Let it all wash over you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 October, 2008, 12:00am

The need for functionality does not preclude self-indulgent luxuriance in the one room where your personal space is still considered sacred

Given the demands made on most of us by work, spouses or family members, it's surprising more of us haven't cottoned onto the idea of making our bathrooms a retreat. It's the one room in the house where you can legitimately shut the door to the outside world and relax. Yet many people pay scant attention to their bathroom, which is all too often viewed as a functional room rather than one that could be fabulous.

'The definition of a bathroom has changed quite a bit,' says Schming Chew, business development for B.S.C. Group, which supplies custom-made fixtures and fittings for bathrooms. 'It goes far beyond serving a personal function to a place where you can relax, physically and spiritually.'

Ms Chew says some of the new designs and textures are testament to this. Teuco's geografia, designed by French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte, turns the bathroom into a stepped landscape and uses duralite, a lightweight material that looks similar to stone but can be used to sculpt any form, dimension or colour. The Dornbracht rain shower, which can fall from the ceiling in an invigorating or mist-like flow, is highlighted by coloured lighting such as blue, green and red to tie in with, or stimulate, the mood of the bather.

Jennifer Newton, who runs her own interior design company Newton Concepts Interior Design, has worked on many bathrooms in Hong Kong and has seen it all, whether its cowhide on the walls or sunken mosaic bathtubs. If clients ask for a relaxing feel to the room, her first priority is to incorporate outdoor elements. Even if people have no outdoor space or only a small balcony, she recommends installing concertina shutters or floor-to ceiling-windows by the bath or shower, ensuring privacy with a bamboo wall.

'The idea is to feel like you are in Bali or Thailand. Bathing in rivers or lakes or in one of those outdoor spas in Thailand which are built into the rocks,' she says.

While a lack of space, little direct sunlight and high humidity mean that people have to choose hardy and often small plants for their bathrooms, there are species that do well. Bromeliads, which are native to tropical rainforests, thrive in humidity and dark spaces, while philodendrons and orchids can also do well. The aesthetic benefits of plants that can soften the hard lines and monotone colours of many bathrooms are accepted. Less well known are their health benefits. Plants are efficient filters for volatile organic compounds that are emitted by many household products that can cause eye and throat irritation, headaches and nausea.

Bernice Leung, general manager of Bed and Bath, which sells upscale bathroom accoutrements, suggests clients rotate plants from balconies and windowsills into their bathroom to give variety and to let those that are less well-suited to the environment thrive. If the upkeep of plants seems like too much bother, she recommends bringing nature in by using potpourris, scented candles and fragrance oils.

'Lavender gives a great smell and can help you to relax before bed,' she says. 'Chamomile is also relaxing, while rose water or adding rose petals to your bath could lift your mood.'

She also suggests selecting unusual versions of common accessories. 'There are some lovely ceramics to choose from, and you can use tumblers made from glass with antique finishes as toothbrush holders to create different themes.'

With the added pressure here of typically smaller room sizes than in other countries, people need to make the best use of the space they have.

'The key thing now is multifunction,' says Ms Chew, pointing to Ron Arad's Rotator - a huge white basin that has a continuous flow of water and can be used as a shower or a bath. 'People don't want more than they need in the bathroom.'

The Julien Bench Toilet by Troy Adams Design is a stainless steel bench with a built-in lavatory and a sliding wood panel that covers the WC when it's not in use. The space-saving idea turns into a bathroom bench when the toilet's not in use and gives the bathroom a clean uncluttered look.

In a similar way, Ms Newton says, custom-made lavatories can be designed so that ugly piping is concealed and, with an increasing emphasis on open-plan bathrooms, basins can be discreetly located behind bed headboards.

Ms Leung suggests investing in thick bathmats to give a sense of luxury when one steps from the bath or shower. Alternatively, Ms Newton suggests heated flooring. While the climate in Hong Kong may be hot most of the year, she says, for those few months when you would use it, heated flooring gives that extra sense of luxury that makes your time in the bathroom something special.