Bathrooms make a splash

They used to be the place for a quick wash and brush up, but now bathrooms are for pampering and relaxing in. Saunas, steam rooms, two-headed double showers, even waterproof TVs - these days, anything goes, says Nicole Swengley
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The Independent Online

First Hollywood sexed up the bathroom (think Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). Then architects and designers started creating self-indulgent sanctuaries in new-build homes. Now even the humblest British bathroom is coming out of the closet as previously cramped, clinical quarters are turning into pampering playgrounds designed for de-stressing and rejuvenating as well as shedding the daily grime.

First Hollywood sexed up the bathroom (think Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch). Then architects and designers started creating self-indulgent sanctuaries in new-build homes. Now even the humblest British bathroom is coming out of the closet as previously cramped, clinical quarters are turning into pampering playgrounds designed for de-stressing and rejuvenating as well as shedding the daily grime.

Five-star hotels have also raised the game. Plush bathrooms with huge tubs, spacious showers, dual basins and stacks of storage create a wistful desire for a similar environment back home. So much so that today's homeowners are increasingly demanding shower rooms that double as steam rooms (jets convert from water to steam at the flick of a button), flat TV screens set into bathroom walls (operated by a floating waterproof remote control), bathrooms with in-built saunas and walk-in double-size showers with two separate shower-heads for Mr and Mrs Busy.

Be prepared to splash out financially if you've been seduced by resort-style luxury. French designer Andrée Putman, whose hotel interiors include Pershing Hall in Paris and Morgans in New York, has designed a freestanding white acrylic tub for Hoesche with a wrap-around aluminium surround. It looks fantastic but costs a hefty £6,048 from Original Bathrooms while the smallest (10.4in) Aquavision waterproof TV screen costs £1,874 at Colourwash.

Bathrooms International is an excellent place to start planning major changes. Here, top-flight designers including Mary Fox Linton, Ann Boyd and Tessa Kennedy whet the appetite with their stylish room-sets. If you're after the full-on Hollywood look, check out Barbara Barry's Art Deco-inspired Glamour range. The black granite bath, £12,130, has a mirrored surround that matches a mirrored vanity unit, £6,878.

Interesting materials are a key ingredient in contemporary bathrooms - stone baths, marble work-surfaces, glass or terracotta basins, wooden shower trays and towel storage. For sheer unashamed indulgence check out sophisticated designs at Alternative Plans such as Agape's oval Spoon bath, £5,074, made from a resin composite called Exmar, and Boffi's Po bath-tub, £16,409, carved from a single block of stone.

Villeroy & Boch offers exemplary contemporary designs including the deep oval Aveo bath-tub, £3,156. Its Colourline basins, from £464, come in shades such as ice-blue, yellow or pearly pink with a dirt-resistant finish called CeramicPlus. They're available in five shapes including triangular. Even funkier styles come courtesy of the French designer Philippe Starck at C.P. Hart.

The trendiest bathroom these days is the totally water-proof "wet room" (with its own floor drain) which requires expert installation. Too impractical? Then consider Matki Showering's EauZone, £5,100, a glass-enclosed two-metre tall shower unit with body jets and oversized shower-head that offers the open space of a wet room without tanking the floor.

Whirlpool baths can do wonders for backache and circulation (be aware that a "spa bath" is a different animal from a "whirlpool bath" since its massage effect is not as forceful). They're now so popular that mainstream manufacturers such as Ideal Standard, Sottini and Villeroy & Boch offer baths with massage options. Or contact a whirlpool specialist such as Trevi, Teuco or Jacuzzi. You can buy a basic model from around £700 but double this figure for a top-notch design with rotating back-jets and mood lighting.

If you fancy adding a sauna or steam room, Svedbergs will recommend installers for its high-style Swedish-designed products. It also sells a DIY sauna, from £3,344, that won't need the services of an electrician or plumber as it plugs into a domestic socket (they promise that two "handy" people can install it in six hours).

Not everyone has space for such luxury. But even tiny bathrooms can be sexed up, for example, with a sunken Lilia bath measuring just 70cm x 120cm. It has a tiny price-tag too - just £199 - from online retailer Bathroom Heaven. Costs can also be kept down by using a free design service at Colourwash and by mixing European designer brands with the company's own-label products such as the Tuscan circular basin, £120, or Metro square basin, £299 (think Prada teamed with Marks & Spencer).

If you can't find what you want in the shops then a space-specific design could be the answer. Colombian architect Lucho Brieva will create a shower whose back-lit panels glow like a jewel-box (around £7,000) or a "Water Altar", from £1,800, with a circular white basin perching on a back-lit steel and polycarbonate unit. Or how about a sunken white Corian bath with a 2m-tall curved glass shower curtain similar to one built recently in a London apartment by Robin Ellis Design? It will set you back around £20,000. But some homeowners consider it a price worth paying to create a perfect pampering zone.

Alternative Plans 020-7228 6460, www.alternative-plans.co.uk

Bathroom Heaven 0845 121 6700, www.bathroomheaven.com

Bathrooms International 020-7838 7788, www.bathroomsint.com

C.P. Hart 020-7902 1000, www.cphart.co.uk

Colourwash 020-8459 8918, www.colourwash.co.uk

Ideal-Standard 01482 346461, www.ideal-standard.co.uk

Jacuzzi UK 01782 717175, www.jacuzzi.co.uk

Lucho Brieva 020-8960 2794 by appointment

Matki Showering 01454 322888, www.matki.co.uk

Original Bathrooms 020-8940 7554, www.original-bathrooms.co.uk

Robin Ellis Design and Construction 020-7449 4252, www.robinellis.co.uk

Sottini 01482 449513, www.sottini.co.uk

Svedbergs 020-7371 9214, www.svedbergs.co.uk

Teuco 020-7704 2190, www.teuco.co.uk

Villeroy & Boch 020-8871 4028, www.villeroy-boch.com

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