Master Bathroom Podcast Transcript:

Welcome to this edition of the Houston Custom Home Builder Podcast Series brought to you by Houston’s leading luxury construction team, Morningstar Home Builders. I’m Greg, your host, and for today’s episode we are joined by one of Houston’s best known and most accomplished custom and luxury home builders, Ted Cummins. Ted, good to talk to you, how are you?

Ted: Good morning Greg, how’s your world in Kentucky?

Greg: It’s going pretty well. It’s a little chilly right now, it’s supposed to warm up a little bit and I’m ready for a little warm. It’s probably closer to warm where you are.

Ted: Yesterday I think it hit about 81, so we’re running the air conditioning in February, and we’re like, “What is going on with this?”

Greg: Yeah, it’s 30 degrees here right now in Louisville so it’s a little different.

Ted: Right, right.

Greg: Last time we talked you gave us a rundown of, I believe a builder’s show that you had been to. I think today we’re going to switch gears a little bit and get back inside some of the custom homes that you build and maybe talk about, I’m hoping, master bathrooms, because that’s always a huge draw I know when someone’s building a new home.

Ted: It really is Greg, and I’m excited to talk about this subject because a master bathroom is probably only second to the kitchen area that becomes always very much of a discussion point on design build business in Houston. It is always something we spend a lot of time in discussion on by looking at pictures on Houzz, some people have pasted on Pinterest, we just get a lot of feedback. We want a lot of feedback of really understanding what our clients needs are because we’re all about identifying and meeting needs.

Greg: In the very beginning when someone comes to you, it seems like kitchens and bathrooms, you mentioned it, do they usually have these pictures already pinned or printed off from Houzz? Do a lot of people come knowing what they want in a bathroom or thinking they know what they want in a master bathroom?

Ted: It’s really a mix. Some people are more prepared than others, some people are old school and come in with a little binder that they’ve collected pictures over the years. What’s interesting about that is, and I like that, it shows that people have been thinking about it. The problem is, people have all these pictures but then when you ask them what they want, you get this blank look.

They like the way the bathroom looks, and so you’ve really got to drill down, which is very much what we do every day during design. “What is it that you like about this bathroom? Is it the ceiling detail? Is it the arch in front of the tub? Is a tub a factor or is a tub even … ?” We built a million dollar plus home and it’s the first home we’ve ever built in 17 years that had no bathtub in the entire house. It was showers everywhere.

Now, from the resale perspective, I convinced them to allow us to stub up for a drain in the master bath, up in High Meadow Ranch is where that house was at. Then we tiled over top of it so if they ever wanted to add a bathtub or from a resale perspective it was at least the drain was there and the plumbing was there in place to be able to do that. It’s really kind of all over the board what people are looking for.

Greg: Wow, so that couple, they were just adamant that they didn’t want a bathtub?

Ted: Yep, they didn’t see any use of it, they actually wanted a little bit of room in their master bathroom because it was, again, this was a nice home, and the way it was arranged, we were able to put … They actually wanted to put an exercise bike or something like that in there. That’s what they wanted to do and they saw the tub was kind of a waste of money and space for them.

Greg: This is what I love about custom homes is that you get to meet all kinds of interesting people. I have to admit, I’ve never heard of an exercise bike in a bathroom, but I guess you could just hop off and rinse off. You get all the exercise and you can rinse right off.

Ted: What I kind of want to talk about first is I’m a chronological thinker and I’d probably like to talk about the design. One of the things that’s important to me, and I think when you talk to most people they really like it as well, they may just not have thought about it, and that’s kind of the symmetry and what your view is as soon as you open up those doors. I enjoy the symmetry of …

Whatever my focal point is in the master bathroom, typically I try to make that focal point which it centers on, when you walk in that space typically obviously from the master bedroom, and you walk in those doors, what is it that’s your focal point? Sometimes it’s a shower, sometimes it’s the tub, sometimes it’s a big window with a fountain detail that maybe outside so your focal point isn’t even in the room, it’s actually through the glass in a fountain detail outside the room. The focal point is something we really try to spend a lot of attention on.

