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Design Review: Primary Baths

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House Review

Design Review: Primary Baths

Large, small, or in-between, these primary bathrooms focus on functionality

By Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD, House Review Lead Designer September 1, 2016
Primary bathroom design
This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Pro Builder.

Those of us who have been in the business of designing and building homes for a while have witnessed a dramatic change in the size and features of the primary bath. The days of a basic 5-by-10-foot bathroom with a tub, toilet, and single lavatory are long gone. Today, in smaller homes, too, it has become standard to include spacious areas with large showers and plenty of storage.

Whatever the bathroom’s size, the overall emphasis should be on creating a high-functioning space—even in the case of larger homes featuring spectacular primary baths. Built-in drawers and cabinets allow for all clothes to be stored in the bath and dressing area, eliminating the need for the traditional dresser and chest of drawers in the bedroom. Locating the laundry room so it’s accessible to the primary bath has become another practical feature. One item that seems to be evolving is the primary-bath tub. The massive “garden tubs” of the 1980s—often large enough for kids to swim in—have gradually been eliminated in favor of larger showers. However, smaller freestanding tubs are now becoming standard in more and more primary baths.

These contemporary versions of the old claw-foot tub are functional, efficient, and comfortable, perhaps once again proving that if something works well, there’s no need to reinvent it. As always, we encourage your comments and questions.

(Click images to enlarge)


4- Or 5-Piece Primary Bath

John Guilliams
KGA Studio Architects

Width: 10 feet, 6 inches 
Depth: 17 feet
Living area: 188 sf 

Bathtub or not? In production homes, we prefer to offer both options. Today’s primary bath is a place to relax after a long day. The two luxurious bath plans shown are currently on the boards; they’re similar to the already-built baths in the photos. The traditional five-piece version, below, features a freestanding tub and a shower with built-in bench. One advantage of this option is an additional foot of counter space and a larger vanity. If tubs aren’t your thing, we’ve created a stellar four-piece bath, at left, with a super shower with double showerheads. The super shower comes with a dedicated dry-off area and space for turning on the shower to let the water heat up before you step inside.

4-Piece Primary Bath

1. The star of this plan is the “super” shower with dual showerheads, full-length built-in bench, and shampoo nooks on either side
2. A dedicated dry-off area has space to turn on the shower before stepping inside and hooks for hanging towels and clothes
3. The four-piece plan comes with a slightly smaller dual vanity

5-Piece Primary Bath

1. A sleek, modern freestanding tub makes the room feel bigger by eliminating the tub deck and allowing the floor to extend under and around the tub
2. The five-piece plan opens up wall space for additional windows that let in more natural light and are also operable
3. The dual vanity is approximately 1 foot longer in the five-piece plan
4. The shower is a standard size with a built-in bench


The Magnolia

Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD

Width: 54 feet
Depth: 92 feet
Living area: 3,075 sf

Efficient use of space and the builder’s strict attention to the details resulted in a functional yet striking primary bath in this Fairhope, Ala., master planned community. Twin lavatories raised to 36 inches in height are separated by floor-to-ceiling cabinets and drawers. There’s abundant natural light from the double windows above the freestanding tub. A spacious closet provides plenty of wardrobe storage.

1. The freestanding tub is reminiscent of traditional clawfoot tubs
2. Double lavatories are separated by storage cabinets and drawers
3. Floor-to-ceiling linen cabinet
4. The 7-by-18-foot walk-in closet provides ample storage
5. 42-by-60-inch shower 


The Halona

Gary Iltis
Residential Concept Designs
(website under construction)

Width: 73 feet, 3 inches
Depth: 94 feet, 7 inches
Living area: 3,814 sf

Triple clerestory windows provide plenty of natural light in this spacious, functional primary bath while maintaining privacy. The dual-sink areas, both with linen cabinets and clothes storage drawers, offer secluded dressing areas for two people. A 60-by-48-inch glass-enclosed shower becomes the backdrop for a garden tub. A feature that continues to gain approval from many clients is the optional door that offers access to the laundry room. 

1. Dual lavatories and linen storage
2. Glass-enclosed 60-by-48-inch shower with seat
3. Spacious walk-in closet
4. Convenient access to laundry room


Estates At Del Sur—Plan 3

Robert Hidey Architects

Width: 18 feet, 6 inches
Depth: 12 feet, 9 inches
Living area: 235 sf

The luxury homes of Estates at Del Sur, built by CalAtlantic Homes, range from 4,396 square feet to 7,384 square feet. North of San Diego, they offer panoramic canyon and mountain views as well as distant ocean vistas. Plan 3 was designed in a Tuscan farmhouse style and features a large primary suite with a resort-style primary bath opening onto a large covered terrace. Floors and walls are sheathed in 2-by-6-foot marble slabs. Warmed by heat lamps in the ceiling above, the terrace is an extension of the primary bath.

1. The 235-square-foot primary bath features dual floating vanities, a spacious spa tub, and an oversize shower surrounded by frameless glass 
2. Because its walls are faced in smooth stone rather than rough stucco and its floors are of the marble used within the bath rather than Monterey decking, the 318-square-foot space reads as the luxurious primary retreat that it is, and not a deck 
3. At 308 square feet, the primary closet, directly off the primary bath, offers 66 linear feet of storage space
4. A small hall, which includes linen storage, leads off the spacious 470-square-foot primary bedroom to the primary bath


Santa Barbara II

Donald Evans, AIA
The Evans Group

Width: 65 feet 
Depth: 80 feet
Living area: 3,937 sf

This primary bath was designed for a four-bedroom, 4½-bath home. (I could have chosen to feature the primary bath of a large 7,000- or 8,000-square-foot home, but isn’t it more interesting to see a luxurious primary bath in a builder’s model with less than 4,000 square feet?) What sets this space apart are the finishing touches, such as the high ceilings, mirrors that extend to the ceiling, the frameless-glass shower enclosure, marble slabs, and chandelier fixtures.

1. Separate dual vanities
2. Large doorless garden shower
3. Freestanding sculptural tub
4. Private lavatory
5. His and hers walk-in closets


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