While $9,000 steam chambers that drizzle artificial rain and sound like a tropical beach are adding a whole new meaning to the term restroom , home computers, fax machines and cordless telephones are bringing the boardroom into the bathroom.
Such high-tech accouterments may sound like the makings of a segment from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," but they're indicative of a new trend in home remodeling. The bathroom is becoming a beauty and grooming suite, so lavishly equipped that it now rivals the kitchen as the most expensive room in the house.
David Shapiro, president of Familian Pipe & Supply, a Van Nuys firm with 22 bath-and-kitchen showrooms that specializes in high-end fixtures, says that although some people are spending six-figure sums on these spa-like retreats, there is a practical side. "When people spend $250 a square foot on a room, they want a room they can really use," Shapiro says. Some customers, he adds, go so far as to furnish their bathrooms like sitting rooms, "where kids can come in and talk while their parents are getting ready for work or doing their exercise routine."
One of the most expensive accessories in a deluxe bath is the magnifying makeup mirror that stands on the counter or is mounted on the wall. Whether it's because women appreciate the visual clarity of optical glass and built-in lighting or because the aging baby-boom generation is getting far-sighted, the magnifying mirror has become a popular item. Jane Fonda, for instance, bought a $1,000 model for her new Montana ranch house, says Wayne Johanson, showroom manager of trendy Ulti Bath on Robertson Boulevard.
To help keep makeup and beauty tools organized, women are asking for drawers that are compartmentalized to hold makeup, brushes, hair dryers, curlers, etc. Outlets are stashed inside the cabinetry "to hide the ugly cords from curling irons and blow dryers," says Maude MacGillivray of Zimmerman-MacGillivray Designs in Los Angeles.
Men also are demanding expensive grooming accessories. Those who like the ease and efficiency of shaving in the shower are having fog-free shaving mirrors installed in shower stalls. Among the other items men request are built-in hair dryers, three-way mirrors over their sinks, and showers with multiple jets so that water pulsates at several points on the body.
Of course, homeowners who are working double time to pay for all these new "necessities" rarely have time to exercise outside the home, so they're bringing their gyms into the bathroom and master bedroom suite. Although the in-home gym got its start in the early '70s, there has been a recent resurgence of interest. "As the bathroom becomes more of a social area, people are exercising together there," Shapiro says.
Many designers agree that incorporating exercise equipment into the bath is another response to work-related stress: "Everyone wants to find more space in their homes to unwind, and the bath is a natural place," says designer Michael Stray.
The gym-in-the-bath concept is consistent with the idea that stress works against good looks. But not everyone opts for active solutions to anxiety; there are those who prefer to unwind without getting winded. In the quest for the ultimate stress relief, environmental systems such as Kohler's Habitat have replaced whirlpool baths, now standard equipment in many new tract homes. In an environmental system, what looks like a shower room at first glance is a decompression chamber of sorts. Steam, artificial rain and ocean breezes, heated towels, ambient light and stereo speakers are all available by pressing buttons.
"Although Habitat was designed a few years ago, it has become popular only recently, as more and more people are building huge bathrooms," explains Stray, co-owner of International Interiors Inc., a Los Angeles design firm that specializes in opulent, fantasy-oriented spaces.
Some people, however, insist on bringing stress into the bath for efficiency's sake. Many executives have telephones next to their sinks, tubs and stationary bikes so that they can "take a meeting" while they groom or exercise. A Malibu investment tycoon who makes stock-market deals while he shaves even installed a computer monitor and keyboard within reach of his toothbrush. But one Hollywood studio vice president doesn't like to mix business with pleasure. "I prefer a pulsating shower and steamy shave, followed by an absolutely quiet candle-lit bath with my wife," he says. "That way, I can forget the rest of the day."