Greg: I’m curious of how that works? You do so much design, do you have the rest of the house positioned first and then try to figure out how the bathroom attaches to that? Or do you work from the bathroom and then sort of set the master bedroom so that it lines up the way you want the entry to be to the bathroom?

Ted: Well, it’s kind of the chicken or the egg isn’t it?

Greg: Yeah.

Ted: Typically, we work as the floor plan is progressing, once we get into that master bath, master bedroom area we kind of stop and say, “Okay, how do we want to enter this space?” Several homes, in fact my own personal home that we designed and built three years ago, when we stepped in from the living area into the bedroom area, we actually stepped into another little small foyer. We can go straight and go into the bedroom, or we can turn left and then step into our master bath. It’s got its own little foyer, which has become very, very popular. That’s been kind of a neat approach of separating that space, therefore you’re not walking … There’s not a door “in the room itself” that connects to the master bath, the master bath connects off its own little foyer.

Greg: Okay. You sent me several pictures to look at and I must say, a lot of them are beautiful. Obviously there’s a lot of thought that goes into each element here. You were talking to me a little bit before we started recording about some of these elements. It’s a little overwhelming for me, how do you go through them? How do you help someone walk through those decisions?

Ted: Well, because we’re a full design build and this is our 17th year, and I’ve been using Houzz for many years and I’m a Houzz Pro on Houzz, we have lots of idea books. Then I get the privilege of every job, we create idea books with our clients, so I have a huge portfolio. When it comes down to a conversation with our clients as what are they looking for a master bath, often times we’ll look through my idea books on Houzz and then I’ll show them some other idea books, other clients that they might want to see.

Really it’s the pictures, it’s what juices them up, what gets them excited. That’s kind of where we start is to your point, and we’re going to talk about it today, is where we really drill down into the details as it relates to the fixtures, and the symmetry, and what are the ceilings doing? What are we applying to the ceilings. Its amazing how many questions we really have to ask and really kind of get out of our clients, what they’re really looking for in the home.

Greg: I bet, because I look at some of these pictures and I sort of see the overall effect and I wouldn’t know where to start on the details to put it all together. I would say, “I like that one,” I’d point to one, and you’re like, “What do you like about it Greg?” “I don’t know? I just like the whole thing.”

Ted: Yeah, and that’s a great point because that is what I ask, and often times that is what the client says is, “I like it.” Then we say, “Okay, what do you like? Is it the tub? Is that a freestanding tub? Is it what we call a drop-in tub? Where maybe it’s got a granite deck and then we cut out the granite and the tub slips down, almost like a drop-in sink. What kind of focal point do we want above the tub? Is it a fireplace? Is it stone? Is it windows that we see outside and there’s a focal point outside?”

There’s just a lot of questions as we kind of again, drill down and ask more specific things about the pictures that they like. Then we can see, and it’s interesting, if it was you, you would show us five pictures and out of those five we would come up with some common denominators. “Well, every picture you’re picking out is a free standing tub, evidently you like a freestanding tub.” Or every picture you show us has a walk-in shower that actually goes back in behind the tub. “Well I hadn’t thought about that? Yeah, I do kind of like that. Maybe that’s why I picked that?” It’s all about asking questions.

We sometimes get a little on the nosy side but it’s really understanding how you live. We did a job a number of years ago and the gentleman was an early morning riser, I mean he’s up at four in the morning, out the door by five. Their shower was right behind the bed wall of the home, so I knew we had to really pay attention to soundproofing. We really talk about how you live, what your schedule is, and making sure again that we do something that they’re not going to regret later.

