Create Your Dream Bathroom

Barbara Sallick, cofounder of Waterworks, shares her wisdom from four decades in the business

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A California bath created by Studio William Hefner in Los Angeles has a sunken tub and glass walls overlooking the home’s garden. Both baths use Waterworks products. Photo by James Ray Spahn

Barbara Sallick can summarize a perfect bath in one sentence: “It’s about comfort, it’s about form, it’s about function, it’s about beauty, it’s about simplicity, it’s about elegance, it’s about sophistication.” As the co-founder, with her husband, Robert, of Waterworks (where their son, Peter, is now the CEO), Sallick has been designing kitchens and kitchen products for four decades, becoming one of the country’s foremost experts on the subject. She has shared her knowledge (and page after page of gorgeous, inspirational photos) in her new book, “The Perfect Bath,” from Rizzoli. We sat down with Sallick during her recent visit to Denver (where there is a Waterworks showroom at 601 S. Broadway) to talk one on one about bath design.

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©The Perfect Bath by Barbara Sallick, Rizzoli New York, 2016

How do you achieve timelessness in a bath?
“Don’t go off the rails and put in a chartreuse bathroom. There are ways of getting color into the non-structural parts of a bathroom instead, and if you choose your materials carefully—in elegant white, cream or gray marble, or lovely white tiles—and you install them meticulously, you’ve got bones that are beautiful and timeless. You can always change things up with a new rug, a new curtain, new towels or new accessories.”

You’re a big believer in using white in a bath.
“I’m the queen of white—or maybe the empress of white. I love it. White to me is the color of cleanliness, of hygiene, of purity. It’s restful; it’s a way to bring you down to a place of quiet. You might feel as if you are being a little timid when you put in a beautiful white bathroom, but 25 years go by and you won’t have to change it. And remember, there are lots of different kinds of white: warm whites and cool whites—and you can add texture into white, too. We’ve done some amazing white tiles that are based on a beautiful, textured fabric.”

What if a client just loves bright colors?
“I’ll say, ‘Tell me what you wear. Tell me what your life is like. Describe your favorite room in your house,’ and if it’s all about color, I know exactly where to lead them. But I may pull them back a bit and say, ‘Why don’t we build an accent of that color? Let’s put a border in the mosaic floor that includes that color so that in five years when you change your mind you’re not going to blame me.’ ”

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The windows are the star attractions of this French country bath by Beth Webb of Atlanta’s Beth Webb Interiors. We love the juxtaposition of the free-standing tub with the antiquestye chair and metallic accent table. Courtesy Emily Followill Photography

And you believe in windows …
“Yes, I do. When you get up in the morning, the first place you go is the bathroom—you think about your day, where you’ll be going, what you’ll be doing, and you want to check the weather. To me, the natural light from a window helps a person acclimate to his or her day.”

You talk about the importance of a bathroom’s architecture. Can you elaborate?
“You have to start with that. It’s interesting—a woman came up to me in one of our showrooms recently with a little drawing she had done of her space and asked, ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I moved things around, and gave it back to her. She said, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ But if you get the architecture right, including the placement of all the elements—the tub, the closet, the shower, the towel racks, the window and the hated water closet—everything flows from there.”

You also talk in your book about the importance of making “thoughtful choices.” What do you mean?
“We give people a list of questions they should ask themselves: How many people are going to use this bathroom? Who are they? Do you need a double vanity? Do you want a handheld shower? Do you want seating in the shower? How important is a bathtub? Can you stand to have toilet paper stored out in the hall, or do you need storage in your bathroom? Where are you going to put your towels? The best clients scour magazines, read books and pull all the images that inspire them, then edit them and bring them in to shop. It’s partly about form, but it’s also about function.”

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Though Sallick describes herself as “the queen of white,” for the color’s cleanliness and sense of purity, she will add pops of color for clients who love it, as in these two navy-accented bathrooms. Courtesy Waterworks

How do you achieve the right balance in the end?
“Simplify, simplify, simplify. Let’s say you’ve decided that you want three borders and four decorative moldings and all of a sudden, it’s visual clutter. Just pull back until you really have the essence of the materials. The best bathrooms are edited and curated. A lot of people will say, ‘I need this, and this and this.’ But it’s just detritus. Just noise. We’ll say, ‘Let’s see what happens when we take this out.’ It’s like the way you dress: Having 17 bracelets up and down your arm is just a lot of noise. Let’s find your three favorite ones and then people will notice each one.”

You talk about creating comfort in a bathroom, but it’s not as if you get that from soft pillows. Can you explain?
“It’s a psychological comfort. Is the bathroom vanity the right height? Do I bend over and crack my head on this gooseneck faucet that I’ve chosen? That’s not comfortable. I’m also an advocate of making sure that you build in niches, or put in wire baskets—there is nothing more hideous than shower gel and shower shampoo and bottles of this and soaps of that all over the place. The same thing with your countertops. Buy a beautiful tray and put the things you need all the time on your tray, but don’t spread them out all over the place. It’s just noise.”

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Tim Clarke Interior Design of Santa Monica, California mirrored the look of the sea in this stone shower, which uses Waterworks products. Photo by Manolo Langis

What about art—is it OK to put art in a bath?
“Yes, absolutely. I just visited a giant bathroom in Denver; I walked in and saw this exquisite tub with a burnished exterior sitting against a light, light gray wall. I said, ‘So, what’s going to happen in that space?’ And the architect said that the family had chosen the most wonderful piece of art. So the bathtub becomes a piece of sculpture with the piece of art above it. I might not put my very best piece of art in a bathroom, although with the good ventilation today, we don’t really have the steamy baths we used to have. But if you have room, you can add a little sculpture, a pretty chair, something like an antique barometer.”

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