For Bathrooms, Bold and Bespoke Are In

For Bathrooms, Bold and Bespoke Are In


Bathrooms have become spa-like sanctuaries dominated by tile, colors, patterns, textures, and finishes where bold is in these days.

Bathrooms move from boring to blissful with beautiful ceramics.

The standard issue mid-20th-century Bay Area home usually had one bathroom designed for hasty grooming rituals and not so much for lingering. No longer. Today’s contemporary bathrooms are spa-worthy sanctuaries designed to live — and luxuriate — in.

“I return to the original intention of the space when designing a new bathroom, and that’s ‘self-care,’” said Ana Mathys, kitchen and bath designer at Berkeley’s HDR Remodeling. “My goal is to create a space for our clients infused with a distinctive personal aesthetic and the amenities to allow them to leave a better version of themselves.”

Today’s modern bathroom design style is dominated by unique tile and stone treatments in a prism of colors, unusual patterns, and a plethora of textures and finishes ranging from bold to bodacious. Sleek matte finishes that mimic metal, high-gloss glass and porcelains, and sculptural puzzles, tile creates a dramatic focal point, especially in smaller bathrooms.

“Eco-conscious East Bay homeowners consistently ask for earth-friendly, sustainably and locally sourced products for their bathroom remodeling projects,” said Mathys. “We’re lucky to have companies like Heath Ceramics and Fire Clay Tile, two of the California’s pre-eminent ceramic producers, based here in the Bay Area.

“These companies are renowned for their recycled clay formulas and hand-crafted/painted ceramics,” added Mathys. “They’re our go-to resource for unique or custom tile treatments.

“Adventurous homeowners are also looking for daring colors and distinctive patterns, or a combination of traditional and modern aesthetics for timeless appeal,” said Mathys.

In other words, plain white tile is out, bold and bespoke are in.

So are bidets, natural fibers, living plants, and lots of sunlight — what Mathys described as “California Casual” — an eclectic blending of natural materials devised to bring the outdoors in. This includes a move away from shiny silver and chrome fixtures, to warmer finishes like brushed nickel and unlacquered brass.

Porcelain-tile-wood look-alikes are right at home in this aesthetic and introduce earthiness where natural wood flooring might not be an appropriate choice of materials. Porcelain tile can truly mimic its arboreal counterpart when laid in as planks, or lend sublime visual interest when set in herringbone patterns.

Predicated on the California Craftsmen movement, Heath Ceramics also carries a line of period-perfect tile options for Bay Area homes built during the movement’s heyday.

With their identifiable origins and distinctive organic appeal, terrazzo and terrazzo-look products are making a big comeback, Mathys said. Traditionally made from marble or quartz, the 21st-century interpretations include fist sized river rocks bisected and polished to a wet sheen, or colorful glass terrazzos that add playfulness along with bright pops of color. No longer reserved for flooring, versatile terrazzo is finding its way to countertops, backsplashes, and shower stall walls, too.

For those in search of an updated take on the traditional bath, look to the Middle East and Northern Africa for inspiration. With their intricate patterns, and visual complexity, Turkish and Moroccan tiles are an exotic counterpoint to hyper-minimalist bathrooms. Use them sparingly to create tile “rugs” or accent walls.

However, if you’re still set on the iconic white subway tile bathroom, (no, you’re not boring; just more “traditional”) you can modernize your tile treatment with colored grouts for unexpected and delightful results.

As you might suspect, tile costs can eat up a budget quickly. But don’t be dissuaded. You can still create a bodacious bathroom by using tile selectively. Sculpted accent pieces in whimsical designs, or a swath of iridescent glass tiles enlivens a backsplash and adds visual interest without breaking the porcelain piggy bank.



HDR Remodeling, 2952 Sacramento St., Berkeley, 510-845-6100,


Fire Clay

Faces of the East Bay