Greg: Oh wow. Okay, that’s a level of detail that I hadn’t thought of. Again, how many reasons that you’re the builder and I’m not? That’s obviously a good thing. I keep asking these general questions and we’re going to run out of time before you start getting into specifics about some of the trends that you’re seeing and some of what people are asking for. You keep talking about a freestanding tub versus a drop-in. Are you seeing more and more of freestanding tubs?

Ted: Yeah, I think they certainly got more popular. There’s the discussion, years ago there’s what would be known as the Jacuzzi tub and that’s a manufacturer, that’s what everybody knows them by and because it has a mechanical pump and it stirs up the water and that kind of stuff. Then recently they’ve been coming out with what they call an air tub or an air bath. It actually has a pump but it’s actually blowing air so there’s no water recirculation going on inside the plumbing of the tub, which is why people have gotten away from a Jacuzzi style tub because of the maintenance involved.

With those, if you don’t run them regularly, it develops some fungus and some black stuff inside and so when you run it, all of a sudden it all ends up in your tub. That has really hurt that industry on that specific kind of a product. Replacing it with an air tub that still stirs up the water and provides action and that kind of stuff but it’s with air, so there’s no water that’s actually recirculating within the plumbing of the tub.

Greg: You’re seeing that much more often or are some people just getting… I guess a standing or I don’t know what you would call it, just a nothing tub, just holds water?

Ted: We don’t call them a nothing tub, we call them a soaker.

Greg: What do you call them?

Ted: Again, that’s why you’re the Realtor and I’m the builder.

Greg: I don’t call it a nothing tub when I’m selling a house either.

Ted: We call it a soaker tub. That’s in, you fill it up with hot water and you soak. It’s still, I mean obviously, even with an air tub, you can still choose to not just turn it on. It’s kind of two-fold, if you do want some action in it, the air tub is a great tub. That’s one conversation.

Now, I will say, the downside of the soaker tub is they may be a little bit taller, so for people as they get up in age, they may be a little bit more challenging to get into, in and out. If that’s the case, then we would probably recommend, and you can still do a soaker tub or an air tub. With them, we might turn around and build a deck around it and then drop the tub in. Or what we call under-mount where actually the tub goes in first and then the granite goes over top of it. Then you would basically sit down and roll your feet to get into the tub. Does that make sense, have I described that fully?

Greg: Yes. A little safer.

Ted: Yeah, it is, it is, and you actually get some storage out of that. Most people don’t think storage when they think about a bathtub. For example, and we’ll be showing some pictures online of our conversation and seeing some of the pictures of some of the stuff we’re doing. In one of the examples I’m looking at one where I actually did a fireplace over the tub and then left and right we have a wood niche that goes underneath the faucets. On the left and right we’ve got kind of an X-form pattern that’s rolled out for towel storage. The coolest thing about that is that people don’t know, is all three of those, both X’s, left and right, underneath the tub and then there’s a niche with a little shelf in it underneath the faucets. All those are removable panels. That gives us access for plumbing and if it does have a pump in there, that gives us access if we have to repair a pump, have to repair or replace the pump.

Greg: Oh, okay. Yeah, I’m looking at it, that looks great.

Ted: That’s an example of we want it to have a really good look and to really create that warmth and beauty that people want in their master bathroom. We don’t want to mess with the functionality if you have to replace something on the pump or the faucet, or the cartridge needs to be replaced, you have easy access to it.

Greg: All right. Well Ted, it looks like I asked too many general questions and we’re going to run out of time here. I didn’t give you a chance to really give us some specifics. Can we come back and do another master bathroom episode?

Ted: Yes sir, we would love to do that.

Greg: All right, so let’s wrap this one up and then our next one will be Master Bath Part II if that’s right?

Ted: Yes sir.

Greg: Okay, good talking to you.

Ted: All right Greg, we appreciate it.

Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Houston Custom Home Builder Podcast Series. If you have any questions or would like to contact us at Morningstar Builders, you can find us on Facebook. You can always visit our website at We appreciate your time with us today and look forward to bringing you another episode soon.