The kitchen has long been the most expensive room in the American Home, but bathroom spending has taken the lead, per the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA).
“Kitchens kept getting bigger and more open,” says Tricia Zach, head of research for NKBA, invoking the decades-old habit of combining kitchens with family rooms and dining rooms. “That is now what we’re seeing happening with bathrooms.”
She says people are expecting more from bathrooms, as the spaces themselves grow larger, more expensive and more diverse. “You can now lounge in the bathroom — or do everything you need to do in the morning and then head out the door to work.”
Mick De Giulio, a Chicago-based designer who specializes in luxury kitchens and bathrooms, says high-end materials are migrating to the bathroom from other areas of the house. Working with clients whose bathroom budgets may reach $1 million, De Giulio now regularly finds bathroom uses for furniture-quality fumed eucalyptus, more associated with expensive kitchen cabinets and dining room tables. And he is creating vanities out of veined-white Brazilian quartzite, which he first used for upscale kitchen counters.
In Scandinavia, bathrooms typically have what is called a “wet-room” design, in which the entire space is rendered watertight, removing the need for an enclosed or separated shower, which may drain anywhere in the space. Leni Calas, owner of New York’s Ward 5 Design studio, says the approach is starting to become more common in the United States.
Wet-room designs “have more of a spa feeling,” she says. The shower is “curbless,” or level with the floor, and the open, spacious effect “makes the bathroom more serene.”
Calas suggested the design to a recent client, music entrepreneur Andre Benz, who had her redo his 1,100-square-foot storefront apartment in Jersey City, just outside Manhattan.
Benz, 24, spent around $30,000 on the main bathroom, which has a dark palette and curbless shower. “I definitely wanted a walk-in shower,” says Benz, founder of the popular YouTube channel, Trap Nation. Calas says the wet-room strategy allowed her to create a more minimalist effect, which was Benz’s goal.