ANNUAL MANUAL- Real Estate: Throne Room: Architects re-draw the bathroom

Jeff Dreyfus' bathroom design for his own home

Candance M.P. Smith's design for a client's bathroom

Bedrooms range from humble bunks to lavish boudoirs; kitchens run the gamut from a single hot plate to vast temples to the cooking gods filled with every state-of-the-art convenience; and dining rooms can be anything from the space in front of the television to giant halls seating dozens of guests for a five-course meal. But one room in modern houses offers very little variation in design.

However, there are two architects whose conventions-be-damned attitude means re-imagining the bathroom.


Dreyfus prioritizes both privacy and storage for personal items when he designs a bathroom. How he does it is what's surprising.

"Daylight is very important to me because bathrooms have turned into such predictable, cluttered, and claustrophobic spaces," he says, "They ought to be fun places where you want to be."

So when restoring his own 1930s-era Charlottesville house along with partner Bob Headrick, Dreyfus decided to convert a bedroom into a master bath to indulge his desire for a spacious oasis from the day-to-day grind. The result is a room that looks decidedly minimalist, even typical upon first glance. However, it quickly reveals some quirks.

For one thing, Dreyfus guaranteed that nobody would ever go through his medicine cabinet– there is none. Instead, he decided to install baskets on the back of a door leading to the washer and dryer, immediately oppositethe sink.

"People say, 'I'm used to having everything in front of me,' but it's really no more effort to turn around, walk a step, and get what you need," says Dreyfus. "It's more appropriate for the way we live now: uncluttered and streamlined."

That sums up the effect Dreyfus intended. In keeping with the idea of natural simplicity, he made an effort to keep the space open for natural light and intrude as few individual design elements as possible.

Instead of two separate sinks, there is one long trough with two faucets. Instead of lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling, he put lights inside the top of a short wall that divides the sink from the shower. Instead of a curtain or glass door, a short wall separates the shower from the rest of the room.

Making the short walk around the wall sheds light on the room's most uncommon feature: a window in the shower.

"We used the existing window from the bedroom, and it's nice for bringing a lot of daylight in," says Dreyfus.

The window not only lets the sunshine in: it offers a view of lush greenery behind the house that Dreyfus says he looks forward to every morning. Additionally, he says it assures the only peeping going on back there is at the leaves.

"We don't have any neighbors out that window," he says, "but if somebody's coming to do some work on the house, we want to be aware." 


Candace Smith doesn't necessarily consider herself an architect who's at one with nature.

"Each bathroom design is meant to respond to the client's needs," she says. "I've done everything from French doors leading outside to curved ceilings. It's really a matter of the feel the client wants."

However, in the case of an addition she designed for UVA law professor Mimi Riley and her family's 1984 Albemarle home, a bucolic feel was exactly what the doctor (of laws) ordered.

"I wanted to feel away from it all," Riley explains. "We knew the bathroom was going to be above the sunroom we were putting in on the first floor, so we wanted to retain a fair amount of that feeling."

With that initial vision, Riley and Smith collaborated on a room that was right up Smith's alley.

"I got to use a lot of the features I like to put into the bath: a private room for the toilet– a water closet, as I like to call it– a nice big window, a large shower, two different vanities so both partners can be as neat or as messy as they want without getting into each other's faces," she says. "It has all the natural light and space that a bath should have."

While compromises due to budget and space are par for the course on any project, there was one element Riley succeeded in getting exactly as she had dreamed it would be: a tub from which she could look out on the forest behind her house.

"I wanted it to feel like a treehouse, and that has definitely happened," she says. "You really do feel like you're out in the woods sitting there. We even put stone in instead of glass tile to add to that feel. It's a great refuge away from everything, and it's remarkably private."

Of course, not every aspect of the room occurs in nature.

"They have towel warmers in there now," says Smith. "It fits with the whole warmth of the space."

Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of a story published June 21, 2007.