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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

One walk-in shower is as good as any other, right? Wrong

By Tim McKeough New York Times

A utilitarian walk-in shower works just as well as something nicer, so why spend the time and effort – and the money – to upgrade it?

“It boils down to the idea of comfort at home,” said Paloma Contreras, an interior designer in Houston. Your shower, she explained, is “a space where you’re setting the stage for the day. If you’re aesthetically attuned to your environment, it impacts your state of mind.”

If you’re renovating, you don’t have to resort to generic materials and fixtures, or whatever your contractor suggests. The goal, Contreras said, is to “surround yourself with a space that’s not only beautiful, but that functions really well and caters to your preferences.”

Here’s how she and other designers create walk-in showers that their clients love waking up to.

Consider changing the layout

Installing a new shower often goes hand in hand with a full bathroom renovation, and if you’re demolishing what was there before, you don’t need to put everything back where it was. Take some time to consider how you might reorganize it.

A combined bathtub and shower, for instance, could easily be replaced with a walk-in shower. Depending on the size of your bathroom, it may be possible to install a stand-alone tub elsewhere. A shower and stand-alone tub can occupy different zones of a bathroom or sit side by side in a wet room – a larger waterproof area designed to resist errant shower spray.

“We’ve designed wet rooms for many projects, but primarily we would do a wet room when the room is smaller and we want to eliminate a shower-door enclosure,” said David John Dick, a founder of Los Angeles-based firm Disc Interiors.

Choose things you’ll actually use

A shower is one of the most personal spaces in your home, said Paris Forino, an interior designer in New York, so you shouldn’t choose fixtures and features simply because you saw them in a magazine. Select things you’ll actually enjoy.

Rainfall shower heads, for instance, have been trendy for years, but they aren’t for everyone. “I personally can’t stand one,” Forino said. “If you don’t wash your hair every day, you’re standing with your neck at a 90-degree angle, and it’s really uncomfortable.”

If you’re like Forino, a wall-mounted shower head that sprays at an angle is a better option. If you want a shower that can deliver invigorating bursts of water, choose a head with various massage settings, Contreras suggested.

Adding a hand shower is usually a good idea – you can point the spray anywhere, and it makes cleaning the shower much easier. Some people love a steam generator as well, Forino said, for a spalike experience.

Wall-mounted body sprays, however, seem to be falling out of favor, Contreras noted: “People haven’t really been asking for those. I think they were a novelty maybe 10 years ago, but most people have found they just don’t end up using them.”

Whichever fixtures you choose, plan the location of the controls carefully. If possible, mount them just inside the entrance to the shower and away from the shower head, so you can warm up the water without getting soaked. “We always try to keep the controls accessible and avoid having you get wet before you’re ready,” said Kirsten Blazek, founder of A1000xBetter, an interior design firm in Pasadena, California, whose book “A Rebel by Design” was published by Rizzoli this month.

Use materials with character

One easy way to enhance the look of your shower is to choose interesting materials with character instead of plain white tile.

Forino made a compact shower in a Beverly Hills, California, home look special by covering one wall with a slab of striking pink Arabescato Rosa marble. On the floor, she used four varieties of marble to create a custom mosaic that provides a more grippy surface.

For a home in Toronto, where she designed a shower for two people, she used book-matched slabs of onyx on the walls, “because they really wanted a wow factor.”

Even with understated designs, material choice makes a difference. For a wet-room shower in a house on Canfield Island, in Connecticut, the designers at New York-based interiors firm Jesse Parris-Lamb used subway tile but chose ceramics from Waterworks with a handmade appeal and subtle color variation. “They have really beautiful colors and mood,” said Whitney Parris-Lamb, who runs the firm with Amanda Jesse. “There’s a lot of movement.”

And don’t forget about the drain: Rather than a standard metal drain cover, many designers opt for a linear drain that can be tiled over and almost disappears into the floor.

Make an entrance

Much like a foyer, the entrance to your shower sets the stage for what’s to come, so it’s worth giving the glass and doors some attention.

For streamlined showers in modern bathrooms, some designers try to make the dividing line between the shower and the rest of the room disappear. When Blazek renovated a midcentury-modern house outside Los Angeles, she added a curbless shower: The bathroom floor simply slopes toward a drain, and the glass barrier sits in recessed channels in the floor and ceiling, so it is barely visible. “It’s just seamless,” she said.

Disc Interiors took the opposite approach in a 1930s house in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It made the shower a feature by outlining the entrance in marble, adding an oversized marble threshold and installing distinctive glass doors framed in powder-coated metal.

“We wanted to add a more vintage aesthetic,” Dick said. “With stone jambs and dams, we often will play with the thickness and other dimensions, so that it adds depth and volume to the bathroom space.”

One approach isn’t better than the other – it all depends on the look you want to achieve.

Create functional surfaces

Of course, it’s not just about how your shower looks, but how it functions.

One of the most crucial things is having a place to put soap and shampoo. It’s possible to add shower baskets after a renovation, but all of the designers interviewed for this story prefer a built-in solution.

Contreras has designed showers with built-in stone corner shelves, and Disc Interiors has used brass ones that coordinate with plumbing fixtures. The most common option is a recessed niche, but if you plan to install one, it’s essential to measure your shampoo bottles and ensure that the niche is tall enough. “There’s no point in making a niche unless it fits the specific products the client has,” Jesse said.

When possible, Blazek likes to put the niche in a side wall rather than the back wall, so it’s not the first thing people see when they walk into the bathroom.

Shelves and niches aren’t the only options. Blazek sometimes thickens the lower part of one wall to create a ledge that runs across the length of the shower. Other times, she adds a bench, which offers a place to sit and store bottles.

If you have a steam shower, Dick said, “a bench is absolutely essential.”

Planning a niche may not be as exciting as choosing tile, Parris-Lamb said, but “the ultimate luxury is to have a place for everything.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.