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Inside design: Barbara Sallick

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Design Experts

Inside design: Barbara Sallick

There are some who say that Barbara Sallick is responsible for transforming the way people on this continent think about bathrooms. (Click here for a larger view of image on left). Both the company she founded in 1978, Waterworks (a purveyor of fine bath fixtures and accessories), and her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Designing the Perfect Bath ($16, Perfect Paperback, 2006), elevate the bathroom from lowly utility room to luxury spa. We asked Barbara to help us draw the perfect bath.

S@H You call yourself a bathroom evangelist. Why?
BS
Three decades ago, bathrooms weren't a priority. You had a choice of avocado, gold, white or pink tiles and fixtures, and the rooms were as big as a closet. My father ran a plumbing company, and my husband, Robert, and I started Waterworks to sell bathroom fittings and fixtures similar to what we'd seen in Europe. So we took a leap of faith and opened a showroom in the United States. But when we asked architects to come and see the showroom, they'd say, "Why?"

S@H What changed the thinking toward bathrooms?
BS
A few things. For one, hotels realized they only had two opportunities to impress a guest: in the bedroom and in the bathroom . So those two rooms had to be memorable. Hoteliers succeeded, and people came home and said, "I want that." About the same time, Jacuzzi made a whirlpool bath designed for the home -- they'd formerly only been available for therapeutic use in hospitals. I also think the idea of a big, beautiful bathroom started making sense. With both parents in the workforce, a retreat became important. You couldn't lock the kitchen, but you could lock the bathroom door.

S@H We've witnessed a huge movement toward the spa bath. Will that trend continue to be strong?
BS
Yes. The bathroom as day spa is a more recent phenomenon that's developed in the past five years. Now people aren't thinking so much about the hotel they stayed in but about re-creating the spa they went to. Spas have become more mainstream, largely because we're all so busy and crave tranquility. S@H What are the key elements of the spa bath? BS Everything revolves around water, from the oversize soaker tub, maybe even with a run-off trough to create a waterfall effect, to the highly functional shower with multiple settings and jets. The sound of water is hypnotic, and the feeling is soothing. The bottom line is that the spa bathroom is about personal comfort -- yours, not your family's.

Image courtesy of WaterworksS@H Describe your favourite bathroom ever.
BS
It's funny -- I've been in many, but the ones I remember most aren't the wild ones, but rather those that accomplish serenity. I was in an old country house in Connecticut where the bathroom was built around two red leather chairs. They'd hung a chandelier imported from France and used black-and-white marble throughout. There was a fireplace at one end, and they'd hung elegant art. It was breathtaking.

S@H On your mission to make over the bathrooms of North America, what's your biggest obstacle?
BS
Execution. I see people investing in wonderful, expensive materials and products that are then poorly installed. There's incredibly ingenious technology that manufacturers are using to improve the bathroom. But it's all for nothing if it's not done well. I'm on a real tear about this right now. I'm encouraging people to be tough -- ask questions of potential contractors and tradespeople, and always be sure to inspect their work.

On tap

Barbara Sallick, founder of Waterworks, offers four must-haves for a modern spa bath.

1 A big tub and/or two-person shower. Barbara recommends one that's well equipped with a hand shower (and a seat for the shower) and that also delivers an appropriate amount of water pressure.

2
A piece of furniture, like an armchair, loveseat or ottoman. "This is a space where you do more than just clean up -- you relax, recline and read. So make sure you have a comfortable spot to sit and a place for a book," says Barbara.

3 Ambient lighting. Dimmers are critical, but also consider floor lamps, table lamps and sconces for lighting up small areas away from the tub.

4
Music. Pipe in soothing sounds by installing speakers, and invest in a small iPod dock or in one of the many new waterproof radios (they can even be hung in a shower).

Image courtesy of Waterworks
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Inside design: Barbara Sallick