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Bathrooms becoming home spas

Ask Barbara Langan, a manager with Castle Plumbing Supply, what's new in the world of bathrooms, and she'll tell you about big-time comfort.

Think showers with multiple body sprays and built-in benches for shaving your legs.

No more crouching with the Lady Gillette beneath a lone shower head.

These showers were built for Amazons.

"We call them human car-wash showers," Langan says.

We're not just super-sizing our showers, either. We're thinking about bathrooms as actual "rooms in the house," she explains, rather than places of quick business. Options include LED TVs in the mirrors, hardwood floors, furniture, whirlpool tubs with aromatherapy jets, and bathtub lights to soothe the mood.

In one bathroom featured recently on HGTV, the homeowner mounted china plates on the walls and displayed collections of antique toiletries and old photos.

"It's all about hanging out in the bathroom, spending more time in a roomier environment," Langan says. "What's available is just incredible."

Castle's showroom on Palm River Road (they have four in the Tampa Bay area) caters to plumbing contractors and interior designers and is also open to the public. It offers a large selection of the classics as well as the latest accessories, including gorgeous ceramic, glass, bronze and stainless-steel "vessel" sinks (the kind that looks like a bowl on the counter), whirlpools, myriad shower heads and faucets (one pair shaped like dolphins) and claw-foot tubs that offer the long-legged a more spacious bath than the historic variety.

Still, customers seem to favor colossal "drop-in" tubs, "big enough so that people can surround themselves with candles and wine glasses," Langan says. "People definitely want larger tubs for soaking."

When it comes to the latest in bathrooms, the trend is toward roomy, customized and relaxing. Some tubs have special compartments for aromatherapy salts, Langan says. Even the colors come straight from nature for the most tranquil scrub possible.

"Bathrooms aren't getting smaller; they're getting bigger," says interior designer Rhonda Lyons of Lincoln Designs in Tampa. "More is better, especially in the shower: more shower heads, better personalized massage therapy."

For people on a budget, Lyons recommends considering purchasing from companies like Delta, which offers a wide selection of products at a moderate cost, including state-of-the-art shower systems. Lyons also has noticed that aging baby boomers favor bathrooms that are both good looking and accessible with "comfort height" toilets and "roll-in" showers. The choices are attractive and far less institutional than in the past.

"I tell people they have to think about adaptability, even in their guest bathrooms," she says. "One young couple was redoing their guest bathroom and told me that their parents were coming and they wanted them to feel safe and comfortable."

Lyons says the biggest request she gets from clients is for better showers with lots of spray heads and massaging jets.

"They want more and better in the shower," she says.

Brenda Rood, a kitchen and bath spokeswoman for Kohler Co. of Wisconsin, explains that customers are turning bathrooms into home spas.

"People are creating a home style in their bathrooms," Rood says. "They're creating a really relaxing, rejuvenating environment. They want steam generators, aromatherapy, music and candles."

Home spas aren't new, but they're more popular than ever in a variety of price ranges. So are lazy-girl spa treats like lighted keypad control systems mounted on the tub, floating remote control flippers, light therapy and effervescent bubble massage. The home spa fad, experts say, began in the mid 1980s with the fitness craze and burgeoned in the millennium with the home-cocooning boom.

A well-equipped home spa might include a soaking tub, whirlpool, steam bath and jets that vigorously massage the neck and bath.

"We often refer to the home spa as a trend," says Ann Roever, a senior bathing products manager at Kohler. "But bathing rituals are also very old, maybe even primal. They satisfy deep physical and emotional needs that are very personal. Everyone has different preferences."

Kohler offers steam generator kits to re-create that health club steam room experience, and sophisticated hydro massage systems, gentle or rough, you call the shots.

Showers, whirlpools and other components are tied together in what Kohler calls "suites," an arrangement of fixtures that go together seamlessly, much like a bedroom set. Kohler's "Chromatherapy" whirlpools offer the pampered bather a form of light therapy meant to bring feelings of calmness and well-being.

Bob Giese, a Kohler bath specialist, describes it like this:

"With a touch of a single button, the bath becomes a gentle pool of light. The bather is washed by a series of eight hues. The progression starts with a neutral white light, followed by three cool relaxing colors _ purple, indigo and aqua blue _ then green serving as the balancing color, then three warm, stimulating colors: yellow, orange and red. Each color begins softly, peaks as a full, solid color, then gently fades away. The next color fades in, and so on."

So, light the candles, pour a tall, cold water and grab the latest issue of Vogue. And don't feel guilty.

The truth is, Langan says, "People are just spending more time in the bathroom."