Visiting a day spa isn't enough anymore. Many of us want an everyday spa.
That's why more homeowners are splurging on bathrooms -- elevating the once-utilitarian room to new levels of luxury by adding amenities such as high-tech whirlpools, purifying steam showers and cozy heated floors.
At-home spas are being touted as an escape from our fast-paced lives, as a way to pamper ourselves and, for baby boomers, a way to soothe the aches of aging. The supersized bathrooms are becoming so sought-after that homeowners are stealing space from other rooms to create them. And, with an increasingly wide range of products and prices, spa retreats are becoming one of the fastest-growing trends for the home.
Before Nancy and Gary Grammens remodeled their Bloomington, Minn., bathroom, Gary took steam showers at his health club. Now a steam shower (it even disperses a lavender scent) is right off the master bedroom. And Nancy relaxes in their whirlpool a couple of times a week, sometimes by moonlight streaming in a window.
Their spa-style bathroom "is an escape," said Nancy, "but you don't have to go far. As you age, you have more aches and pains. We need this kind of pampering," she said.
'Quality of life'
Aging baby boomers are among the clients who are remodeling and/or building bigger master suites with bigger master bedrooms, said Kathe Ostrom, president of C.N. Ostrom & Son. And some homeowners, especially empty nesters with spare bedrooms, are more willing to take space from other parts of the house or build an addition to get a bigger master bath.
In fact, in 2002 bathrooms were one of the most common remodeling projects, second only to kitchens, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
A wellness trend also has driven the popularity of home spas.
"People are looking at quality of life," said Ostrom. "It may be selfish and more personal than a four-season porch, but it means more to have quiet time away from the family."
Ironically, quiet time -- or any time -- away from the family has become more difficult to find with so many homes featuring open floor plans.
"Houses have become so open, and we need to pull away from the great room," said David Heide, owner of David Heide Design in Minneapolis, Minn. "Adults need a more intimate private space."
Jackie Colesworthy and her husband carved out a quiet getaway by expanding and upgrading the master bathroom in the Shorewood, Minn., home they share with their three sons.
Instead of the cramped room with a fiberglass shower that lacked a bathtub, the Colesworthys now have a bathroom that features a spacious glass block shower for quick cleaning in the morning and a two-person whirlpool tub for relaxing at night. There's also a heat lamp above the shower entrance and a heated floor for spalike warmth.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the second most popular home feature (after granite countertops) was multiple head/steam showers. His/her vanities and in-floor heating were not far behind. Other amenities in spa bathrooms typically include a separate shower and bathtub (soaking or whirlpool), a separate water closet or defined area for the toilet and his-and-her grooming areas.
Janice Costa, editor of Kitchen and Bath Design News, said "super showers" include side body jets, steam, rainfall shower heads, built-in music and lighting effects.
These spa-style luxuries call for a well-appointed space -- no matter the size. Look for furniture-style built-in or freestanding vanities and cabinets, marble decks, arty glass vessel sinks and molded tile. Fixture finishes range from polished nickel to oil-rubbed bronze.
The recently remodeled master bath in Donna Avery's Crocus Hill, Minn., home has a modern whirlpool tub and spa shower that blend surprisingly well with the period architecture of her home. The space, designed by Heide, also boasts a chandelier, antique nickel finishes and cream wood paneling instead of tile.
"Today everyone wants their space to be unique to reflect their personality and needs," said Christine Corning, designer for On the Level, a Twin Cities design-build firm. "They still care about resale, but not to the extent they will give up unique features."
These features include elaborate mirrors and mood lighting as well as the ultimate extras -- wired for sound and a coffee bar, she said.
At the 2003 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, Costa saw a $30,000 Jacuzzi outfitted with Internet access and a wireless keyboard. That's a long way from 1940, when more than 40 percent of U.S. homes were without a bathtub or shower.
It's clear that our expectations of the bathroom have changed.
"It's not about getting clean," said Avery. "It's about physical well-being and a pleasant experience."