John P. Bridge (November, 2011)
Curved, Radius, Elliptical and other Unusual Shower Benches, Foot Rests and Seats
When I entered the ceramic tile trade nearly forty years ago tile showers were generally small and unadorned. And if the shower floor area was large enough to contain a bench it was usually a small one built across a back corner of the shower stall. In fact, we published an article some years back demonstrating how to build such a seat from masonry materials.
Well, times have definitely changed. Today’s bathrooms are not only larger but more amenable, especially master bathrooms or “en suite” bathrooms. (I love those French terms. In a Paris hotel it would translate roughly to in the room instead of down at the end of the hall.) The tiled showers in modern middle-class bathrooms are more spacious and appointed much more lavishly than back in the day; and among the appointments you might find a soap and shampoo niche (another French word. I just love it.) and a lavish bench. If not a bench, then possibly a footrest. Tiled footrests are always possible in showers too small for a full-size seat. They don’t consume any usable shower floor space.
And, of course, straight square or angular shower seats are still built, but oftentimes they will be curved, either in arcs or ellipses. I built an elliptical seat (bench) in a shower I completed in a bathroom that became the subject of my book, Tile Bathroom Remodeling: From Tear-out to Trim-out. I will post a few pictures and comments concerning the construction and tiling of that particular bench. You will find additional shower bench pictures at our forums. I think you will be amazed at some of the items our pros have created.
My elliptical shower bench is “framed” with Kerdi-board from Schluter Systems. In fact, the entire shower in which the bench resides is constructed from the same material. Kerdi-board is rigid but lightweight, and it eliminates the need for any additional framing. The shower is tiled with honed travertine, a stone very similar to marble.
Two-inch thick Kerdi-board is cut and bent to form the elliptical front of the bench. I used two pieces to accomplish this because I had them on hand. A single piece could be used, though. I figured the angle at the walls and cut the backs of the pieces with a small hand saw. Kerdi-board cuts easily with a saw or a knife. The material can also be cut with a table saw or circular saw.
The two pieces will be joined by gluing with a product called Kerdi-fix, a very tenacious and waterproof glue. Other brands of polyurethane glue can be used as well. When gluing you can hold the pieces in place with a few drywall screws.
There are other foam backer boards on the market that will work as well as Kerdi-board, although they may be a bit harder to cut and shape due to the cement crust they are encased in. One such board is made by Wedi Corporation, and another by NAC. Another product is Pro-Panel made by Fin Pan. Pro-Panel comes only in half-inch thicknesses, but two or three layers can be laminated together using thin-set mortar.
With the bench front glued in place, the top can be marked by placing a piece of backer board on top of the front wall and marking it from the underside. The piece is then glued in place, and the entire bench assembly is waterproofed using Kerdi membrane (made by Schluter) to cover all the joints and screw holes. Kerdi is applied using thin-set mortar. Shower bench building can be thirsty work.