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Trends: Why wood is burning hot in bathroom design now

The all-wood look has roots in Scandinavia, as well as Japan. Get more design inspiration at

Architectural designer Mary McKee created this master bath addition for the Andrews family in Newton. It features a floating three-drawer teak vanity with vessel sinks and a shelf underneath. Ken Decost, lead cabinetmaker at NS Builders, lined up the wood graining on the drawer fronts all the way across and hid the plumbing trap in the wall cavity. “You need to look carefully to tell there are drawers,” McKee said. “The piece looks almost monolithic.” Sabrina Cole Quinn Photography

Gone are the days of the sterile all-white bath.

“I didn’t want white-on-white with splashes of gray for our master bath,’’ said Meredith Andrews, who hired architectural designer Mary McKee to create a modern master suite addition for the 1930-era Colonial that she shares with her family in Newton. “I wanted something totally different — a master bath with a spa-like feel where I could escape from everyday life.’’

Earlier this month, Houzz, a popular home renovation and design site that connects homeowners and home professionals, released the results of its annual bathroom trends study. Out of the 1,360 US homeowners the site surveyed about their recent or planned master bathroom renovations, 45 percent reported that the bathroom is a place where they relax.


Andrews, who said the master bath was the one room in the house for which she had a clear vision, was inspired by a Malibu beach hotel. To create their sanctuary, McKee incorporated custom teak elements, including a handcrafted floating vanity, against a crisp white backdrop. “There’s a real richness in the color and the streaking,’’ McKee said. She, like many designers, finds herself using more and more wood as a way to warm up baths, which are inherently hard and cold given all the porcelain, metal, and mirror. “People are drawn to its warmth,’’ she said. “You see a lot of natural wood at spa retreats.’’

Designer Annie Hall embraced the coastal Cali vibe for clients in Jamaica Plain by lining the walls of their master bath with custom white oak shiplap finished with a flat varnish to protect against humidity. “I do a lot of natural wood vanities, but this is the first bath I’ve designed with wood walls,’’ Hall said. The siding channels a sauna interior, a look Hall said is coming back.

White oak floorboards run throughout this Jamaica Plain pied-à-terre, including the bathroom. “If the wood floor is properly sealed, and bath mats are used, it should be fine,” designer Annie Hall said. “It might not be the best choice for a children’s bathroom though.” – Michael J. Lee Photography

The all-wood look has roots in Scandinavia, as well as Japan. Architect Deborah Baskin lines entire shower enclosures in wood-effect porcelain tile planks in a vertical orientation. “It’s definitely Japanese-inspired,’’ Baskin said. In a master bathroom for a couple who relocated to the area from Finland, designer Vered Rosen installed wood-effect porcelain tile planks on the floor and used it horizontally to create an accent wall behind the tub. “The client wanted a blend of Scandinavian and Japanese design,’’ she said. “It’s very soothing.’’


Katie Michael-Battaglia, design director of Nemo Tile + Stone, which opened a showroom in Boston’s Innovation District last summer, notes the onslaught of good wood-like porcelain products of late, including fun hexagonal tiles. “Technology has gotten better and better at emulating the real product,’’ Michael-Battaglia said. “Now people are like, ‘That’s really porcelain?’ ’’

Four-inch-by-18-inch wood-effect porcelain planks from Nemo Tile + Stone’s Baroque collection can be used to create a classic herringbone pattern. The collection comes in six colors, and is on display in the Boston showroom. – Megan Lawrence

Beyond the spa aesthetic, wood also infuses character. Nikki Rioff hired designer Kylie Bodiya of Bee’s Knees Interior Design Studio in Hopkinton to update her master bath by injecting it with personality while keeping it classic to preserve its longevity. “I wanted character without investing in a trend that I would regret down the road,’’ said the Weston homeowner, who lives in a Cape built in 1961. “We considered painting the vanity in a color, but I was concerned I’d get tired of it.’’

Laura Keeler Pierce of Keeler & Company chose a natural wood vanity for Teresa Schmitt Pierce’s master bath in Falmouth, Maine. Once they settled on color for the wood wainscot and a fabric for the window treatment, a wood vanity made sense. “The wood vanity feels classic and complements the palette without adding another color to the mix,’’ Schmitt Pierce explained.


While 34 percent of the participants in Houzz’s study opted for white vanities in their master baths, wood vanities weren’t far behind. “Twenty-nine percent of homeowners said they incorporated a wood vanity into their projects last year, making it the second-most-popular vanity color,’’ Gwendolyn Purdom, a home design editor there said. Furthermore, Houzz users are saving images featuring wood vanities. “Out of the 30 most popular photos saved this year, 18 include at least one natural wood element, most commonly in a medium or light wood tone,’’ Purdom said.

In the ’90s, wood vanities had yellow tones resulting from amber-colored stains. Later (after a lot of cherry), espresso finishes were popular. Oftentimes, the color and character of the wood itself were altered or obscured. Not anymore. “Nowadays we want to retain the natural color of woods,’’ said Nick Schiffer of NS Builders, whose workshop fabricated the teak vanity in Meredith Andrews’s bathroom. “There are finishes that are nearly invisible, leaving the wood in its natural tone once it dries.’’

