Our environments affect our experience of life. Although each space in the home is important, from the foyer to the kitchen, many of our most personal practices happen in the bathroom. It’s where we wash and assemble ourselves to present to the outside world, and it’s where we should feel the most relaxed, and most comfortable in our skin. Here, Dering Hall designers, architects, and builders offer their best tips for creating a peaceful, intimate bathroom that helps us recover from the stressors of modern life.
Put Function First
The importance of function comes as no surprise to experienced designers. However, as architect Mark. P. Finlay suggests, well-planned, efficient designs are also key to creating a relaxing bathroom. “An easily maintained bathroom is truly a lifesaver,” says Finlay. Morning routines become infinitely easier with segragated spaces for the various rituals of getting ready. At night, if you love to soak in the tub, a large bathtub should serve as the centerpiece of the space, according to Finlay, and if you prefer long, hot showers, the shower should include many shower heads that can vary the water output. “There’s nothing more luxurious than a space tailored to your preferences,” Finlay says.
Summer Kath agrees. Kath, who is executive vice-president of business development and design at Cambria, has noticed that clients are opting for durable surfaces like quartz or soapstone substitutes that don’t need to be replaced every year. "Overall, we believe there is a definite trend towards low-maintenance or no-maintenance materials in the bathroom,” says Kath.
In the design above, Finlay used reflective, square, ocean-glass tiles to surround the tub area. The design also allows for uninterrupted ocean views that filter into the room from outside.
Make the Most of Materials
There are many beautiful materials that work well in a bathroom. Large, uninterrupted walls of stone, plaster, or concrete can offer a sense of permanence. “We are noticing cleaner, more modern finishes with larger slabs on walls and shower walls as opposed to subway tile,” says Kyle Stokkers from Stokkers & Company, a building company based in Huntington, New York. Stokkers also notes that clients have been asking to use polished concrete in bathroom floors, slabs, and countertops.
Slabs are often characteristic of minimalism, too, which tends toward uncluttered spaces, with each object of the design carefully selected for beauty and function; nothing simply takes up space in a minimalist design. However, John Beckmann of Axis Mundi in New York reminds us that not all minimalist environments are the same. "While I consider myself a minimalist, I try to put a more glamorous spin on that language of reduction," says Beckmann.
"Stick to a limited palette of materials and make them luxurious," recommends architect Blaze Makoid. Maybe, then, luxury offers its own kind of relaxation.
In the space above, Stokkers & Company used Venetian plaster for the walls, white Carrera marble tile from Waterworks on the floors, white Carrera marble on the vanity top and integral sink, and polished concrete for the tub surround.
Find Inspiration in the Environment
Context is rarely overlooked in the best designs, and bathrooms are no exception. Whenever a space achieves cohesion between its design and surrounding environment, it becomes a little more relaxing. The transition from outdoors to in should be calming and calibrated, not jarring.
BAMO, a firm based in San Francisco, designs luxurious hotels in far-flung locales, from Milan to Dubai to Bora Bora, and their clients often come to them after staying in one of their hotels, which emphasizes that although interiors must be functional, their design can still transform every day into a mini-vacation. The above bathroom is situated in Cabo. To merge the bath with the surrounding environment, BAMO chose shades of blue that flow with the blue-green colors of cacti and agave and cerulean ocean. This bath is one aspect of a resort they designed in Cabo that “invites guests to effortlessly experience the relationship between indoor and outdoor living,” says Janet Mercier, the BAMO project designer for the resort.
Natural, well-made materials, including plaster walls and encaustic tile, give weight to this design from BAMO. “Hardware and furniture accents in dark bronze harmonize with the warm tones while adding a bit of edge, and a freestanding cast stone tub completes the space,” says Mercier.
Decide on a Hardware Style
Hardware offers an opportunity to enhance the experiences of the design, offering contrast against softer stones or other materials. Douglas Wright of Douglas C. Wright Architects in New York City says, "I wanted to create a warm, enveloping, soothing space in a rich surrounding. The golds and deep browns/blacks of the metal and stone reinforce each other, while the gentle, flowing lines of the stone contrast with the hard lines of the metal."
Sleek, elegant hardware can continue a minimalist or rustic design scheme. "We have been asked over the past year by designers to add warmer metal finishes to our collections," says Sam Bruce, marketing manager at hardware company Samuel Heath. Bruce also notes that the brand has launched new, warm hardware in response to designers' requests, as well as hardware in matte finishes. "Our clients want more rustic bathrooms to relax in, rather than high gloss finishes," says Bruce. "These finishes combine well with natural materials, i.e., wood, and marbles."
Here, Wright used contrast between metal and stone to create a visually dynamic design. “It’s not a large room, so I used Corbata Nero slabs for the full height of the walls and floors,” Wright says. “You feel enveloped in a sea of stone.”
Keep it Curved
Curved architectural details communicate relaxation. In a room, a curved wall can provide unexpected softness, bringing a new layer of tranquility to the ambience. In the space pictured above, one of the most unique details is "the curved wall behind the freestanding tub that features a chevron pattern stone tile inlay,” says Roger Owen of BGD&C Custom Homes, a home builder in Chicago.
A curved space for the tub can also enhance privacy and connection, as Finlay suggests. In the bath he designed (pictured earlier), he was partially inspired to create curved walls around the tub to enhance the intimacy of the space. "Another motivation for the curved walls was so that the tub wasn’t floating in the middle of the room by itself and was instead being ‘hugged’ by the curved walls," he says.
“I think with design trends you are seeing clean, simple lines and uninterrupted spans of glass around showers and tubs,” says Owen. “This type of precise detailing requires precise construction techniques to be successful.”
