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Affordable Luxury Bathrooms

Adding a little luxury to a lavatory is more affordable
than most people think. Updating a single item-switching from an old, chipped
sink with exposed stainless-steel plumbing to a fashionable pedestal model that
hides under-the-bowl pipes, for instance-can transform an ordinary bathroom into
an awesome one.

It’s not unusual for a customer of Signature Cabinetry
in Prospect to drop $40,000 or more on fixtures, faucets, floors, and fancy cabinets
to remodel a bathroom in grand style. But it’s equally common for a thrifty homeowner
to carefully select a few stylish pieces and upgrade the smallest room in the
house for $2,000 or less.

"I say, ‘How much do you want to spend?’ "
says designer and Signature Cabinetry store owner Larry Bass. "We work from
there."

Even replacing scum-covered shower doors with a colorful
shower curtain or draping plush, oversized towels over a shiny new towel rack
can brighten a bath without breaking the bank.

The Neutral Trick

The key to a blissful new bathroom when you’ve
barely got a budget, designers say, is to stick with neutral colors for big-ticket
items. These items include sinks, toilets, tubs, countertops, and floors. Keep
this in mind even when the well-appointed washrooms on the pages of home and
garden magazines are screaming with fixtures in rich designer hues. "Bathrooms
aren’t as subject to trends in terms of color," notes Donnie Wilkerson,
a designer and owner of Wilkerson’s Do-It Center in Jamestown. "We may
do a whole design on a house; the kitchen may be full of trendy colors, but
in the bathroom we go back to the whites and away from the trendy colors."

Indeed, this year’s "trendy colors" for
bathrooms are go-with-anything, neutral off-whites with mouth-watering names
like biscuit, bisque, and linen. These soft colors have replaced the sterile
bright whites many chose for toilets, tubs, sinks, and even cabinets during
the ’90s.

"White is too austere; it looks too clinical,"
says Barbara Headdy, a sales associate and design consultant at Buzick Lumber
and Home Center in Bardstown. "The new tones are soft and homey looking."

Bass attributes the move toward subtlety to a craving
for warmth. "There’s a lot of uneasiness with the culture that’s out there,
with the economy, with jobs," he speculates. "People are looking for
something that’s rooted deeper, a more secure feeling at home. They want warmth."

Besides, advises Headdy, "You can always change
your wallpaper or your towels if you want a new color. Any color goes with a
neutral basin."

Toning Down Finishes

Even faucets, doorknobs, and cabinet handles
are toning down and showing up in brushed, muted chromes rather than traditional
shiny brass. "People are frustrated with the way the (shiny) finish holds
up and can tarnish," says Wilkerson, who notes that most faucet makers
have introduced new versions of their shiniest faucets with lifetime warranties
on the finishes.

Still, a tight-fisted facelift doesn’t have to produce
a privy with no pizzazz. With a nod to economy-minded remodelers, manufacturers
have come up with affordable alternatives to pricey pieces like whirlpool baths
and antique-look fixtures. Headdy says adding jets to a regular tub can make
bath time just as invigorating as soaking in a state-of-the-art spa. And Kohler,
a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of bathroom fixtures, offers a line of nostalgic
pedestal sinks, matching toilets, and antique-look faucets for prices ranging
from $164 to $390 per piece.

A Single Splurge

If there’s enough money left to splurge on a
single luxury, advises Wilkerson, shore up the shower, a fixture that every
family member uses every day for varying lengths of time. He advocates enlarging
the shower space-even if it means removing a little-used bathtub. Add multiple,
adjustable shower heads and body sprays, and install a seat for an everyday
bathing experience that rivals the more time-consuming soak in an expensive
whirlpool tub.

Updating Vanities

Replace those old, white melamine drawers and
shelves with furniture-quality cabinetry. Wood-grain vanity cabinets sitting
on raised legs like a dining room hutch are showing up in the bathrooms of homeowners
who want the decor of their homes to flow from room to room-even to the bathroom.
Bass says the luxe look of worn wood is easy to achieve by applying inexpensive
crackle finishing paint-available at any home center-to an existing wood cabinet.
"It gives something of an Old World look and looks more expensive than
it really is," he says, noting, "The new finishes are made to look
like old finishes."

