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updated: 5/14/2012 2:48 PM

Industry Insider: Joe Dhamer, Kitchen and Bath Mart

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  • Solid granite backsplashes are no longer as popular in the kitchen, giving way to stone and colorful tile.

    Solid granite backsplashes are no longer as popular in the kitchen, giving way to stone and colorful tile.
    Courtesy of Kitchen and Bath Mart

  • Soaking tubs in the modern home have replaced oversized whirlpools.

    Soaking tubs in the modern home have replaced oversized whirlpools.
    Courtesy of Kitchen and Bath Mart

  • Many homeowners today prefer a stand-alone shower, but will opt for a separate tub if they have the space.

    Many homeowners today prefer a stand-alone shower, but will opt for a separate tub if they have the space.
    Courtesy of Kitchen and Bath Mart

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

Look at a kitchen or bathroom in any house and you can almost always tell when it was built or last refinished. It seems that these two rooms, more than any other in a house, are barometers of time.

Walk into a 1950s bathroom, for example, and you will find a free-standing sink with two skinny little chrome legs, small squares of heavy tiles three-quarters of the way up all the walls and a standard tub.

Walk into a 1990s bathroom, on the other hand, and it will generally be a much larger room featuring a whirlpool tub surrounded by a tile deck, a stall shower and a double sink vanity. Tile will generally be confined to the shower and tub areas and to the floor.

The bathrooms being designed today feature much larger format tiles, sometimes as large as 18-by-32 inches, made of porcelain or natural stone, said Joe Dhamer, co-owner of Kitchen and Bath Mart in Palatine and Niles.

"These taller tiles add a perception of a higher ceiling in the bathrooms where we use them," he said. "As for colors, the hot tile colors today are the gray tones, along with white and chocolate."

Medium-toned stained cabinets featuring glazes and washes that accent cabinet details are also popular. But today's cabinet lines are much simpler than those in the past. Gone are the ornate corbels of several years ago. But the crown molding to the ceiling is still in vogue, Dhamer says.

While natural stone bathroom countertops are still quite popular, quartz countertops are making inroads in the marketplace because they demand so much less maintenance, he said. Homeowners are also attracted to Cambria quartz because it is made in the United States, comes with a warranty, does not require sealing, is very consistent in look and texture; and is priced consistently, regardless of color and edge choice.

"With natural stone, some colors are just very expensive to get. If you have a quarry in South America that is flooded six months out of the year, that means you can't mine it half of the year and the cost goes up," Dhamer said. "That doesn't happen with quartz."

"Homeowners are also ditching their tubs in favor of showers, if they have limited space," he said. "People are opting for stall showers with benches and multiple shower heads. They are not doing this for resale because they know they aren't selling for the next five years. They are doing this for themselves."

Those who do have room for tubs in addition to their showers, are gravitating toward air system tubs like Thermomasseurs, which blow warm air into the tub without running it through a recirculating pump. This allows people to use nice oils and bath salts that can ruin a typical whirlpool tub, Dhamer said. In addition, the fan later turns on and dries the tub after the homeowner's bathing is complete.

Free-standing soaking tubs, including those with the air system, are particularly popular because they open up the space in a bathroom. While the free-standing tub itself is more expensive than a tub that is dropped into a tile deck, when you add in the cost of constructing the deck and tiling it, the cost is comparable, Dhamer said.

Walk-in tubs are also asked for more often today, especially by older homeowners who are hoping to avoid a fall.

Heated floors that take the chill off a natural stone or porcelain floor are also gaining in popularity, as are heated towel bars, which not only warm a homeowner's towel, but also dehumidifies the bathroom during the warm summer months.

Finally, mirrors and medicine cabinets that feature televisions within them are making inroads into the marketplace as people try to make more effective use of their time by catching up on the news while getting ready in the morning, Dhamer said.

Kitchens are another window to the times in which they were constructed.

Today's kitchens, Dhamer says, feature clean, simple lines using medium-tone cabinetry. Oftentimes homeowners choose contrasting colors and textures between the island and the perimeter cabinetry, he said. Integrating the appliance fronts into the cabinetry is still very popular. Drawer bases that accommodate heavy pots and pans and offer plenty of lid storage are also in demand.

Small appliance centers that allow coffee makers, toasters and other small electric items to be plugged in and conveniently hidden behind doors on the countertop are also being increasingly requested.

The countertops themselves are still primarily natural stone, but quartz is also becoming popular in the kitchen. Some homeowners are also choosing to use recycled glass countertops, but are swallowing hard at the price of that environmentally-conscious decision.

Ultraefficient LED lights are becoming less expensive to purchase so they are also gaining in market share, especially for use under cabinets where homeowners and kitchen designers alike want consistent light with bulbs that seldom need to be changed, Dhamer said.

The backsplashes they light up have also changed. Most of the ones Dhamer and his designers install feature natural stone tiles, accented by glass or metal pieces, and the backsplash goes all the way down to the natural stone or quartz countertop. Solid granite backsplashes are out of favor.

Finally, kitchen sinks have also changed. The large farmhouse or apron front sinks are in demand today. Most are made of stainless steel, hammered copper or fired clay with a very hard enamel finish, Dhamer said.

Kitchen and Bath Mart has been in business since 1958 when it was founded in Niles by Robert Dhamer. Today his two sons, Joe and Dennis, run the business together. Their two stores offer top-to-bottom kitchen and bath assistance, from lighting to flooring and everything in between.

"Our aim is to make your kitchen or bath a room that integrates with the rest of your house. So our designers can offer design assistance for other rooms in a house, too, when they are working on a kitchen or a bath," Dhamer said.

Kitchen and Bath Mart stores are located at 116 S. Northwest Hwy., Palatine, and at 7755 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles. For more information, call (847) 991-1550 (Palatine) or (847) 905-9562 (Niles), or visit

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