It's no secret that the days of the drab, 5 foot by 7 foot bathroom are long gone. Once the most neglected room in the house, the bath has gone through a dazzling transformation into a luxurious spa full of Sybaritic comforts.
Modern baths are larger, lusher and more personal, often becoming extensions of bed and living areas. Dressing areas, exercise equipment, innovative lighting, saunas, Jacuzzis, and oversized fixtures are reference points that declare a personal .. style.
And if price is no object? What do you get if your pockets are deep enough to indulge your wildest bath fantasies?
Architectural details such as high ceilings, walls made of glass block, sensuous surfaces such as Italian marble, and gold-plated fixtures can create a feeling of luxury and spaciousness -- and provide an inner sanctum for personal pampering.
"It's the ultimate luxury," says Stiles Colwill, a Baltimore interior designer. "You spend a lot of time there. You can really relax -- if you're willing to pamper yourself."
Mr. Colwill, a principal in the Baltimore firm of Colwill-McGehee, should know. The bath he designed and built 10 years ago in the guest house of his Greenspring Valley horse farm features elements selected for their luxury and for their ability to create a -- bold contrast with the house's traditional design.
To establish an art deco and contemporary look for the bath, Mr. Colwill and his architect, Patrick Jarosinski, created a large entry area featuring white walls, black floors and curved walls of glass block. A doorway leads to the bath area and to steps that descend to a sunken tub.
A wall of glass behind the tub lets natural light pour in, provides an unfettered view of the countryside and gives one the feeling of bathing outdoors. To the left and right of the doorway are curved glass-block walls.
To the left of the black sunken tub is a small black fireplace; on the other side a similarly sized recessed compartment holds towels. Modern art and sculpture add to the sense of luxury. "When people walk in, they either go, 'Oh my God!' or start laughing," Mr. Colwill says. "It's so over the top."
No less dramatic is the bath that Ted Pearson of Rita St. Clair Associates designed for a client's four-story home on the Magothy River.
The client wanted a two-person retreat that would also be perfect for entertaining. So Mr. Pearson designed a third floor -- far from the entertaining area -- that serves as a personal refuge and includes a master bedroom, a spa, a sitting area with bar, and a elegant bath.
"The bath is an unusual configuration in space -- a sauna, two water closets for toilets, and two separate vanities," Mr. Pearson says. "Above the mirrored walls is a 14-foot ceiling with crevasses that simulate fallen-away stones. The recesses contain indirect-lighting fixtures that create the fantasy of being inside a pyramid."
Elegant materials create a room to luxuriate in: Rosso Verona marble on the floors and vanity counter tops, gold-plated faucets and fittings in a ziggurat design, and mirror-faced cabinets and walls.
Don't assume that expensive, highly individualistic baths must always take such bold design paths. For example, a bath designed as part of a $1.5 million renovation of a Baltimore County contemporary home emphasizes the subtle.
"This client didn't want a bath full of marble and gold fixtures," says Richard Taylor of Taylor/Siegmeister Associates, a Baltimore interior design firm. "Instead, the bath is very detailed with off-white, handmade German tile and a handmade stained-glass panel in a skylight that casts pastels and more vibrant colors at different times of the day. It's not your usual 'opulent' bath."
Still, the large room includes luxury features such as a separate shower/steamer, a Jacuzzi, custom cabinets, and glass blocks around the tub. "But the look the owners wanted wasn't typical," Mr. Taylor explains. "They wanted function and texture. The light is always casting different colors into the room -- and the neutral colors in the bath are a perfect foil for it."
Another contemporary house, this one in Worthington Valley, also eschews the marble-and-gold-fixture look in a bath. The owners asked their design team to create a bath that was not only luxurious and large, but would integrate bold colors and design features from throughout the residence.
"We had an artist come in and faux-finish the walls in an over-scaled, fantasy marble finish with bright turquoise, pinks and purples," says Alexander Baer, the Baltimore interior designer who planned the room with architect Jay Brown.
"Most people think that only marble baths are beautiful, but we used turquoise and white tiles to create a beautiful look," Mr. Baer adds.
Amenities? You bet. The shower area is large enough for two and features a bench to lounge on; the tub is surrounded by platforms. Other luxury features include a vaulted ceiling, the dramatic use of mirrors to give the room a sense of depth, and custom vanities.
Is it a bath that will appeal to everyone? Mr. Baer responds: "It's a very crisp bathroom that stimulates you with bright colors that make your eyes open -- whether you like it or not!"