Bathrooms are target of innovative designs

People remodel their spaces for additional comfort, luxury.

Would you consider serving dinner at a lavish party in your bathroom, as a wealthy couple in Liberty, Texas did? Or perhaps build a complete home gym, like NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe, among your lavatory facilities?

Even if most people don't have the cash to transform their bathrooms into the posh privies that celebrities enjoy, some of the innovations that once seemed futuristic or even downright ridiculous are turning up on showroom floors and product brochures across America.

So why are homeowners so eager to build such luxurious lavatories? Local kitchen and bath designer Gary West believes it may have to do with the increased level of tension modern adults face on a daily basis.

"The stresses, the pressures that are upon us today are much greater than they ever have been," West said. "(People) are using the bathroom suite as a place to get away and to relax and to not have to worry about lots of things that we all are exposed to on an everyday basis.

One product likely to make waves is Kohler's Sok unit, which is something of an improvised bathtub. The Sok is a great deal deeper than most tubs (23.5 inches) and has a raised, molded seat. It also has two features that provide relaxing, constant flow and water conservation.

"It's almost a tub within a tub," West said. "It has a trough, for lack of a better term, around the perimeter that lets the water overflow into the trough, which collects the water and then recirculates it back into the unit itself."

The Sok, which costs around $6,000, can be ordered through United Home Supply.

Another new product, the Ultravalve, proves that bathroom design truly goes for the moon when aiming for innovation. The system, a spinoff from the NASA shuttle program, involves an electronic valve controlled by a microprocessor that allows users to set faucet water temperatures at the touch of a button. The Ultravalve is also programmable for multiple user settings.

Related to the Ultravalve is the MemrySafe, a device that features a "memory metal alloy" that restricts water flow from a faucet or shower head if the water is above scalding temperature. Users set the peak temperature through a control panel.

Both products are available through Memry Corp., Brookfield, Conn.

West heard about a customer who outfitted their bathroom with a television/mirror combination that rested in a wall shared with an adjoining closet.

"They had positioned the television in an adjacent closet, and the TV was pushed right up against a two-way mirror. When the TV is turned on, you actually see it; when the TV's off, you're actually seeing the mirror," West said.

On the more tangible side of bathroom innovation lie products that already exist and have merely been improved on.

For example, xenon is replacing halogen as the lighting method of choice, because it emits a "whiter" light and creates less heat.

Another new breakthrough is the material Vikrell, of which many new Kohler units (including the Sok) are made. Similar in design to acrylic, though less expensive, Vikrell is a more favorable alternative to fiberglass materials because it is colored all the way through the material as opposed to a layer of spray coating on top.

Though not everyone desires to install home entertainment equipment in their bathrooms, many are at least adding square feet to their facilities, West said.

"Probably the biggest trend that we have seen, versus, let's say, when I was growing up, is the movement towards larger, more luxurious bathroom environments," he said. "(Consumers) are bringing in all the luxuries that really give them the capability of pampering themselves."


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