Opt for a Pared-Down Color Palette
If a bold bathroom is your goal, by all means select colorful wallcoverings and ornate, over-the-top accessories. There's a time, place, and client for every style. For clients who prefer calm above all else, a monochromatic environment — especially one in a natural wood hue — can help create a peaceful environment in a master bath. Ann Stillman O’Leary, the designer behind the above image, says that a relaxing space is “earthly yet heavenly,” gesturing toward the idea that a tranquil bathroom should keep you grounded in your body, and capable of sensuality, while also inspiring daydreams.
For the above space, Stillman O’Leary used Siena Avorio large-format stone, and pebble dash rounded stones for the floor. “The cream colored stone wraps itself around the room, the waterflow sounds like a stream, the aroma of the wood, soft pebbles underfoot… [it’s] earthly yet heavenly,” says the designer.
Consider Creative Lighting
Lighting is key in a bathroom. In the tub area, chandeliers are a classic choice, and recessed lighting, as shown above, offers another way to bring light to a space. In terms of natural light, windows help merge interior and exterior environments; innovative shades or artistic curtains can block out the outside world when necessary. A skylight provides another alternative source of light, and it also maintains privacy in a peaceful bath, especially when paired with stark, artful architecture. “I love the serenity of this design, particularly the way the bathtub is nestled in between the stone walls with just the single piece of glass which overlooks the bay,” says Makoid of this ocean-front bathroom that he designed. “I also like the indirect light that we achieved with the linear skylight.”
Lighting should create a sense of calm in the room, and new trends in lighting are shifting toward sleek lines. “I have noticed a trend towards silver tones and vertical lines in vanity and bathroom design,” says Robert Long of Robert Long Lighting, an artisanal lighting company focusing on hand-crafted products. “These elements coupled with opaque glass create soothing and practical light.”
“The stone is a vein-cut limestone which gives it that linear pattern," says Makoid. "It’s great for matching up panels.”
Bring in Plants
Greenery always brings life to a space, as long as there’s enough natural light to keep plants alive. In different sizes, plans can also serve to break up a space, or build another level to the design that can be hard to achieve with other kinds of accessories. “When possible, we like to include plants in a well-lit bathroom,” says Michelle Dirkse, an interior designer based in Seattle. “They add warmth to the sometimes cold surfaces of a bathroom.”
In the space above, Dirkse used plants to craft a tranquil ambience as well as to achieve a haunting sensuality. “Our clients asked that their remodel transform their Historic Landmark home into a home inspired by a ‘haunted mansion or the back stage of Moulin Rouge,'” she says. “In the bathroom, this translated to a traditional clawfoot bathtub with a perfectly rusted exterior, traditional plumbing fixtures, lace privacy curtains, and Timorous Beasties fabric for an antique stool.”
"The soft fabrics, casual vibe of the vintage tub, the plants and the smaller cozy space within the bathing room, make this portion of the bathroom extra relaxing," says Dirkse.
Try a Freestanding Tub
A freestanding tub provides a visual focal point for a room, and it offers a perfectly relaxing space to unwind. “A beautiful freestanding tub is a good place to start, and openness, simplicity, and a great material selection are certainly key,” says Beckmann, offering advice on creating a relaxing bath. Beckmann has noticed that clients are asking for larger bathrooms and spending more time in them, and this can alter approaches to designing bathrooms, as they're meant more now for living (and soaking) than just passing through. In response, he says, "I always strive for very clean and well thought-out details to eliminate unnecessary lines and distractions."
Constantin von Boch, vice president of sales at Villeroy & Boch, also notes that the demands of bathrooms have changed in recent years. “The [bathroom] is becoming more and more a living and feel-good space where you express your own personality: a personal oasis to escape the stresses of daily life,” says von Boch. “With bathtubs in particular, designers try to satisfy this wish for both by creating products that combine great functionality with an outstanding design.”
A freestanding tub can also incorporate unusual materials. Stillman O'Leary selected a unique, wooden tub for a space she designed, pictured earlier. "The Ofuro tub is made of fragrant Hinoki wood and was imported from Japan," she says of the design.
Here, Axis Mundi relied on hot-rolled, blue-gray steel panels, a gold onyx divider, and burnished brass to achieve a glamorous minimalist look. His client for this project preferred "materials that are in the surface and not on it," Beckmann says, quoting his client, to explain why he opted for luxurious, statement-making materials.
Finish with Natural and Soulful Touches
Carefully placed finishing touches, particularly those made from wood or other organic materials, usher in an aura of calm, and each object feels natural to the environment. Lisa Staprans of Staprans Design believes that each artisanal object should tell a story and contribute to what she calls a “soulful design.” In the bathroom pictured above, Staprans interpreted this philosophy to rework the client’s beloved console table, adding a solid walnut lower shelf to bring in natural wood, and she chose a custom walnut framed medicine cabinet to fulfill the potential of the space. The vessel sink is made from hand-carved soapstone. “This master bath is the clients bathing sanctuary,” says Staprans.
Beautiful accessories also impart a bit of luxury. “For our clients, a relaxing space is one that’s free of clutter and impeccably designed,” says Brad Zeligson, president of Labrazel, a company specializing in elegant bath accessories. “Our products are the finishing touches in some very luxurious spaces, so every detail matters — from the design and materials to the craftsmanship.”
Zeligson mentions an important component of design that each of our designers, architects, and builders mentioned as well: details matter. When each detail is approached with attention and intention, the final design will offer peace and relaxation, through its aesthetic as well as its function.
Other key details in this bath from Staprans Design include Neidhart wall sconces and hand-loomed Turkish towels.
Receive design news about new products, Editor's Picks, design insights and more