Contemporary bathroom design is all about simplicity

The first thought that comes to mind when pondering this year's smash movie "Fifty Shades of Grey" is probably not the aesthetics in the bathroom.

Yet, if you're going for a modern, sleek look for a room in which you and your family spend a good deal of time, you may want to borrow a few decorating tips from Christian Grey, the movie's handsome, secretive, fetishistic multimillionaire.

Free-standing tubs, like the one featured in the movie, can instantly modernize a bathroom, as can clean lines and a mixture of materials.

And then there's gray - not the "Fifty Shades" character, of course - but the color itself.

"It's all about grays at the moment," says Michelle Silver, who works in sales in kitchen and bath design for Studio 41, which specializes in home fixtures and d├ęcor and is based in Chicago. Silver says she has been seeing "beautiful new neutrals" that come in hues ranging from a deep ebony shade of gray to light, taupe-like French grays.

Kerry Kelly, the owner of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, California, says a color called "greige" - a mixture of gray and beige - is one of her go-to colors.

But not everything in modern bathrooms needs to be varying shades of gray. Nor does a modern bathroom have to feel cold and steely.

The grays can be paired, Silver says, with mid-tone blues, silvers and blacks, which combine for a visually welcoming vibe.

Of course, Christian Grey also had good design instincts when he (or his designer) chose a white palette for his bathroom.

"Of course, white will always be hot," Silver says, adding that white subway tile, a brick tile pattern, is a consistent best-seller nearly everywhere.

Some fixtures in contemporary bathrooms tend to be wall-mounted or free-standing, like the aforementioned tub. Kerrie Kelly points to floating vanities with open shelving below while Silver adds that flat-panel designs with minimal decorations and features on doors add a modern look, as do furniture legs on vanities that take the structure off the floor, and skirted and wall-mounted toilets.

The contemporary style, Kelly says, is "all about simplicity and neutrality."

"Clean lines are the essence of modern style, so we celebrate hard angles and sleek linear focal points," she adds.

As for materials, Kelly says differing textures can resonate together.

"We're also a big fan of contrast," she says, "like modern chrome paired with smooth bamboo. It's unexpected yet complementary."

Polished chrome can also add crispness to a bathroom, and acrylic and stark white porcelain can add sophistication.

Modern bathrooms also don't have to sacrifice practicality. Think about storage that could pair well with contemporary fixtures.

Nina Miller, an organization expert for The Container Store, says "clear or acrylic bathroom storage solutions create a very clean, sophisticated look in a bathroom. They also keep your toiletries or cosmetics visible, helping you quickly locate the item you need and save time while getting ready."

Miller suggests taking advantage of already existing space, particularly behind doors and walls, where racks can go, thus avoiding countertop clutter and maintaining the clean lines of a modern bathroom.

She also suggested wall-mounted shelves that could create more space without new construction or more space-hogging in the bathroom, particularly in that blank spot on the wall right above the toilet. Silver says integrating lights in the mirror or vanity, as Robern does with LED lighting in its flat plain mirror cabinet, part of its AIO Series Cabinet, also minimizes wall clutter.

Some mirrors can even incorporate televisions, should you need more entertainment while brushing your teeth, such as the Re-Creation Mirror Cabinet by Electric Mirror with a 15.4-inch LED HDTV screen.

Modern fixtures also have become more angled and square in shape. Silver points out that rectangular bowls for sinks are hot right now, as is adding drawer units on the sink. She has acquaintances that have retrofitted vintage chests of drawers into modern bathroom settings.

Side-by-side, wall-mounted trough-style sinks, like those made by The Furniture Guild, also combine practicality with a communal, modern sensibility.

As for one of the most important fixtures in the bathroom - the toilet - Kelly raves about Villeroy and Boch's bath and wellness line, "which we recently started oohing and aahing over." She points to the DirectFlush, rimless toilet by Villeroy & Boch, which she calls "super sanitary." Mounted on the wall, "it's also aesthetically beautiful and quite contemporary."

Kohler also offers in-home, touchless flush mechanisms (activated by waving your hand) that can make the bathroom more sanitary.

Bidets, long popular in Japan, Korea and parts of Europe but scoffed at by some Americans, are gaining popularity in the United States, Silver says. They can be purchased separately and mounted next to the toilet or come as a cleaning mechanism with the toilet.

In the shower, an easy way to update your bathroom is to consider chucking the curtain. Kelly says replacing the shower curtain with a glass enclosure can make the space feel larger; have fun with the door, too, as it can either be swinging or sliding. Some clients opt for no door at all.

Bathroom tile doesn't just have to be boring either. Silver suggests distressed wood planks that are actually made of porcelain, which "can be used in combinations to create lovely, pure or warm environments."

Long skinny glass tiles add sleekness, too, as does staggering the tile layout.

As for the overall right fit of modern bathroom for you, much of it is visceral.

Silver says she knows she has it right by "the feel of how the whole space comes together and flows. When I look at items together, I get good or bad chills. I know that sounds weird, but one usually gets a feeling in their gut if the overall picture feels right. Generally, I want the client to be thrilled (when) walking into their new space. I try to find pieces they love and bring it all together. Even if it may not make sense at the beginning, there's always something - a tile, a countertop - something which can make it all work."

Interior of modern bathroom
Clean mix-and-match: A blend of textures and materials, such as glass, wood, metal and stone, provides sleek, pleasing visual sightlines, and also creates a lighter, open feel in modern bathroom design.
White and gray is a popular color choice for the modern bathroom.
Hands-free flushing, like on this Kohler toilet, is activated by the wave of the hand. It is an increasingly popular feature to help decrease the spread of germs. Courtesy of Kohler
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