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The Open Shower
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Pull off the curtains and take away the doors for a refreshing surprise in the shower.

Variations on the no-shower door approach, which has been in use for about 5 years, are getting more and more requests these days, according to Helene Terry with BentWood Kitchens, Solutions for Kitchen and Bath, who emphasizes that the open shower concept requires quite a large shower to make the design successful. Larger showers are also becoming more popular at Paramount Construction, according to spokesperson, Gary Deese.

?I don?t know if it has to do with our lifestyle or what,? Deese said. ?But a shower is more of an enjoyable thing now than just a function of something you do on a daily basis. And we?re seeing a lot of people putting convenience in their showers and the multiple heads that give a body massage?water is a very comforting thing.?

Larger showers also offer other practical benefits. For instance, a standard wheelchair, which measures 24- 27 inches wide, necessitates a shower without doors; but converting the average tub (30-34inches by 60 inches) provides only limited space for showering in a wheelchair. If the shower is built spacious, initially, only a minimal amount of remodeling is necessary to convert the space comfortably for the handicap.

?We?ve had enclosed showers in the past,? said Robert James, 1999-2000 president of AIA and founding partner of James, Harwick,+ Partners, Inc. ?And I never liked them because they were nothing but maintenance problems. Glass always gets soap scum and pitted; I didn?t want a shower curtain. They are just more things to clean up. So, I incorporated the area you normally step out the tub and made that the shower area. It?s worked out well.? In fact, the shower/bath area is a separate room, without a door; it opens directly off a hallway that leads to the vanity and dressing areas of the master bath. Locating the showerhead on the wall opposite the hall and providing ample flooring of natural green slate tile allows for plenty of splash space with left over dry area for a wooden slat bench. And because the James liked to see plumbing along the walls of the old buildings they encountered on their European travels, they chose an English shower system, which protrudes from the shower wall, a specially designed structure of brick and limestone.

?I found out they were resurfacing the San Jacinto Monument at the same time I was designing the house,? James said. ?We wanted the house to be a part of Texas in the sort of cultural historical aspects. So, I had the stone quarried from the same quarry they were doing the San Jacinto Monument at the same time. It comes from Leander, Texas.? Seashells, embedded in the limestone, give the blocks a beach-like character. When combined with brick lined end-to-end, the limestone wall presents a horizontal pattern that James extended beyond the bathroom to include the interior first floor and also on the exterior front facade.

?We seem to be going toward larger finish material, whether tile or marble or granite or whatever, ? Deese said. ?People are looking at the maintenance. The less grout you have, the less cleaning you?re got. I can?t tell you how many people ask us for, at the very least, a cultured marble shower so they don?t have any grout, except in the corners. And that?s also with the glass units?you don?t have all the framing work for the mildew to start building up in it.? Thick glass-panes, joined together without metal, give a seamless looking construction that can be etched in design, if wanted. The glass is a very strong, tempered material that?s capable of large spans and bigger showers.

?I think we were one of the pioneers of the door-less shower,? said Cheryl Van Dyne, A.S.I.D. who, fifteen years ago, designed a 54-inch square marble and granite shower for her master bath. Large 12 by 12 and 6 by 6 inch square combination tiles make up the shower and require little grout; and three-inch granite dots add grip as well as pattern to the floor. While smaller than some of today?s large showers, Van Dyne?s shower has his and her showerheads??my shower head lower, his shower head higher,? Van Dyne said. ?What we have found is that not very much water splashes out the way I set the showerheads?pointing away from the door. But there?s enough space in there so that when we?ve showering, that if we splash out, the walk-off matt catches it. I?ve never once wanted to put a shower door on it.?

?But the main thing in these showers is drainage?making sure all the water wants to run to the drain,? Van Dyne said. ?And if water splashes out a little bit, so what?it?s on the same material.?

?We never had a mildew problem,? Van Dyne said. ?Part of that is because of the large open shower. It doesn?t stay moist and humid. And I made sure we had good ventilation.?

?Steam has a lot to do with the size of the room?the larger the room, the more you?re dispersing the steam,? Deese said. ?I always suggest that you vent the room to the outside.?

?You see steam rooms on a lot, if not most, of the very high end homes,? Deese said. ?But, not many people use them. To be honest, we are taking out as many as we put in. They?re a little bit problematic. To generate the steam, the system tends to pull all the minerals out of the water, and that tends to catch inside the units.?

?It seems that people are thinking of resale more than their own personal use when talking about the master bath, ? Deese said. ?A beautiful marble tub with the columns?ah, it?s gorgeous?love to have that, but I?ll never use it. Sure, it?s pretty, but not functional. Or you can go with the cultured marble or tile or true stone, and then drop the tub units into it. Those are the type of tubs I think are a lot more comfortable, and people tend to enjoy because they are more ergonomically designed for the body.?

Even so, to fill the tub, put in bubble bath, and soak in the whirlpool takes time.

The shower, on the other hand, suits the quick, hustle-bustle pace of daily life, according to Deese. And because showering with multiple sprays has become so enjoyable, the creative trend lately is putting showers in guest rooms, secondary rooms, even kids rooms and, of course, a larger shower in the master bath.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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