Barbara Sallick on bathroom design | Home Front

Jun 05, 2014

Barbara Sallick co-founded Waterworks in 1978 with her husband, Robert, and serves as the company’s senior vice president of design. She is the arbiter of Waterworks design aesthetic and oversees a variety of creative decisions. In addition to writing a weekly blog, The Perfect Bath, Barbara is the author of two books: "The Definitive Guide to Designing the Perfect Bath," and "Waterworks: Inventing Bath Style."

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Please welcome Barbara Sallick today to the chat. We are lucky to have such a well known visionary in bathroom design. Barbara co-founded Waterworks in 1978 with her husband Robert. She serves as senior vice president of design. Waterworks fixtures are used in some of the most photographed homes and hotels in the world. She writes a weekly blog The Perfect Bath and has written several books on the subject. Send us your questions.

Thank you for inviting me. Over the past 35 years we have transformed the bath from a small functional space lacking charm to one with design integrity, classical form or modernist lines.  We like elegant silhouettes, artisanal craftsmanship and timeless designs. I write a weekly blog, The Perfect Bath, (published at 9 AM on Wednesday mornings) and have published two books about the bath.  I look forward to chatting with you.

What has been your personal favorite commercial project (luxury hotel property/residence) that Waterworks has ever worked on from a design perspective and why?

Without a doubt, hands down favorite commercial project is Soho House in Miami.  The space is generous, the product user friendly, the materials beautiful and makes me feel relaxed.

We have a very small full bathroom, shower only, with no opportunity to expand. How can we make is luxurious and special without adding more space? Thank you!

Keep it simple. Do not use materials that will overpower the space, be sure to install enough light, try to find a place for storage. Generally a pedestal sink makes the room feel bigger. Nickel fittings always look beautiful and classic. It always helps to have beautiful towels on the towel bars and finally, keep it neat.

We just moved into a 60s ranch that has two original bathrooms intact. I *think* I can live with them, except for the tile floors, which just gross me out. If we want to replace the tile with newer tile (keeping in the vintage vibe), is there any secret to it? Do we need to rip up the original tile? Thanks!

Yes, you must rip up the original floors which means that you have to remove the existing sink and watercloset although you can put the original ones back if you love them. In the end, it will be worth the mess and expense especially if you like the baths more. 

Sorry, this is not a bathroom question, but I'm looking for recommendations for a moderately priced queen bed frame with headboard (I already have a good mattress), nightstand, and dresser for my guest room, only used a few times a year. Crate and Barrell, Room and Board and the like are above my budget (up to $1000) but I'd like decent quality. If possible, we'd like to avoid self-assembly as we're not handy. Thanks much for any ideas.

While this is not my area of expertise, I would shop the flea markets or vintage stores in your area.  There are good things if you search!

what is your inspiration when designing new products?

I am inspired by so many things.  Certainly, museums are a great source of inspiration, my travels always yield new ideas, walking on the street and looking up, visiting historic houses, reading, photographing, and generally keeping my eyes open allows new ideas to flow.

Good morning. I have a good sized MBA, which has a large jetted tub. Never use it. We have a nice walk-in shower, about 4 feet x 3 feet. I want to remove the tub, and have laundry installed there, thinking - it's already reinforced for weight, has water and waste/vent, right, just needs dryer vent? There's another full bath in the house with a tub. Do you this this is a good idea? I never design for resale but as this is a big fixture, I need a second opinion. Thanks!

It seems like an unusual idea and, although not for sale, it could certainly deter someone from falling in love with your house. Indeed, a laundry should have a counter for folding and a tub for hand washing clothes. I would not recommend this move.

I live in a rambler with 3.5 bathrooms. One is off of a bedroom hallway and another is off of a bedroom, but they share a wall. Since they are both extremely dated, I am considering renovating them at the same time and knocking down the wall to create one large, luxurious bathroom. I am wondering whether Mrs. Sallick has any suggestions for this type of project, and also whether she has any tips or opinions on washing machines in bathrooms.

I would recommend combining them for a more functional and attractive space. You might be able to include a double sink option and if well designed, you might be able to install a stacking washer/dryer as a practical measure. Since there are multiple other baths in the house, one really special one is a good investment.

My new (to me) house has some wonderful vinyl wallpaper with a diagonal texture and I would like to use the same paper in another room, but I can't find anything similar. Do you have ideas where I might look? Everything I've found is vertical or imitating grass paper. Thank you.

I do not have any suggestions for wallpaper sources. You might consider a great color paint rather than mismatched wallpaper. I do love wallpaper and it seems to be a trend recently and adds great style to a space. 

