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Calm Waters

By Katriel Costello

Studies have proven the therapeutic effects of water, from detoxifying the body to soothing the mind. “You could call the home spa a trend, but it’s very deep,” says Bob Giese, Kohler Co.’s Staff Human Factors Specialist. “It’s more than just the latest trend. It says that peacefulness and tranquility are very basic needs, and always have been.”

The way in which water is piped into our homes has become ever more intelligent and thoughtful, in line with consumer demands for relief from the stresses and strains of 21st-century living. The French-designed Niagara spout was among the first to successfully bring water into the home in a different way. “The Niagara [has] a simple flat shape that sits on the rim of the bath and looks as though it belongs there,” says Max Pike, Director of Bathrooms International, London, U.K. “It gives a waterfall effect. By mounting spouts on the wall, there’s more a show of water traveling from the spout to bath and less show of tap.”

Increasingly, clients are looking for a getaway, a spa within their living environment, so interior designers are using water in more imaginative ways. “Now, there are waterfall-style tub faucets, and nearly everyone wants a Jacuzzi with all of the tricks that go along with that,” says Velvet Hammerschmidt, Interior Designer at Toll Hammerschmidt Design, Santa Monica, Calif. “Showers have multiple water sources, rain-style showerheads, adjustable body jets and steam showers that incorporate special seating areas. The bathroom really is a custom, spa-like retreat.”

Not all products shout loudly from their place in the bathroom. “‘Infinity’ baths are very good news,” Pike says. “You can’t swill around too much, but the overflow channels are substantial. The water comes to the top, overflows into the grill or has an overflow channel under a marble surround. This creates a look and feel of tranquility to the room as you approach the bath.” So instead of the tub being the hero of the room, it is the understated team player that matches a demand for the sense of peace and quiet that people want from their bathrooms.

A Zen Experience

Research done by Kohler Co. suggests that women find the moving water of a whirlpool too loud and it breaks their mood — far from a Zen experience. Air-jet tubs are the new elixir. The consumer can unwind with a hydro massage of tiny bubbles. Warm air is forced through more than 50 tiny holes strategically placed in the tub walls and floors. This delivers a gentle massage that is less forceful than the whirlpool experience. On a practical note, air-jet tubs are easy to maintain because the channels are blown dry after the water has drained away.

Water can be brought into the home any number of ways, and this inventiveness means that designers must find new ways of working with mechanical engineers. Precision is key in bathroom design, says Bill Bennette, IIDA, ASID, FBIDA, an interior designer based in London, U.K. “Always work with high-quality suppliers when specifying complicated hydro-massage installations. They are specialized in their field and will give technical support, which is handed over to the mechanical engineers.”

Passionately describing the interplay between plumbing and design, Carter Thomas, Lead Industrial Designer, Bathing and Showering Products, at Kohler Co., Kohler, Wis., calls the latest movement in bathrooms “geometric, disciplined, minimal. It has a sense of being architectural — clean design lines, gentle planes and flowing water are highlighted with integrated functionality and leading-edge technology. It is emotionally calming, a peaceful sanctuary.”

Connecting the user with the calming properties of water — without calling attention to the pipes — often means special attention to the use of materials and colors. “We use a lot of stone and glass, and some of the color reflects a water mood, such as green onyx and jade, which is very fresh,” says Thaïs Fontenelle, Interior Designer for Alison Spear AIA, Miami. “We let the materials talk because they are the strong elements. But the more spa elements we put into a bathroom, the happier the client is.”

The master bathroom area has tripled in recent years, so for architects, the demand for home spas has changed the floor plan of the home.

Engaging the Senses

Designers are responding to consumers’ demands for the bathroom to become a refuge, and manufacturers are providing products that balance form and function. For example, bathing in the Kohler Sok Overflowing Bath engages all of the senses, Thomas says. “You’re sitting in water up to your chin, and with the Sok, you’re looking out across a tranquil plane of water. With the Purist bath, your visual sense — and your emotional sense too — is of being enveloped, like being in a cocoon. You hear the water overflowing in a Sok, while in the Purist it’s so utterly quiet that you hear the effervescent bubbles snapping at the surface.”

But in our time-poor, high-pressure societies, the shower still is king for relieving the body of its tensions. “As a high traffic area, the bathroom works harder per square meter for its owner than any other space in the house,” says Francis Cunild, Managing Director of Matki Showering, Bristol, U.K. And with estate agents John D Wood & Co., London, U.K., maintaining that a second shower room can add up to 5 percent to the value of a property, a high-end shower could be a sound investment. “Showers are architecturally inspired and are becoming the main focus of the bathroom — as a fireplace is in a drawing room,” Francis says.

But at their core, bathrooms really are all about simplicity. “The water can also be a soothing and cleansing sensation,” says Steve Osburn, ASID, Interior Designer at Osburn Design, San Francisco. “Some of the finishes we use relate to water, the textures, the stones we use in bathrooms are related in that they are smoothed by the water in the river. The appliances in the bathrooms seem to display the water in an almost religious way.”

Light, Space and Bubbles: Cutting-Edge Bathrooms

Water can soothe and scrub, soak and calm: It essentially provides a spa and sanctuary experience within the comfort of home. The trend for designing bathrooms is subtlety and simplicity, without harking back to the stark white glaze of yesteryear.

Matki EauZone Shower
Because the now fashionable wetrooms really are suitable only for homes made of concrete (not of brick walls and wooden floors), Matki Showering’s EauZone is an alternative. A vast shower tray and frameless glass walls that are UV-bonded, hence glued together, give a sense of space, but the water is held in place. The design is integrated into one column — a tubular arch structure — into which the valves are seamlessly blended, says Matki’s Head of Design Ross Nixon.

Kohler Sok Overflowing bath and Purist Bath
The bubbles in this bath system are very small, they are not cold when they enter the system, and they are utterly quiet. The bubbles not only cling to each other, they also cling to the skin, running softly up the body. “We’ve even converted NASA information about how the body naturally floats in space to how we should float most comfortably in water. For example, we know that when the hips are at 135 degrees, the stress on joints and muscles is reduced and we are brought closer to full relaxation,” says Bob Giese of Kohler Co.

Chromatherapy is light therapy. There are four LED light ports within the inner walls of the fixture, and the bather already is experiencing a warm, deep, effervescent soak. Then, with the touch of a single button, the bath becomes a gentle pool of light.

The bather is washed by a series of eight hues over the next minute or so. The progression starts with neutral white light, followed by three cool, relaxing colors — purple, indigo and aqua blue — then green serving as the balancing color, then three warm, stimulating colors — yellow, orange and red. Each color begins softly, peaks as a full, solid color, then gently fades away.