popular with homeowners. “People want better control — a thermostatic valve and volume control,” says Smith.
In one client’s shower, Owings Brothers is installing three separate showerheads — his-and-hers showerheads from the wall and a “rain head” from the ceiling. In cases like this, Smith says, homeowners often want dual control valves for each showerhead.
For those still interested in tubs, some especially luxurious options include bubble massage hydrotherapy and “chromatherapy,” a colored lighting system designed to stimulate or calm people as they bathe.
As with any home project, when considering bath add-ons, the sky is the limit. A high-tech bathtub alone could cost well over $13,000. According to the home renovation website Houzz, the average cost of a bathroom renovation in the Baltimore area is about $13,000, with higher end renovations running between $30,000 and $47,000.
And the tub is not the only spot in the bathroom where technology might surface.
“Technology is a big thing coming into the bathrooms,” says Pardoe. “TVs on medicine cabinet doors or in the mirror, a sound system to stream music or the news — it elevates the space to be an information hub, so you can get ready by listening to your favorite podcast or catching up on the news.”
Even the humblest bathroom appliance, the toilet, has the potential for upgrades. “Some have heated seats, music; they light up,” says Pardoe. “There’s a control panel beside your seat.”
These are more popular abroad than in the U.S., she says, but homeowners looking for additional bathroom perks have many options.
“If you’re doing everything else to the nines, you look at your toilet and think you might want a couple bells and whistles,” she laughs. “A heated seat might be nice in the winter!”
Heating — on the seat and otherwise — is one of the less visible but most popular ways to up the ante in bathroom design.
“Heated floors in the bathroom — we’re doing that almost all the time now,” says Clyde Thomson, president of Thomson Remodeling Company. Thomson does a lot of renovations in older homes in neighborhoods like Roland Park and Guilford, where bathrooms are typically smaller and might still have radiator heating.
“Radiators are cumbersome and a design disaster, just taking up space,” he says. So adding heat to the floor not only feels good, it is practical.
In Michele Guyton’s bathroom, heated marble floors are the final flourish. “In the winter, it’s really lovely to take a long shower or bath with the sunset,” she says. “And the heated floor works beautifully.”