Kitchens are often viewed at as the heart of the home, but bathrooms are slowing stealing the spotlight. With each renovation, remodel or reconstruction, new focal points of homes are created, which was the case for a private residence located in Reston, VA.

When reconfiguring the home's main bathroom, the owner put on his professional designing hat to create a "slightly eclectic and traditional" space. "I wanted it to be timeless, but incorporate a few neat modern things," said homeowner, Michael Fields, a kitchen and bath designer by trade. "The bathroom was old and needed remodeling, so I decided to completely redesign it."

With the help of Jim Allen at James Allen Contracting in Sterling, VA, Fields was able to craft an ultra-contemporary space, which features a double steam shower with built-in speakers, a black glass toilet and much more. To clad the floors, walls and shower ceiling, 12- x 48-inch polished porcelain tiles from NovaBell's Imperial collection in Calacatta Bianco were employed. These embrace a subtle gray and white pattern, incorporating the inherent veining found in the natural marble. Smaller tiles with the same design were implemented in a Chevron pattern on the shower floor for a change in texture. "It looks so absolutely real," said Fields. "No one ever thinks it's porcelain."

The neutral marble looks are starkly complemented by a black feature wall within the shower. For this vertical strip, 12 1/8- x 10 5/8-inch elongated hexagonal tiles from Jeffrey Court's Ashland & Halsted collection in Cast Iron were used, which are composed of volcanic basalt from Japan.

"Black and white bathrooms seem to be trending again. It's a classic look," explained Fields. "When you're in this business, you see the new products every year and then you see them fizzle out, so I wanted something that'd I'd always be happy with. I knew I'd always be happy with black and white."

An intricate installation

Around 550 square feet of tile was used for the project, supplied by Conestoga Tile in Sterling, VA. "I was on the project every day," said Jim Allen, owner of James Allen Contracting, who was originally trained as a tile setter. Working on a variety of projects over the years has transformed Allen into a full-time general contractor, who works with each of his clients from design to completion.

Fields worked for months to finalize the design, which was executed by Allen and one helper. "Since the tile walls were being stacked off the floor and the joists had some pitch to them, we decided to run the floor first. I considered a self-leveling product, but opted on using Laticrete Tri-Lite," explained Allen. "We set the heat mat [Schluter Systems' Ditra-Heat] and ran the tile over it using the Tri-Lite and Progress Profiles' Proleveling system. There were a few pieces of Schluter Quadec employed as separators between different brand wall tiles and also to provide a smooth finish at the entrance door jamb."

The entire bathroom utilizes an elaborate Schluter Systems' setup, which is one of the easiest systems available, according to Allen. "In this case, because of the steam shower and the large, heavy tiles, which were almost 7/16 inch thick, I elected to use 3/4 Schluter Kerdi-Board over the walls and shower ceiling, and a triple-ganged Schluter line-drain and sloped shower pan system. It's a very clever system, but it needs to be installed carefully, in my humble opinion."

Although Allen and his assistant used Laticrete unmodified thinset for most of the Kerdi-Board preparation, they decided Tri-Lite was a better candidate for the project. "The Tri-Lite is a modified thinset, but Laticrete stipulates that it cures without air, so it's suitable for use under Schluter," said Allen. "It was used everywhere except on the Jeffery Court Cast Iron shower feature wall, where we also used Bostik Dimension Urethane Glass Grout in Onyx."

The main amenity in the bathroom is the expansive, all-inclusive steam shower, which incorporates a hidden speaker system underneath the tiles. "One of the more interesting aspects of this job was the Steamist steam shower equipment," said Allen. "One of several Steamist options obtained by the homeowner was the transducer speakers. Two pairs of these speakers were mounted to the backs of the ceiling tiles; they turn the tiles into speakers.

"Layout was important, taking into account the joists and cross bracing, centering the holes on the tiles and through the Schluter Kerdi-board, and access in the constricted space above," Allen went on to explain. "The tile backs have great relief and texture, and we considered grinding the backs of the tiles to provide a clean bearing for the speakers. But after talking to the manufacturer, it was decided to thinset a cut piece of tile, back-to-back, that provided a smooth bearing for the speakers. Stereo music can be played in the shower, which is completely waterproof."

"The system turns the tiles into speakers, which sounds fantastic," added Fields.

The 32-square-foot shower — also complete with an aromatherapy system that disperses hints of fresh eucalyptus and lavender upon the touch of a button — took about three months to complete and has been the center of the home since. "It has been absolutely wonderful," said Fields. "The steam shower has changed my life."

"Clients and friends have commented on the overall elegance of the space," said Allen. "Many are impressed with the larger-format tile and the Jeffery Court accent panel. The Chevron pan tile also attracts a lot of attention. Compliments cover just about every aspect of the space."