Get the Spa Effect

Despite its utilitarian nature the basic bath can provide a sense of comfort and serenity. It’s the space from which you launch your morning and prepare to face the world, and it’s where you close the day. Although a typical bathroom is the smallest and least public space in any home, it is worth the attention, time and resources to make it function well and be a place of solitude and retreat.

Is your bathroom due for a spa treatment? Making the transformation doesn’t have to be a pipe dream; you can achieve the spa effect without installing a hot tub, hiring a masseuse or knocking down walls. The tools can be as simple as a scrub brush, a paintbrush and you.

Lifestyle, Not Design Style
Spa-like bathrooms are not limited to large homes or those with contemporary or midcentury-modern architecture. In any design, the spa bath is like a Zen den: harmonious, streamlined and calm. Whether you own a Victorian farmhouse, a Spanish Mediterranean-inspired bungalow or a 1980s split-level, you can create a spa setting while honoring your home’s style. The key is to acknowledge the architecture and personality of your house with a fresh look — and an eye toward simplicity and functionality.

The Essence of Spa
To achieve the spa effect, you can take the plunge of an overall overhaul or opt to slip in one toe at a time. If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?), first envision a plan; then start the process by decluttering, organizing and cleaning the space. Revive the existing storage space under the vanity by adding space savers or cabinet organizers. You can even carve out some new storage or display space by building a cabinet between wall studs.

Next, look at functionality: Do faucets, drains, lights and exhaust/ ventilation systems work properly and efficiently? Mechanicals are more important than aesthetics at contributing toward a spa atmosphere. After all, even the most elegant vanity loses its appeal if the pipes rattle when you turn on the faucet.

Analyze what’s annoying; then remove, replace or refurbish the offending item. Take care of dripping faucets, running toilets or leaky pipes. If leaks have occurred, be sure that the breach is mended, and remove any mold or rot that may have resulted. Also, be sure windows, doors, hinges and locks operate as they should. Once the bathroom’s systems pass inspection, the transformation to spa quality is in the details: framing the mirror, updating light fixtures or installing a curved shower rod.

A Four-Way Focus

Although the bathroom occupies a small area, it is a complex space. To analyze its potential for improvements, consider the various components as they fit within the classical elements of water, fire, earth and wind.

Besides adding a pop of color, the In2ition shower combines a handheld spray and a fixed shower head.

The supply and drain lines — and anything related to water — fit in this group. After basic maintenance, here are some enhancements to consider:

  • For less than $50: Add aerators to the sink faucet. Switch to a handheld shower head.
  • $50 to $500: Replace the faucet and upgrade to a high-efficiency toilet (see Web video). For a sense of luxury — and efficient use of water and energy — install a hot-water recirculation system. It keeps a ready flow of hot water on tap by sending the cooled water back to the hot water tank instead of down the drain.
  • More than $500: Add a shower tower, jetted tub, whirlpool bath or soaking tub.

In any room, this relates to sources of light and heat as well as the sense of warmth that comes from luxurious touches and good design.

  • For less than $50: Install dimmer switches on light fixtures. Change the window treatment to one that emits more light and/or prevents heat loss.
  • $50 to $500: Update the light fixtures. Install a Solatube skylight. Add a decorative frame to a plain mirror. Install a towel warmer.
  • More than $500: For ultimate comfort, upgrade to an in-floor heating system if you plan to replace the floor. An acrylic-block wall will brighten the shower area. For a grand redo, consider adding a fireplace.

A fireplace may not be in your future, but try framing a plain plate-glass mirror to add a feeling of richness and warmth in your bathroom.

Bathroom furniture adds a sense of comfort, a trend seen in many manufacturers’ offerings such as this suite from Delta. As a creative alternative, you can be green (and thrifty) by converting an old dresser into a vanity.

From ceiling to floor (and everything between), elements made of metal, wood and earth offer multiple options for creating a spa atmosphere.

  • For less than $50: Replace the toilet seat. Paint the vanity and add new handles/knobs. Replace discolored or cracked grout. Paint the walls (see “Spartan Spa,” p. 28). Add flair to the ceiling by painting it with a metallic finish or installing crown molding or a ceiling medallion. Switch to a curved shower rod.
  • $50 to $500: Replace the sink or vanity (see “Wall-mounted Vanity,” p. 13). Repurpose a piece of furniture for a “new” vanity (photo above). Add decorative tile to the walls or tile the floor.
  • More than $500: Install a new tub surround or even a new tub.

Bathroom ventilation is healthy — and pretty

Pure air is essential to the spa experience. It creates a healthier, more pleasant environment.

  • For less than $50: Clean with nontoxic agents; use zero-VOC paints and finishes. Add a live plant. (Most thrive in humid environments, and many act as air purifiers.) Washable and clear surfaces keep dust and mold at bay, so limit the use of fabric and wallpaper.
  • $50 to $500: Install a bathroom fan, or upgrade to a quieter, more efficient system.
  • More than $500: Install a whole-house ventilation system.

Creating a spa atmosphere requires a blend of grit and glam. After a thorough cleaning, make the operation of plumbing fixtures and mechanical systems a priority; then add luxury and aesthetic appeal. Whether your budget is large or small, your bath deserves a spa treatment — and so do you.

Spartan Spa
Although the word spa conjures images of jetted tubs, spacious suites and luxurious fixtures and finishes, it doesn’t mean that your basic bathroom can’t convey the same spirit — even with minimal effort and resources. Here are some budget-friendly ideas for creating the spa effect:

Color — Without question, paint is the best bang-foryour- buck transformation in any home-improvement project. If you’re stuck with tile that’s not your favorite color, paint can help. Some manufacturers offer paints and primers that work on tile surfaces, but these products have special requirements, so read labels carefully to see whether they are right for your application.

Rather than paint or replace unappealing tile, coat the walls, trim, ceiling — even the vanity — in a new color to update the look of the tile. By applying a more current neutral color or a subtle version of the tile color, you can acknowledge the tile without drawing attention to it. An alternative approach is to let the paintable surfaces be the star of the bath by giving them a striking (but compatible) hue (photo, below).

In bathrooms, wallpaper can cause problems because moisture will do battle with the seams, and mold can set up camp beneath the layers. If you want a pattern, create it with a painting technique. Keep it calm by using tone-on-tone colors or by applying different sheens of one color.

Lighting — Save money twice by installing dimmer switches on bathroom light fixtures. You’ll gain a new, soothing lighting scheme without replacing the fixtures, and you’ll save on electricity costs by dimming the lights. Another efficient light source is tubular skylights, which can save your having to turn on lights at all.

Faucets — For less than the cost of a one-day spa treatment, you can boost the luxury of your shower with a new handheld or rainfall shower head. Consider customizing the shower for the vertically challenged members of your family by installing a height-adjustable shower head. Even switching from a fixed shower head to a handheld model will provide a sense of luxury (and make cleaning more convenient) for as little as $30. (See “DIY Plumbing” for more ideas.)

Simplicity — You can create a more soothing bath environment for free by removing clutter, minimizing decorative items and power-cleaning surfaces and storage areas. This simple step will provide visual calm and help to eliminate areas where dust and mold can accumulate — all part of the health benefits of the spa experience.