Vanities are not only getting fancier, they’re growing
taller: most remodelers eschew the typical 32-inch-tall vanity for a 36-inch
counter, which allows an adult using the sink or mirror to bend less. And designers
are advising homeowners to forget the fantasy of his-and-hers basins on the
vanity; most counters are too small to accommodate two bowls plus the myriad
makeup, hair care products, and appliances that compete for space.

Final Touches

For the floor, cultured marble is popular but
pricey; as an alternative, high-pressure laminates mimic the look of more expensive
natural materials and hold up well in a room prone to puddles and wet footprints.
Earthy floor colors like sand and eggshell complement the new bathroom neutrals.

Finally, focus some attention on brightening the
room by adding lots of mirrors and better lights. Designers complain that many
homes have harsh fluorescent bulbs around a lone vanity mirror-a light that’s
poor for applying makeup because it can change the color of the complexion.
Bass recommends softer incandescent lighting and lots of it. "If your house
is 40 years old, the lighting in the bathrooms is probably horrible," he
says, noting, "As you get older, your eyesight isn’t as good as it used
to be. It helps to have better lighting in the bathroom."

And there’s no need to redo the room all at once,
says Headdy. "Take a look at the overall picture and plan it out as if
you’re going to do the whole thing," she says. "Then pick and choose
what needs to be done first." Eventually, she says, even the tiniest touches
will add up to a bathroom worth boasting about.

Warm Towels, Warm Bathroom

The bathroom seems like the coldest place in
the house when it’s time for a pre-dawn shower. Warm it up a bit with a clever
supplemental heater tucked under the floor or disguised as a towel rack.

Heated towel racks are radiators in disguise. Designed
so they’re safe to throw your towel on them while you’re in the shower, some
of the racks stand alone and can be plugged into any outlet, while others can
be mounted to a wall and hard-wired into your room’s electrical system.

"The majority of hotels in Europe have them,"
notes Owen Kantor, vice president of Runtal North America, which sells wall-mounted
units for $499 to $850. And American homeowners are buying more of them as their
bathrooms are becoming more important to them, he says. "Today, the bathroom
isn’t just for washing up and getting out," he notes. "It’s a room
that’s an inner sanctum for people, a room of leisure. People like to relax
while they bathe. The comfort and luxury of a warm, dry towel is all part of
that."

Besides toasting your towels, the rack radiates heat
into the room, so it helps warm the air.

Once you’re wrapped in that comfy towel, wouldn’t
it feel nice to step onto a heated floor? Under-the-floor electric heat can
warm a whole room. Or you can install it in spots-in front of the shower or
sink, for instance. It costs from $5 to $15 per square foot to install, depending
on the system.

Bathroom Safety

Even if you’re beautifying your bathroom on a
budget, don’t skimp on spending when it comes to safety. Every bathroom should
include:

Ground-fault circuit interrupters. If you’re
remodeling an older home, equip every electrical outlet in the room with a GFCI,
which will quickly break the circuit if there’s a problem. (Installing GFCIs
has been a requirement by the National Electrical Code for new construction
for several years.) This can prevent you from suffering a potentially fatal
shock while using a hair dryer or electric razor.

Ventilation. Moisture that gets trapped in
a bathroom can promote the growth of unhealthy mold and mildew, which can damage
wallpaper and even your walls. Install a ducted exhaust fan in every room that
has a shower.

Good lighting. Whether you’re shaving or applying
makeup, good lighting ensures you’ll avoid mishaps and look your best all day.
Designers favor soft incandescent lighting for the bathroom, and recommend steering
clear of harsh fluorescent lights because they can alter the color of your complexion.

Grab bars. Even if you’re young and healthy,
a grab bar in the shower is extra insurance against an accidental fall. Make
sure yours is bolted into the wall studs and not glued to tile or screwed into
drywall.

Locks. It’s easy to install locks on your
medicine cabinet and under-the-sink storage areas to keep children away from
medicines and poisonous cleaners.

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