The Art of the Bath
Written by Joan Lerch
Photography By Alise O’Brien
“Anyone who thinks heaven is not hot water behind a locked door has forgotten what it means to live.” Author Lucy Frank
No one, it would seem, takes a quick bath. We “pop” in the shower, but we relax in the bath. And as the ritual of bathing has evolved over the centuries, so has the vessel. No longer just the cast iron, functional box of years past, a luxurious bathtub brings the spa experience into the home, with high-walled designs for soaking, or hydrotherapy airbath systems to soothe post-workout muscles.
When Mike Beck designed a new bathroom for a gut remodel of Tracy and Lee Allen’s home, designer and client had a wealth of experience (and catalogues!) on which to draw. (Mike and Lee are the “Beck” and “Allen” of design firm Beck/Allen Cabinetry.) When asked about the dynamic of their collaboration, Beck said, “Lee has a great eye for detail, and everything we worked on, he was involved 100%!” The new space was planned to create more storage for the homeowners, a task masterfully accomplished with Essex cabinets from Shiloh Cabinetry in a rich maple glaze.
But the undisputed star of the new bath? It has to be the freestanding BainUltra soaking tub, perfectly situated to take full advantage of the light and views from a nearby window. When twilight approaches and the view dims, there’s a television on another wall, just above a ledge that’s perfect for storing more bubbles (either for the bath or the champagne flute.)
Bubbles go high-tech with three designer tubs from Jason, available exclusively in St. Louis through Immerse. In these luxury bathtubs, patented MicroSilk ® technology creates micro bubbles tiny enough to enter the skin’s pores, removing impurities, exfoliating, and improving hydration. The spa-like experience has encouraged some customers to take full advantage of the soothing process. “We’ve had people come in with their swim suits and sit in the tub to try it out,” says Jo Ann Powell, showroom consultant at Immerse. “But just putting your hand in the water for few minutes, it plumps the skin and almost feels like you’ve applied lotion.”
A spectacular bathtub with a spectacular view takes center stage in a bath by Julie Abner, of Julie Abner Interiors. Marble with a wood kick plate, and fitted with a custom-made teak bench, the room-for-two tub overlooks the homeowner’s pond and landscape. The gorgeous space was designed to be the master bath in a custom home created by architectural firm Mitchell Wall, but the homeowner says “Our kids use it all the time!” Her husband is a big fan of the soaking tub. “It was the only tub he could find that he could submerge in completely.”
Deep soaking tubs have become the “must-have” for today’s luxury bathrooms, and the Underscore® tub from Kohler turns any bathroom into a spa. “The great things about the Underscore,” explains David Berberich, Team Leader at the Kohler Signature Store by Crescent Supply, “is that you can choose whatever therapy you want to go along with it. There’s a heated lumbar section, bubble hydrotherapy, and speakers so you can listen to your favorite podcast, or perhaps some classical music.” Unlike the whirlpool tubs of days past, he adds, the hydrotherapy feature is self-cleaning after each use.
Abner worked with the homeowner on choosing finishes and fixtures, and with Jim Howard of Alspaugh Kitchen & Bath for cabinetry. Commenting on the success of the project, she says, “It was really a collaboration—with a great team, a lot of great things can happen.”
Demonstrating that a bathtub can be art, the sculptural soaking tub in a bathroom from brooksBerry Kitchen & Baths would be at home in the Museum of Modern Art. Freestanding, and set at an angle to the glass-walled shower, the sloped back of the tub is perfect for a soothing end to a long day. An expanse of windows bathes the soft grey room in natural light.
Another tub with a sloped back, but a very different vibe, was Julie Abner’s choice for an historic home in Illinois. The gorgeous claw-foot slipper tub, fitted with a hand-held, English-style shower, is set against an Art Deco background of custom tile from Urban Archeology in Chicago. “The tile setter worked very hard to create exactly the look the homeowner wanted. He did a great job!” Abner says. She worked with designer Jim Howard again on this project. “We had limited options for cabinetry in a small town, and Jim was kind enough to travel a couple of hours to help bring this all together.”
While undeniably relaxing, a bathtub is not always a must-have element for a dream bathroom. Designer Ken Henry, of Alspaugh Kitchen & Bath, proved that with a classic bathroom dubbed “The Audrey Bath. ” (So named for the Condé Nast test shots of the actress from the homeowner’s original bathroom. The new space was designed to accommodate the photos.)
So what happened to the bathtub? The designer removed it to make room for a large shower, complete with a built-in seat and dual shower heads. When asked if it was hard for Diedre, the homeowner, to give up her bathtub, Henry didn’t hesitate. “No! Diedre’s great to work with, She’s her own interior designer. She knows what she likes!” Henry said one of the biggest challenges was the sloped roofline and low ceiling height. “I needed to establish a height in that room that permitted a continuous line all around, with the crown moulding tying seamlessly into the door frames and the picture frame moulding. That was my number one priority.”
The custom cabinets were crafted by Glen Alspaugh, and the countertop is by Neolith, a high-tech surface that Ken declares “pretty much indestructible.”
Diedre was delighted with the finished bathroom. “I can go from the shower, across the heated floors to my coffee without ever going downstairs, which is so nice!” (Their next collaboration is a dog shower, and a new powder room.)
Beautiful fixtures and gorgeous finishes make a bathroom beautiful, but what makes it functional? Most homeowners and designers agree – storage! As home to everything from stacks of fluffy towels to those half-empties from the make-up counter, storage is a big deal. In her design of a modern master bathroom, designer Cindy Hermann, owner of Cindy Hermann Interiors, working with Beck/Allen Cabinetry, utilized ceiling-height cabinets, set at either end of a long vanity, with ample cabinets and drawers below. In between, dual mirrors, on a background of small glass tile, reflect light from the windows and three frosted-glass wall sconces.
There are particular challenges to creating a modern bathroom in an older home, because the designer is limited to the footprint and constraints of the existing structure. That was the challenge for designer Nancy Spewak of Property Enhancements and Mike Beck, when they created a new bath in an older Clayton residence.
Located on the 20th floor, the condo had spectacular views but low ceilings. “It was an amazing rehab,” Beck explains. “A tremendous amount of thought went into every detail.” Although the were able to gain some ceiling height in the process, Beck says that carefully chosen design elements like a floating vanity in the master bath helped to create the opened-up look. “It’s really a marvel of engineering. It can’t be just fastened into the wall because the granite top is too heavy, so we built it on an offset base for support.” Designed like “upside-down steps,” the floating vanity helped to achieve the relaxed look the homeowners wanted.
While there’s an array of award-winning bathrooms in and around St. Louis, they are destined to remain the private domain of the homeowners, but there is one fabulous bathroom you CAN visit, a bathroom so fabulous that it was named “America’s Best Restroom” in a national competition sponsored by Cintas Corporation, a leading provider of restroom hygiene products and services. The star-ceilinged masterpiece is at The Fountain on Locust, which has also gathered numerous awards for its menu of scrumptious ice cream confections.
Alas, The Fountain on Locust bathroom is, technically, a restroom— thus, no equally marvelous bathtub. But if owner (and designer!) Joy Gridnic ever decides to take the plunge, we can’t wait to see the results.