In May, we talked modern kitchen design with Rick Kimmel, owner of Select Kitchen & Bath, a Best Pick remodeling company operating in the Virginia and Washington, DC, areas. We’ve now turned to Select Kitchen & Bath’s Bathroom Consultant Derek Baxter to talk about practical bathroom upgrades, aesthetics, and design. He also goes into detail on what homeowners can expect from the remodeling process at large.

While the layman can joke about his wife spending a lot of time in the bathroom (and vice versa), Baxter has both of them beat. Having begun his career as a professional plumber, he has worked in and around bathrooms for eleven years and has been the bathroom consultant with Select Kitchen & Bath for over five of them.

At Select, Baxter carries his plumbing expertise with him as he advises clients on new bathroom features, shepherding homeowners through the planning stages of their project. “I enjoy the challenge of working with the homeowner’s needs and wants within the existing space to bring about a beautiful project,” he said.

According to Baxter, that’s what his work as a designer comes down to: the homeowners, their desires, and a beautiful, functional finished space.

Master Bathroom Remodeling Process

remodeled master bathroom
Photo credit: Select Kitchen & Bath

Stage 1: Getting to know the homeowner

Baxter begins most remodeling projects with a conversation. After an inquiry call from a homeowner, he visits the home to get a feel for the space as well as the owners’ priorities. Additional vanity space? Tub conversion? Tile preferences? And one question he always asks:

“How many bottles of shampoo do you have?”

For Baxter, getting to know how someone operates within their home—even the deceptively small details, like their sundry bathing products—is integral to the design process.

“The number of shampoo bottles determines their storage needs,” Baxter explained. “It also determines the placement of the niche. If you have five bottles of shampoo, you’ll want the niche below the direct line of sight or hidden in a half-wall, so you don’t take away from the look of the shower.”

Stage 2: Project planning and shopping for materials

After the walkthrough and discussion, Baxter arranges a detailed project proposal, which includes a budget estimation and itemized shopping list. If the job includes modifying the footprint, Baxter creates a 2-D plan view of the room so the homeowners may better visualize the finished space. His goal, Baxter said, is to be as thorough as possible. Once complete, he submits the proposal in the form of a seven-page-thick packet to the homeowners for review.

At this point, Baxter encourages homeowners to be diligent: “Shop around, compare with other companies, and go with the one that best suits your needs,” he said. “And make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges.” Ask about essential procedures, such as how a company waterproofs a shower, to ensure you’re getting the best result, not merely the cheapest.

If a client makes an agreement with Select, they can expect construction to begin in one to two months, depending on the availability of materials. According to Baxter, a 10x10 master bathroom remodel typically requires 4–5 weeks, though he advises homeowners to factor in an additional week for shipment delays.

As an industry standard, shower glass and countertop measurements don’t occur until all other work is completed, and these materials often take several weeks to ship from the manufacturer. Waiting for a custom cabinetry shipment can also postpone the project, Baxter added.

With this in mind, he encourages his clients to meet with the decorator and shop for materials as soon as they’re able. Also during this stage, the production managers visit the property to verify the scope of work and finalize the budget, after which the homeowners sign a contract with a small deposit for materials and labor.

Stage 3: Construction begins

Once the paperwork is out of the way, homeowners have the weekend to remove their personal effects from the bathroom so construction can begin. At this point, Baxter turns the project over to production.

Select Kitchen & Bath uses a lead installer system, Baxter explained, meaning one on-site installer works for eight hours each day, and a production manager typically visits the property every other day to assess the progress. Select involves affiliate subcontractors in the installation of custom shower doors and large countertops, as well as master plumbers for extensive relocation of pipes.

Common Bathroom Design Trends and Alternatives

remodeled master bathroom
Photo credit: Select Kitchen & Bath

Oftentimes, what catches the eye in a magazine spread or on Pinterest isn’t practical for a bathroom that receives daily use. Throughout our conversation, Baxter pointed to several current bathroom trends that may be more trouble than they’re worth and explained the rationale behind his personal design preferences.

Countertops and sinks

New counters add style and surface area to a bathroom, and they’re often the first thing on a homeowner’s wish list. When shopping for countertops, material is an important consideration. Popular for both bathrooms and kitchens, granite and other natural stone countertops are valued for their aesthetic, but not for ease of care.

Because natural stone will stain if it isn’t regularly sealed, Baxter recommends engineered quartz countertops for master bath remodels. Engineered quartz retains the look of real stone and is nonporous, so it doesn’t require sealing. It’s scratch and abrasion resistant, offers a broader color variety than natural stone, and is easy to clean with soap and water.

Baxter also advises against vessel sinks, a trendy choice for a quick dash of modernism in many new or remodeled bathrooms, since the detached bowl invites clutter and is more difficult to clean than the traditional sunken basin.

Vanity lighting

Recessed lighting placed over the vanity area of a bathroom is a common design flaw. Overhead lights cast shadows, making grooming rituals like shaving or applying makeup more difficult, whereas fixtures placed on either side of a mirror cast light evenly over the face.

Sidelights are “the most ideal methodology for putting on makeup,” Baxter said. For extra-large mirrors, he recommended a triple sconce installed at the top, which offers a similar advantage at moderate cost.

If proper vanity lighting is especially important, bathroom mirrors with build-in LEDs lend even illumination and a contemporary style.

Ceramic vs. porcelain tile

For bathroom floors, which are consistently exposed to water, Baxter favors porcelain tile over ceramic, porcelain’s slightly more economical cousin.

Ceramic tiles tend to be more porous than porcelain tiles, so you can have an issue with water seeping through the tile,” Baxter said. “The added benefit of porcelain is that the color of the tile tends to be truer through the body of the tile, so if the tile scratches or cracks, it’s better hidden. Once the glaze cracks on the ceramic tile, you can see the different color of the body.”

Showerheads

Both rainfall showerheads and body jets installed in the walls of the shower are attractive, high-end features relatively popular on today’s market, but their value leans more cosmetic than practical, Baxter suggested.

They may look nice, but rainfall showerheads typically have low water pressure, meaning they’re ill-suited for washing shampoo from long, thick hair, for example. Likewise, body jets require extensive plumbing work and use a large amount of water per shower, making them unfriendly to both budgetary and conservational concerns.

More often than not, Baxter recommends a dual showerhead to his clients: “It’s just more functional—you can use the detachable head to give your dog a bath if you need to.”

Before You Remodel

remodeled master bathroom
Photo credit: Select Kitchen & Bath

Functionality and practicality live at the core of Baxter’s design philosophy, which balances homeowner desires with the resale value of an investment. When considering a remodel, first determine how long you’ll stay in your current home, Baxter suggested.

“If you’re going to be in the home for the next one to five years, then you really have to look at a bathroom remodel from the viewpoint of a resale,” he said. “If that’s the case, you’ll want to consult a realtor in regards to current trends. Budget-wise, you want something that’s going to hold up for the next five years, going to look good when it comes to resale, but you’re not necessarily investing in custom cabinetry.”

On the other hand, if you’re remodeling your forever home, or as Baxter jokes, “The one they’ll have to drag you out of kicking and screaming,” focus on the bathroom you want.

“If you love the color purple, you do the color purple,” Baxter said.