"There is no way in hell you are taking away my shower curtain," said my husband, a very modest man.
I tried to calm him. "The only person a shower curtain ever helped was Norman Bates," I said.
We were at that stage of the remodel when I was always trying to calm him (unless he was trying to calm me), and I explained that he wouldn't miss the shower curtain—or as I put it, the stinky, mold-growing, plastic-y sheet thing that sticks to your legs when you are wet and nude.
I've been an opponent of the shower curtain—and come to think of it, the glass shower door too—since childhood. In those days we had doors on a metal slider track where water would collect and turn to black furry mold. My parents are the kind of people you might refer to as neat freaks; to prevent spots on the glass door my mother kept a Squeegee and a bottle of Windex in the tub and exhorted us to "take 30 seconds before you get out to give it a spritz."
But my husband, who considers himself a shower-door man, worried that without one, water would pour out. He worried that steam would escape, making a walk-in shower feel cold. And he worried that he would be too "exposed."
Was he right? You don't want to make a $6,000 mistake when you are installing plumbing, walls, and tile. It turns out there are secret guidelines that architects use to design a walk-in shower. But do they really work?
Photographs by Mimi Giboin except where noted.
Above: Photograph via Zack de Vito Architecture.
"Oh, it will work, if you do it right," says San Francisco-based Cary Bernstein (a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory). "But can you do it? The biggest issue is space."
There are problems in life you can't prevent, like illness and taxes and your daughters' propensity to make off with your favorite black cardigan if you let down your guard. But there are small things you can control, details that may perhaps seem trivial as the universe expands at a rate that eventually will spell doom but which, in the meantime, can transform the mundane routines of everyday life into a pleasure. This is why you remodel. And this is why, if you are determined to use a remodel to exorcise the demons of past moldy showers, it is important to follow the space guidelines.
For a walk-in shower, the minimum space you need for a stall is at least a 3.5-by-3.5-feet square, which works out to be 3-by-3 feet for the shower itself and another 6 inches of thickness for the wall that surrounds it. "You need this amount of space so you can actually stand in there; you don't want to hit your elbows on the wall when you go to wash your hair," says Bernstein.
Many bathrooms aren't big enough to accommodate both a stall shower and a separate bathtub (which is going to require a minimum space of 5.5-feet long and 32 inches wide unless it's a Japanese soaking tub, says Bernstein). If your bathroom is small, you have a tough choice to make.
Above: A Pure Badger Shaving Brush ($42.99) and a Merkur "Vision" Adjustable Safety Razor ($61.99) like my husband's are both from Classic Shaving. I bought these to put a stop to his suspicions that "someone" was using his razor to shave legs. (Research shows that a lot of women find an old-fashioned double-edge single blade razor intimidating to use.)
At my house, we solved the space crisis by eliminating the tub from the master bath. In a second bathroom (adjacent to the other bedrooms) we have a tub with a shower head (and a shower curtain—I figured the experience would toughen up the children).
I thought we were being very clever by paring down the number of tubs, but it turns out that it's a pretty common choice nowadays. "People are giving up tubs," says Bernstein. "There's rarely a house where there isn't one bathtub, but there's only one. It's typical you want to have it to give the kids a bath."
In our walk-in shower (above), we tucked into the corners two little marble shelves that you only can see if you are actually inside the shower. This is a great way to prevent the colored labels on shampoo bottles from dominating the room.
Above: It was my dream to have a seamless transition, floor-wise, from the main part of the bathroom to the shower, but my husband's concerns about having to mop up water after every shower made me flash back to the old Squeegee-and-Windex days. We installed a sill.
The compromise was probably a wise tactical move on my part, says Bernstein. Some feel a sill is unnecessary because a slope of 1/4-inch-per-foot is supposedly enough to persuade water to run down toward a drain. But in reality? "Pretty much anyone who's ever done a walk-in shower floor without a sill finds that water goes everywhere," she says.
My sill (above) is 3.5 inches high and keeps in the water just fine.
Above: To allay my husband's fears that steam would escape and make the shower feel chilly, we designed the doorway to look sort of like a cave entrance. The shower is 65 inches long, but the doorway is only 38 inches wide. (The minimum comfortable width for a doorway is 28 inches, says Bernstein.)
You'll probably notice that the sill looks higher from this angle; it is. It's 5 inches high on this side. The floor in the 42-inch-wide shower was raised 1.5 feet to create a steeper slope to coax water to the drain.
This is a lot of math. Let's move on to a happier topic: marble.
Above: We made another compromise, this time to save money. My dream was to line the interior of the shower with marble slabs but it was beyond our budget, as was a slab floor. Instead, inside the shower we installed carrara marble slab to the height of a single piece, then tiled above it using Ann Sacks "Context" White Gloss subway tiles.
On the floor, rather than use slabs, we tiled with Ann Sacks 2-Inch Hexagon Mosaic Tiles in honed carrara.
A nice side benefit is that 2-inch tile has a lot of grout grooves, which makes it less slippery than slab marble if the floor gets wet.
What's the verdict on our walk-in shower?
"I'm OK with it," my husband says. He does claim, however, that water splashes out onto the floor, forcing him to "mop it up with towels after I shower." (I personally have never seen evidence of this splashing phenomenon. And not to sound doubtful, but I probably would have noticed wet "mopping" towels lying around, as I am my parents' daughter.)
In any case, we have been living in the house for seven months, and we are still happily married so I think you would have to describe this as a successful remodel. Plus, there is not a bit of black mold growing anywhere in the shower.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on February 11, 2013.