I love the open look of sinks without base cabinets, but is this practical in a heavily used bathroom? For example, take the main (and only) bathroom in Emily Henderson's design for a Hurricane Sandy house makeover: I love the way it looks, but wouldn't the baskets get moldy or water-damaged? Wouldn't the towels get musty?

In a heavily used bath, baskets can be messy. I recommend closed storage in this instance.

Hi Jura and Barbara! We are currently designing our bathroom, and are trying to decide between keeping the dual sinks, or going with his and hir bidets. How much square footage would the bidets typically take? We have a total of around 120 sq. ft., but after the whirlpool tub and a fabulous towel cabinet we don't want things too cramped. Or, do you think we should just stick with the dual sinks (we don't plan on moving for years). Ciao!

I suggest double sinks.This will create a satisfying design solution and functionally work better. While the room seems large enough, storage in the bath is a real bonus.

I have a dividing wall in my small bathroom that separates the toilet from the sink area. Complicating the matter, there is a heat / AC register towards the bottom of this dividing wall. Should I remove this wall completely, thus costing $$$ to relocate the register, but providing a feeling of more space? Or, would turning this dividing wall into a sink-height half-wall be better instead? I am not sure what the trend is these days.

I suggest getting rid of the wall and relocating the heat. The space will feel more open and in the long term this will be a somewhat costly but more satisfying solution to making the bathroom function better.

How can I get my house to smell fresh? It's not dirty and we clean regularly, but the house just never smells very good. I keep the windows open when I can, but I always sort of recoil when I open my front door. The house just always has a sort of musty, old smell to it. Do I need to spray stuff in the air? Burn incense? Bake more cookies? Any thoughts?

Truthfully, I suspect the underlying cause is mold. Not good news but more than likely the case.

I just love your blog. Thank you for the weekly inspiration.

I appreciate that!

I am looking for a dining room table - simple, square or rectangle, light color or glass. The catch is it cannot be more than 50" and all I can find are round tables in that size. Any suggestions on where to look in the DC area or online? Thank you!

I have a dining room table that is 46 inches round and it has two leaves so I can seat up to nine people if I need to. It is a vintage table from the 1940s and I think you should look for an old table at flea markets, antiques emporiums and used furniture places. I have also seen small tables at Pottery Barn and Ikea.

Love Barbara's suggestion of searching for a vintage headboard. If the original poster is local, they should check out the 14th/U area, there are so many great shops all within a few blocks of each other. Simon Vintage on 9th has great prices, Goodwood on U has cool stuff, and also on U bw 15th and 16th is a place w/ lots of mid-century furniture.

Thank you. Those are wonderful suggestions.

We have only 1 full bath in our house and 1 half bath. We have two children (toddler aged). What are some of your best organizing solutions that are also aesthetically pleasing?

I recommend baskets for towels, extra toilet paper and soap. In fact, two or three make a really good design statement. I am a fan of the many vintage markets that have opened up across the country. I have found great storage solutions from wire baskets to small wall cabinets, great shelves to install over the toilet and stools.

We're thinking about renovating our master bath, it currently has a jetted tub which we have never used in the year we've lived there. We'd like to take out the tub and use the space to expand the shower to have a built-in bench and multiple shower heads, maybe even a steam component. We're worried about resale, are tubs in the master bath still a must? There would still be a bath tub in the other bathroom. Thank you

A large shower in the master bath is always desirable. If there is another tub in the house, I would not worry about the lack of one in the master bath. Be sure to use really beautiful stone or tile in the shower and on the floor.

My bathroom floor tiles are large ( not alot of grout lines) and slippery. Do you know a product to make them less slippery?

There is nothing you can do to ceramic tiles to make them less slippery. I would get a great rug, preferably one that is washable, and place it on the floor. If you plan to replace the tile, I recommend honed stone or matte tiles. And, always be sure to place a bath mat outside the shower door.

I've seen traditional WC's in some of Nicky Haslam's projects on Pinterest, any chance we'll see this in Waterworks collection since you've opened a London showroom.

Good question.  Indeed, we are working on a traditional watercloset. Hopefully by next year you will see one in our collection.

My house has its original 1937 black and white main bathroom. It is still functional and I love the traditional look. My question is, will I have to replace it to sell the house? Many of the Waterworks fixtures are actually similar to the ones I have!

It is great to have original tile and fixtures if they are in working order and pristine condition. If you are going to sell the house, I would leave it and let the next owners tackle the bath.

Thank you for the beautiful stores around the country. They provide such great inspiration. What modest changes can we make to our bathrooms, on a modest budget, to create the biggest visual change? We want it to feel updated and fresh without busting our budget.

