Spa-like bathroom designs for superior bath experience

A spa-like guestroom bath at the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
A spa-like guestroom bath at the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.

A spa-like guestroom bath at the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.

If the hotel guest bathroom experience has become noticeably more spa-like, well, there’s a reason for that: it should be. Hotels, independents and brands alike, are giving designers the latitude to create spa experiences in the guestroom bath. Beatrice Girelli of Los Angeles-based Indidesign is one. She has designed high-end bathrooms for such hotels as the Grand Hyatt San Francisco and the Hokulani Waikiki. She feels that a spa bathroom goes beyond the standard functionality of a traditional bathroom. “It becomes a retreat and a sanctuary within a private residence or a hotel guestroom,” she said. “The attention to detail, the added features, the general atmosphere achieved through the use of fixtures, plumbing selections, finishes and lighting delivers a superior experience.”

The relationship between the bedroom and bathroom space is also changing, particularly in new-build hotels, and bathrooms are becoming larger to meet the expectations of more sophisticated travelers.

“Additional pieces of furniture—a chair, bench or large ottoman, for example—are great complements to emphasize the retreat experience and deliver the residential personalized feel that we strive for,” Girelli said. “A ‘wow’ feature—such as a fireplace or an exterior shower, and a view to connect with the exterior—make the space special and unique.”

Christian Schnyder, principal at Beleco Design, also based in Los Angeles, echoes much of the same as Girelli. He has designed bathrooms for several hotels, including the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh (opening later this year) and a new Kimpton hotel project in Chicago, set to open in winter 2015. He points to two elements that distinguish a spa bath from a standard room. “One is, obviously, the size and fixture count; and the other would be the experience,” he said.

Separating the shower and the tub, Schnyder said, is a key element of a spa bathroom. “The toilet should be separated from the rest of the bathroom, at least by a privacy wall, making sure it is out of sight,” he said. “A larger vanity counter adds to the sense of a special experience.”

Lighting and finishes are also crucial. “Having a sculptural soaking tub, ideally free standing, offers both relaxation and a focal point for the bathroom,” Schnyder said. “That alone will give the guests a sense that they are staying in a special room, regardless if they are using the tub or not. We usually integrate the tub in the shower area, which allows us to eliminate the overflow as it drains into the floor drain. The tub truly becomes a soaker as it can be filled up to the rim if desired.”

Lighting: The key to a spa bathroom

At Brian G. Thornton Designs, Principal Brian Thornton likes to make a spa bathroom distinct, with “accoutrements and accessories” that elevate the experience. “Maybe the water is delivered via an extra-special vessel or fixture,” he said.

Indidesign’s work at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco.

Indidesign’s work at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco.

Thornton has employed other techniques, such as chromatherapy, a method of using colored lights to create a soothing effect.

“When I design for a specific client, I immediately look at the lighting conditions,” Thornton said. “Natural light versus artificial light is key to color and material direction. The layout should not be conducive to one user, but multiple users. When space is at a premium, then organizing the shower/bath is primary, as it is the largest fixture in the space. Its access, views in and out are critical; the vanity should include ample storage, and support a surface at a comfortable height for the face bowl.”

Lighting angles are also of importance. “The lighting needs to be from above and from the sides for critical tasks like applying makeup,” he said. “The toilet, whether compartmentalized or not, should be of a comfortable seating height and ample lighting for cleaning in and around the bowl.”

Thornton’s team is finding that luxury showers are replacing standard tubs in most hotel projects. “Framed and frameless glass doors are de rigueur,” he said. “Alternatively, where tubs are retained, the shower curtain is coming down and replaced with a tub shield—a hinged-glass wing that allows the water to be contained without the full-width bypassing doors.”