Design for Wellness: The Bathroom
authors Mary Jo Peterson
The focus of every segment of our client base on health and wellness is certainly a call to action to address these interests in our design. The concept of the “spa” is no longer just a luxury that we visit occasionally, but something that regularly helps to improve personal health programs in the home. Add to this the impact of technology on how we relate to our home spaces, and we have an evolution in the way we design homes, and particularly high activity areas like the kitchen and the bath.
Our last design column discussed the concept of a home wellness center. This month, we’ll look at the ways in which a bathroom can be designed to complement the wellness center and support this focus.
We have always recognized the bathroom as both a place to get clean and a place to relax or calm down and leave stress behind. Now, we are looking to expand on opportunities for relaxation and even to contribute to health monitoring and maintenance. Grooming and hygiene are impacted by improved lighting, anti-bacterial materials and processes, and enhanced safety and support. The role of the bathroom in relaxation, restoration and therapy is expanding, with new ways to harness the therapeutic abilities of water, light, color, sound and even scent, as well as through a strong connection to nature and outdoors.
When more space is available, elements that contribute to a sense of sanctuary can be added, such as a fireplace or a water feature. The opportunities for improved support and ease of access and use that must be inherent in all these concepts grow with each advance in technology.
Concepts and products
In every station of the bathroom, we are seeing an emphasis on improved access, ease of use and healthy living. Technology is moving fast to fight bacteria, introduce alternative and improved control of systems and increase the number and types of tools that speak to the senses, adding to the feeling of a sanctuary or spa in the bathroom.
In the toileting center, we have a fixture that is very different than the 2.5- to 3.6-gallon flush of basic toilets of the past. Today, we have an abundance of comfort features – heated seats, massage and washlet systems, integrated child seats, self-lowering seats and covers, and even night lights, personalized music playlists and foot warmers. To fight germs, we have integral exhaust systems that help pull odors and bacteria, hands-free flushing and even self-cleaning systems.
It’s worth a comment that while the bidet had traditionally been thought of as a luxury, or simply a European fixture, today it is being surpassed by the integrated bidet or washlet seat, and as the boomers age, less a comfort or convenience and more an essential tool for personal hygiene.
The concept of a private water closet is also being improved upon though designs that create privacy while maintaining ease of access, and supports in the area have expanded to include integral, movable or otherwise attractive options.
In the vanity area, our mirrors and medicine cabinets are being enhanced with improved lighting systems that eliminate shadows and can be adjusted to more closely resemble natural light. They can now also help to monitor activity and health by a remote caregiver, and to measure and report on heart rate, changes in weight and other indicators of personal health. We also have medicine cabinets that serve as command central for programming and control of the other fixtures and fittings in the room. Fittings at the lavatory that can be motion- or touch-controlled are becoming mainstream, and we now have voice-activated faucets as well. These remote and alternative controls are a great example of a product that for some is a convenience, but for others may be an essential interface between client and product.
Like the toilet, the tub has evolved to encompass much more than the traditional soak. Expanded hydrotherapy options as well as added sound, color and scent have made the tub more effective as a health enhancer and stress reliever. The foot bath has made a resurgence. The size, number and direction of bubbles can be used to treat aching joints and muscles, to target circulation and to support a personalized wellness experience. In addition, the foot bath has made a resurgence. Design of the tub area must also involve the challenge and careful consideration of support and safety in entering and exiting the tub.
However, the greatest opportunity to change the design and use of the bathroom is in the shower. The horizontal shower, which was introduced several years ago, is an amazing example of thinking “outside the box” to totally alter and improve the shower experience. Imagine enjoying a water massage while showering. Directional and targeted jets again support personalized hydrotherapy. New technologies include a variety of additional water delivery systems that contribute to healthy circulation and relaxed muscles. Color, light and sound systems have been incorporated to enrich the spa experience in the home shower. While this could get complicated, advanced digital control programming can simplify the process and support total personalization.
There have been several references to technology, particularly in the control systems, and the question for you, as a designer, is to determine how best to put those technologies to use for your client, with the goal being to reduce stress and enhance health and wellness.
As designers, we need to shift our thinking to embrace the importance of the design of the bathroom not just as a space for personal hygiene, but as a part of a formula for personal health and well being. Most of us may get to a spa occasionally, but we use the bathroom daily, and with the right design approach, it can support a daily routine that is a part of our own individual health and wellness strategy. Whatever the age and needs of a client, this evolution of bathroom design provides an opportunity to create bathrooms that contribute to more active, healthier and perhaps longer lives. Who wouldn’t want to do this? ▪