I recommend the following changes to update your bath. First, give it a new coat of paint in a fabulous color. Install new lights and towel bars. If there is a shower curtain, get a beautiful new linen one and while you are at it, purchase some new towels and bath mat. Polish all of the fittings get a new waste basket and most of all edit what ever is in there now.  No extra "stuff" in a small bath.

I'm redoing the hall bathroom (used by kids and guests) to update. What do you think of the vinyl bathtub inserts versus updating the ceramic tile from the 80's. Thinking about resale desireability, also. thanks!

Personally, I would never consider a vinyl insert! Ceramic tile is unquestionably the right material for yourselves and potential resale.

Hi Jura! I just bought a nice, deep, golden-brown dining table, but chose not to buy the perfectly matching chairs, in part because they were so expensive ($500-800 each!). I've seen more and more mix-and-match tables and chairs and wanted to try to do that. How can I figure out what chairs to buy that don't match perfectly but still look good with the table? Can you mix and match woods, or should the wood be the same color and instead you contrast with fabric? Are there any general guidelines you'd recommend? Also, do you have recommendations for affordable dining chairs? I tried World Market for its variety and affordability, but had a hard time figuring out what, if anything, would work. Thanks!

I would definitely consider vintage dining chairs. You can find them for usually around $50 to $200 and up each - they are really nice looking. I like to have a similar hued wood as the table but it doesn't have to be matchy-matchy. Also it depends on whether your dining room has a formal or more casual vibe - I have seen homes where each chair is old and is different. World Market does have good values. I would also try West Elm, Pottery Barn, and HomeGoods.

Barbara, love your work. We are about to start a complete MBA renovation. Planning to install double sinks with surrounding cabinets. Removing a large jet tub that we never used (was left by prior owner). What else should we be thinking about in the bathroom? We have some extra space, even after making a slightly bigger space. What would you recommend?

Since you seem to have enough space, I would make sure that the shower is large and well outfitted with a rain shower head, hand shower, a bench and a niche for amenities. A storage closet in the bath is great for towels and laundry.  It might also be possible to place the WC in its own small room. That will make the space feel more spa like.

Barbara- I loved your reply to that question - it really gave a very "doable" plan for someone to upgrade any bath without huge construction costs etc. I think it is wonderful that someone coming from such a high end line could give that advice!

our master bath has a small shower & large jet tub. I wish to extend and make the shower larger & take the tub(which is not used) out, while spouse wants to keep it. we have another bathroom that has a tub. suggestions?

This is a question that often comes up.  Instead of removing the tub altogether I recommend a smaller tub, no jets, for soaking while still creating s somewhat larger shower.  A good compromise. And a good design solution as well.

Have you looked on You can filter the results by color, material type, and shape. When I was looking for one myself, I found a lot in that size range. This (wooden) one is 29.5 inches high x 54 inches wide x 35.25 inches deep:

Great idea.

Have you looked on You can filter the results by color, material type, and shape. When I was looking for one myself, I found a lot in that size range. This (wooden) one is 29.5 inches high x 54 inches wide x 35.25 inches deep:


I bought an iron headboard and frame from years ago, which I am still happy with. They are promoting a sale now w/free shipping so you maybe can come in around the $500-600 range, depending on style.

Thank you.

Jura, any suggestions on a very soft or light pink for a teenage girl's bedroom?

Benjamin Moore Smashing Pink.

I absolutely hate most of the new finishes for faucets and spouts. I have bright chrome in two bathrooms and polished brass in the third. I have some success finding accessories in chrome but very little in polished brass (toilet paper baskets, etc). Where can I find them?

You most certainly can find them at Waterworks. We are seeing trend toward warmer finishes and have a number of choices that you may like. If your brass is older, it may have a coating on it which makes it seem very yellow.  We prefer unlaquered brass so that it can patinate naturally.

How has bathroom design changed over the years? Which trends do you love and which ones do you wish would go away?

Bathroom design has certainly changed in the past 35 years.  We have gone from very small barely functional spaces where you were encourage to close and lock the door to rooms that well planned and a reflection of ones personal style and taste. The bath is now an experience and one that requires planning, attention to details, meticulous installation and accessories to personalize the space. This room should function perfectly and look beautiful and make you feel rejuvenated with every use.

This has been great fun.  I appreciate all of the questions and hope I have been helpful.

A treasure trove of great information today. Thanks so much, Barbara, for joining us today. Have a great week everyone.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
Barbara Sallick
Barbara Sallick co-founded Waterworks in 1978 with her husband, Robert, and serves as the company’s senior vice president of design. She is the arbiter of Waterworks design aesthetic and oversees a variety of creative decisions. In addition to writing a weekly blog, The Perfect Bath, Barbara is the author of two books: "The Definitive Guide to Designing the Perfect Bath," and "Waterworks: Inventing Bath Style."
Recent Chats
  • Next: