Here’s the Truth About Fixed Shower Panels

published May 25, 2019
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(Image Credit: Dana McMahan)

Sometimes you see something you just need in your space, no matter what. You know there will be a downside, but it’s just too perfect. For me, it was the window-style fixed shower panels.

I started seeing this look last summer when we were renovating the bizarre and so-ugly bathroom in our Victorian home. Honestly, anything was an upgrade from the teeny, low-ceilinged, stained-beyond-all-hope stall shower that came with the house that I might have just gone with the first shower I saw.

But when glass panels with black grids starting popping up in my feeds, I became obsessed. Like, down-the-rabbit-hole obsessed. But I struggled to find a product without paint-on faux grids and that wasn’t expensive and custom-made—which I actually looked into, very briefly, when I couldn’t find the real deal.

Finally the winding trails of Pins and Instas led me to the shower panel Oz: a company called Divided Style.

I contacted them about the perfect shower I’d found on their Instagram, and the owner himself actually responded (it’s a pretty small company). He led me to the Gridscape GS1 Fixed Shower Screen Panels. After mulling over measurements and, once I saw the prices, trimming costs elsewhere in the reno, I opted for a set-up with two panels: one 36-inch wide and one 30 inches, leaving a 24-inch opening between them.

This caused my plumber no small amount of consternation. “You’ll get water everywhere!” he exclaimed when I showed him the open doorway plan. My reasoning was it’s a bathroom, it’s meant to get wet but I did wonder if he had a point.

Next was asking the tile installer who’d done the beautiful tile floor, shower pan, and walls if he would be so kind as to help us install the panels. And by help, I meant, “Please do it, because I don’t trust we’ll get it right.” I’d read in one review that installation took half an hour and I naively assumed mine would require the same amount of time.

He gamely agreed, and am I ever grateful. He and a helper—both experienced contractors—spent most of an entire afternoon on installation.

But oh: Once they were in, was it ever glorious! Heeding my plumber’s warning, I laid out bath mats everywhere for the inaugural shower. But you know what? There was actually fairly little overspray, and the mat just outside the shower caught that.

My plumber left with me another warning after seeing the installed panels, and knowing I sometimes rent out my whole house on Airbnb. “What if, you know…?” he asked, the dot dot dot all but said out loud, and grabbed a panel and made like he was shaking it. That stopped me cold.

Shower panels do just sort of… stand there. Yes, they’re screwed into the shower curb and secured to the wall on one side, but these are fairly large object to leave free-standing. The larger one feels a little flimsy if you wiggle it. I know not to lean on them or use them to support any weight, but what if a guest leans on them. What then? Do we end up with the panels on the floor? Does the glass shatter? I don’t want to find out, so overnight guests using this bathroom get a warning to please be careful.

The biggest pain point comes as no surprise: These things are high maintenance. There are 20—count-em, 20—grids. Cleaning requires tediously going through each and every little panel, plus cleaning dust from the metalwork.

Did I know what I was getting into? Yep. Does that stop me from muttering when it comes cleaning time? Nope.

At least the insides are just smooth expanses of glass—although that comes with its own challenge. If we don’t rinse after every use, use the squeegee, and clean regularly, the glass gets soap-scum-murky. And that’s in addition to a couple cloudy spots on the glass that were there from the beginning. I don’t know what caused the imperfections, but after waiting a few weeks for the panels to be delivered, I definitely wasn’t sending them back.

But even these little irks are just that: The panels are gorgeous, and couldn’t be more opposite of the dark, cramped shower we had before. I may complain about cleaning, but I’m thrilled that this gets to be my shower.