It is the room of many euphemisms: the powder room, cloakroom, john or loo. Whatever you call it, the American bathroom has become a status symbol, fueling a $12 billion-a-year business, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

"Quite a few of the bath layouts we show are larger than my entire apartment," says Timothy Drew, editor of House Beautiful's Kitchens and Baths editions. He observes that the numbers and kinds of bathroom equipment have dramatically increased in the past few years."People like baths that are romantic, comfortable, even exotic, partly because they spend so much time there," says Scott Dee, who with his wife Jan owns Studio Bath in Newport, Calif.

Dee says that one of his supplier's catalogs offers a pick of more than 4,000 colors, finishes and styles in bathroom fixtures. And there are more than 100 kinds of shower heads. "We can install a series covering every part of the bather from head to toe."

Engineering advances have reduced the familiar sound of a dripping faucet, he adds; many designs have only one moving part.

"Bath design has become a highly specialized business," says Dee. "We work closely with consumers, architects and outside designers to put together the proper fixtures, colors, spacings and other aspects of the customized bath."

His biggest job so far has been a 500-square-foot master bath with 7-foot carved glass shower and toilet-bidet doors, with a 6-foot double tub illuminated from beneath. The remodeling cost $60,000.

"But a good designer can make a new or remodeled bath affordable for just about any budget," he says.

Interior designer Susan Pope thinks remodeling costs are good investments, especially when the house is re-sold, "simply because the bath is one of the two or three key areas that catch a person's eye immediately."

Pope, who consults with a stained glass overlay maker, says such overlays on windows and skylights are being used for privacy as well as to improve design. Other trends include black, mauve and teal fixtures. "The California look is now combined with European designs, emphasizing clean lines and hidden hardware," she says.

Elegant touches noted by Dee are faucets set in semi-precious stones and overlaid with gold or silver. But he says one of the best changes will benefit all those people who have had to scrunch down over the basin to shave: designers, he says, have finally raised counters 4 to 6 inches to accommodate taller people.