Look at a kitchen or bathroom in any house and you can almost always tell when it was built or last refinished. It seems those two rooms, more than any other in a home, are barometers of the times.
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, says Joe Dhamer, co-owner of Kitchen & Bath Mart in Palatine and Niles, feature much larger format tiles, sometimes as large as 18-by-32 inches, made of porcelain or natural stone.
"These taller tiles add a perception of a higher ceiling in the bathrooms where we use them," he says. "As for colors, the hot tile colors today are the gray tones, along with white porcelain with the a marble appearance.
"Homeowners are removing their bathtubs in favor of showers. People are opting for stall showers with benches and multiple shower functions, such as hand showers and body sprays. They are also doing the universal comfort designs to allow them to stay in their homes safely as they age," Dhamer says.
Those who do want bathtubs are gravitating toward air system tubs, also known as Thermomasseurs, which blow warm air into the tub without recirculating the water through a pump. Air tubs allow people to use aroma therapy oils and bath salts that can ruin a typical whirlpool tub, Dhamer says. Air tubs are also more hygienic because of the drying cycle that occurs after the homeowner's bathing experience is complete.
Free-standing soaking tubs, and those with the air system, are particularly popular because they open up space in a bathroom. They also add a functional and pleasant design element.
Heated floors that take the chill off flooring surfaces are of great comfort and are commonly included in projects completed by Kitchen & Bath Mart, Dhamer says.
Mirrors and medicine cabinets that double as television screens, as well as Bluetooth audio systems, are frequently being specified as people try to make more effective use of their time by catching up on the news while getting ready in the morning, Dhamer says.
The investment each homeowner is willing to make dictates whether some or all of the newer comforts and technologies are able to be incorporated into the project's final plan.
Kitchens -- often the center of the home -- are another window to the times in which they were constructed.
The days of 30-inch tall wall cabinets with soffits above are gone. They have been replaced by wall cabinets to the ceiling with crown molding at the ceiling line. This creates a dramatic look and increases storage. It also creates clean, simple lines throughout the new space.
Finishes, including paints of all shades and colors, have become so common that the cabinet manufacturers are now offering any Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams color as an option, Dhamer says. This flexibility also allows homeowners to have the freedom to accent islands or other areas of interest.
In regards to accessibility of cabinetry, deep drawer bases designed to accommodate heavy pots and pans creates effortless and universal access. Small appliance centers allow coffee makers, toasters and other small electric items to be plugged in and conveniently hidden behind doors on the countertop. Corners are also being used more efficiently as accessories are designed and incorporated into the cabinetry.
One of the main focal points of a kitchen continues to be the countertops. Cost and durability vary greatly, but the most popular surface today is quartz because of its durability and ease of care. Current technology allows quartz manufacturers the ability to create quartz slabs that resemble natural marble and granite, yet these countertops require less maintenance.
The backsplash area of the wall, between the countertop and the upper cabinets, has also changed. This area has reverted back to a more classic design with less glitz and more timeless materials such as stone and ceramic being used in varying sizes and patterns to create interest. Common subway tile is even available in many size variations to dramatically change the feel of the kitchen, transforming it from traditional to modern.
When it comes to lighting, efficient LED lighting is now the standard. Overall illumination is accomplished easily and efficiently with LEDs, no matter where the fixtures are placed.
Kitchen & 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 full design and selection services, with complete installation available.
"Our goal is to make your kitchen or bath a room that integrates with the rest of your home. Our designers are able to assist with other rooms, as well, while working on a kitchen or a bath project," Dhamer says.
Kitchen & Bath Mart showrooms 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 www.kbmart.net.