Wellesley-based designer Nicole Hirsch, who installed a rift-sawn oak vanity with a smoky gray stain in her own guest bathroom, favors this approach. “I’m recently opting for unique wood grains with hand-rubbed and custom stains versus always just painting millwork a color,’’ she said. “Showing off the grain of a gorgeous piece of wood can be a very modern look when applied to more clean, contemporary millwork.’’ For an upcoming project with four bathrooms, “I’ll be playing up statement, oversized hardware on the stains,’’ she said.


Bath showrooms are noticing the shift to more organic styles. “We still sell tons of white — it’s been white Shaker vanities all day long — but wood categories are growing,’’ said Jason Sevinor, owner and president of Designer Bath and Salem Plumbing Supply in Watertown and Beverly. “The warmer finishes like walnut and gray stains have become quite popular.’’

Manufacturers are responding. In July, Strasser Woodenworks, which makes wood vanities popular in New England, introduced a finish called “Dusky Oak,’’ which resembles reclaimed wood. Peter Ollestad, vice president of sales, notes that those with a contemporary aesthetic are pairing it with minimalist hardware, while those who lean traditional love it with rugged wrought iron. “The vanity can go either way depending on how you accessorize it,’’ Ollestad said.

“Showrooms are asking for reclaimed wood, rustic wood, and driftwood, different names for the same look,” said Peter Ollestad, vice president of sales at Strasser Woodenworks. “Over the past few years, the trend has been white and gray over and over again, but it’s swinging back to natural materials again.” Pictured is a bath vanity by Strasser Woodenworks in their new “Dusky Oak” finish. “Similar to the ageless beauty of reclaimed wood from old barns, factories, and warehouses, Dusky Oak injects a rich sense of character into the bath,” Ollestad said. – Bob Vinton

Vanities, shelves, and flooring aren’t the only ways to add wood to a bath. Sevinor points to wood accents on cabinet hardware and plumbing fixtures, as well as mahogany toilet seats. “The seats knock people’s socks off,’’ he said. “What more could you want?’’

See more designs below:

Designer Sybil Urmston of sirTANK Design incorporates wood elements in most areas of the house, including the bathroom. “I like bringing the outdoors into bathrooms, and wood is an easy way to do that,” she said. “It gives a spa experience it feels so serene.” She lined the shower of this guest bathroom in Jamaica Plain with Italian porcelain tile planks. – Emily O’Brien/
Designer Vered Rosen used porcelain tile with a clean, subtle grain in the master bath of this Jamaica Plain condo to create a seamless flow from the master bedroom’s 5-inch oak floorboards. – Samara Vise Photography
Island Timber, a division of Island Stone, offers reclaimed teak products in several formats, including Kayu, which is made from timber salvaged from tropical buildings in Indonesia. The company’s CEO, Nigel Eaton, said, “This three-dimensional timber has some thickness, so it absorbs sound and soaks up the echoes in a room.” – Moris Moreno Photography
The Chardonnay floating vanity is part of Native Trails’ Vintners collection, vanities that are made from wood repurposed from California wineries. “The oak staves take on a subtle color having been submerged in wine for six to 12 months,” Native Trails founder Naomi Neilson said. “When you look at these, you can tell there is something special about them. People love things that have a story.” – Native Trails
The owners of this Newton home assumed designer Shannon Tate would advise them to rip the wood out of this bathroom, but Tate thought the wood, which she believes is walnut, was special and well done. Tate added hooks for towels in the nook next to it, and changed the other elements, including the floor, vanity, and lighting. – Shannon Tate
The Armstrong laminate flooring that designer Nicole Hirsch used for the guest bath in her Wellesley home looks like whitewashed wood, but is more durable and very easy to clean. “It runs through the whole basement to create one big, seamless space,” she said. – Sarah Winchester Studios
Designer Shannon Tate uses wood in every project, though she said it’s not a conscious decision. “I want all my projects to feel approachable and warm, so wood always seems to find its way in.” She points out that wood is particularly appealing in a bathroom because it’s a natural material and enhances the feeling of well-being and helps you unwind. She used a budget-friendly vanity from IKEA in this Brookline bathroom, upgraded with modern walnut drawer fronts by Semihandmade. “They also sell panels if you want to cover the white sides,” she said. – Joyelle West
When budget allows, custom millwork is preferable. The wood grains on off-the-shelf designs usually don’t line up, and there isn’t opportunity to choose the exact shade or get a hand-rubbed finish. “If we do wood grain, we use a craftsman,” says designer Angela Hamwey of Mackenzie + Co., who designed this master bath in Westwood. “If the client doesn’t have the budget, we go with a painted finish to hide the imperfections.” – Angel Tucker Photography
Butz + Klug Architecture used white oak wide plank flooring from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors in this master bathroom in Brookline. “Wood is trending in bathrooms because people want the organic, natural feel,” said Chris Sy, president of the flooring company. “We’re seeing people running our wood floor planks right up the wall.” As for the most popular finishes, Sy finds that designers favor white or gray washes with clear, extra matte finishes that let the natural color through. “The more natural and unfinished your products appear the better,” he said. “It’s just the appearance of course, because it needs to be finished in the bathroom.” – Eric Roth Photography
Mio, a hexagonal porcelain tile collection from Nemo Tile + Stone, comes in three dramatic colorways with a contemporary wood-like pattern. It can be used on walls and floors. “You can install radiant heat under a porcelain tile floor,” the company’s design director, Katie Michael-Battaglia, said. “You can’t do that with a wood floor.” – Courtesy of Gamma DUE

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at Send comments to [email protected]. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @globehomes


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