Photos by Amy Barnard
In the 1900s, most residential bathrooms were on the small side—practical spaces where people spent as little time as possible. But nowadays many homeowners consider the bathroom a place of refuge, a sanctuary where they can retreat, relax and renew. As numerous residents launch extensive rebuilding and remodeling projects, local Santa Barbara designers and builders point out a number of contemporary trends that can inspire and guide your project plans.
Bathroom footprints have grown, according to Eric Johnson, Allen Construction’s regional manager for Santa Barbara. He says that people are also aiming for “timeless,” fully accessible bathrooms. “Clients in their 40s and 50s are looking ahead,” Johnson explains. “They want to stay in their home for years. Some people are putting in aesthetically pleasing grab bars. The other thing that’s really popular is the zero-threshold [curbless] shower, which is accessible for all ages. It has very clean lines, and when you’re older you can go in with a walker or a wheelchair.” Some of these showers have a bench, and many include handheld showerheads. Johnson says most faucets they install are lever-handled rather than knobs, which can be difficult to turn as people age. But Johnson also mentions that people are splurging on things like beautiful soaking tubs for their younger years. “It seems like everyone has a freestanding bathtub these days.”
When asked about client trends, Kirsten Kemp Becker, co-owner of Becker Studios, echoes the wishes for timeless bathrooms and for “luxurious spacious layouts with an eco-conscious execution of materials, including efficient plumbing and lighting systems.” She says many clients are choosing natural stone slabs for shower benches, surrounds and countertops rather than tile—which they use more sparingly for artistic enhancement.
An important element to consider when designing a bathroom is lighting. “Good lighting is key,” says Becker. “The lighting doesn’t have to be seen as a feature, however the sink areas must be well lit… and we generally trend toward feature sconces or a special ceiling fixture.” Abundant natural light also helps. She says that if possible, her firm creates a connection to the outdoors, either visually through a large picture window or a gateway access to a private garden. “The bathroom is a place we begin and end each day, therefore a view of the ocean, mountains, or beautiful tranquil setting is paramount to setting up this special space—especially the master.”
As far as materials go, people tend to choose stainless steel, copper and even gold-toned fixtures. Color palettes typically feature light or earth-toned colors juxtaposed with complimentary textures (think wavy tiles and backlit mirrors edged with frosted glass), but sometimes focus on a bold color statement instead.
Other trends include technological conveniences—for example, charging receptacles for phones, razors and toothbrushes—and “smart home” gadgets that do things like fill the tub on command. Also on the rise are “extras” like team showers, towel warmer racks and multiple built-in niches. Some people are choosing quartz countertops instead of granite or marble, as quartz is equally durable at a more affordable price.
In general, contemporary Santa Barbara-area bathrooms include ample use of glass, freestanding sinks, clean lines and invisible drains. The result: an open, spacious, elegant haven that homeowners can enjoy.
Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.