10 Questions with Kitchen & Bath Designer Deb Dumel

The showroom manager shares plans for Frank Webb's Bath Center South Boston renovation, top kitchen and bath trends, and a glimpse of Tom and Gisele's 'throne.'


F. W. Webb’s South Boston Showroom was the city’s first “green” warehouse. Photo provided.

From upgrading small spaces to going green, Deb Dumel, manager of Frank Webb’s Bath Center showroom in South Boston, has the answers.

She filled us in on the biggest trends for kitchen and bath, the showroom’s highlights—including the same brand of high-tech “throne” used by Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen—and what you’ll see in the renovated space come September.

1. The real estate market is super-hot right now. What does that mean for business?

The hotbed now is the “new South Boston.” … A lot of these spaces only have one or one and a half baths, and it’s really about maximizing spaces. Aging in place is a hot-button issue today too. They don’t want a walk-in bathtub, they want something that looks spectacular. So we have a combination tub and shower. It’s very compact, also convenient if you have kids or dogs.

2. What are other concepts and trends that you think are really going to take off?

It’s all about “shower power” today. Steam showers are much more advanced. People want information at their fingertips, and the Steamist is Bluetooth-connecting. Your iPhone is command central. You can start it in your living room and it only takes 30 seconds to heat up, with settings for two people. We call it “chromatherapy,” you can listen to music (through invisible speakers), you can talk on the phone, multitask. You have mood lighting and aromatherapy canisters. Steam is good for the body, inside and out, for respiratory problems, for colicky children, and also water conservation—you only use one gallon of water.

3. Your showroom (photo above) was Boston’s first “green” showroom when it was completed in 2011. Is that a priority for F.W. Webb?

We’re advocates for putting LED in spotlights. Our warehouse is probably 100,000 square feet of lights that only come on when you walk down the aisles.

…Everything is about conserving water. There’s definitely a good percentage of people who want to know what technology is out there. Your body sprayers are using just a gallon a minute. They’ve developed technologies in showerheads now that make them perform like a three or four-gallon shower head. You’re really saving water with the one-gallon flush toilets versus the 1.2 or 1.6 too. The dual-flush toilets in the city are doing well also, to the point where Toto can’t keep up with production. You save a lot of money on your water bill. I have one myself.

4. You were featured in a TV segment about Tom Brady’s house after the 2012 Super Bowl—was that one of your career highlights?

Wes Welker made a joke about Tom Brady’s “throne,” a combination toilet/bidet, and we did a TV spiel in our showroom bathroom, demonstrating. You walk up to the toilet and it opens on its own. You don’t touch anything, you do your stuff, get up, walk away. Tom’s house in California has six of them and one in his Beacon Street place. It’s probably driven by his wife—it’s very European, all controlled by a panel. In many cases, it plays music and it sanitizes, deodorizes and dries.

5. Is “touchless” the next wave of the future?

Everybody’s germ-crazy. I think you’re going to see a lot more of this and you’re seeing proven success with touch-free products in the kitchen. There’s a return to cooking at home and more and more people are in their kitchens. We’re getting a new motion-sense display from Moen soon, and that’s very exciting. The technology allows you to safely wash your hands when you’re cooking fish or poultry.

6. What else is big for kitchens now?

Water purification systems like Aqua-Pure…Who wants to give their dog Boston water? I want my dog to live a nice, long life. I think we all drink more water now and want to escape the plastic bottles. This filter is on demand, you no longer need a separate tap, which costs a lot of money. There’s also a version for the bathroom sink.

7. These options seem mostly practical—is there more of a focus on function over form in the building community? What trends do you think have come and gone righteously?

You don’t see vessel sinks in master baths anymore, everybody’s talking about splashing. Your vessel sinks can still be a powder room consideration, though, because they’re unique. We’re seeing many more practical, undermounted sinks, and a few slightly above (photo below). Some people think drop-in sinks are hard to clean around.

As far as gimmicky things, I would be concerned with the colored lighting and music, the things that come through water fixtures. Do we really need that, is it worth the money?

8. Lighting is often not something people think of initially but it makes a big difference. Do you have advice for selecting fixtures?

Lighting is one of the last things people tend to consider, but it’s very important. It’s what you’ll see more of in our new showroom.

We’ve got a state-of-the-art Robern medicine cabinet that lights up and has night-lights on the inside. This is what I’d consider a good trend. Their vanities have magnifying mirrors on the inside. Task-lighting mirrors are a very important consideration. Robern plays strict attention to women putting on makeup. You’re going to look as real as possible.

The priorities of different genders and couples, or teams of contractors can differ. How do you help them come to a consensus on the showroom floor?

You really have to be a good psychologist. I majored in that in college and I think it’s helped me a long the way! You have to ask clients a lot of questions quickly about their place and priorities, but not do it in a way that’s intimidating. Your personalities have to click.

10. What separates the Frank Webb showroom from the rest, and makes working with you unique?

We have a lot of working displays here and that’s very unique for a showroom. After the renovation’s complete (in September) we’ll have a lot more…Going back to the days when my parents needed a faucet, the plumber just came with one. Now we feel the relationship with a showroom associate is very important because things can be purchased online. But technology has changed so much that it’s not easy to just buy the right one on the Internet. I find that 85 percent of the people want to touch the product, feel it.

Contact Deb Dumel about kitchen and bath design projects at Frank Webb Bath Center, 307 Dorchester Ave., South Boston. Info: 617-933-0666, frankwebb.com.


Toto’s Touchless Neorest Toilet, like those in Tom Brady’s homes. Photo provided.


Robern puts special focus on vanity lighting for applying makeup. Photo provided.


Undermount sinks like this Elkay model are popular for kitchen and bath. Photo provided.


 This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.