With increasingly savvy travellers comes heightened expectations. Guests today not only crave an experience that wows them, but expect it, and these expectations are being made manifest in guest bathrooms, with elevated design and technology — elements once reserved for the spa.

In the past, operators focused on guestroom design, while bathrooms were often a secondary thought.

The spaces were smaller, with limited design influence, featuring small vanities, carved-up spaces for storage and generic bathtubs filling a wall-to-wall space. “The focus is now on the look and feel of the bathroom space, with timeless wall treatments including clean white tiles or panels, often with floor tiles that look like wood to mimic either a home or spa feel,” says Jolanta Lukus, president and CEO of Toronto-based Royal Design, Inc., whose recent projects include the Waterfront Hotel in Burlington, Ont. and Embassy Suites by Hilton Pointe Claire Montreal. “I see a trend of white walls and full-glass showers,” she explains, adding she’s seeing more shower use than bath.

In other words, those plain, wall-to-wall bathtubs are out.

At Hotel Arts Calgary, an art-focused boutique hotel, Adàle Rankin, principal and global design lead for Chil Interior Design, and her team utilized a stand-up shower in a stand-alone space, incorporating surprising splashes of bright orange and chartreuse green. “The colour finishes that are available now are much more varied,” says Rankin. “This allows us to be more specific, to get a cohesive design, reflecting the style of the room, whereas bathrooms weren’t that way before. It’s not just about black or chrome options anymore, but the rainbow in between,” she says.

That said, fabulous, stand-alone tubs are also en vogue. Bathrooms in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s Lieutenant Governor’s and Royal Suites, also designed by Chil as part of the hotel’s Fourteenth-Floor Heritage Suite renovations, feature white porcelain tubs with gooseneck faucets in addition to glass showers. In the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite, the freestanding tub stands proud with stately white, marble-look porcelain floors and dark brown marble-slab walls, while the Royal Suite’s bathroom features a light-and-airy look, with the stand-alone tub placed at an angle and surrounded by white porcelain walls, floors and vanity.

Vanities are evolving, too, becoming more compact. They’re also being treated as a piece of furniture. A key aspect of this evolution is a change in the space’s functionality and how it’s provided.

“A closet by the vanity, a stand-alone wet room — everything doesn’t necessarily have to be attached anymore,” explains Rankin. “It’s allowing us to showcase vanity design. It’s bathroom design that’s much more elevated and it’s a lot of fun — the clientele is now there,” she says, adding designers may have recommended taking these chances years ago. “Now, people are into it. Everyone’s evolving and they don’t want generic.”

Along these lines, owners and brands are allowing designers to be more creative with space planning. “For example, could we have the sink outside the bathroom?” says Rankin, “Owners are okay with these things now, with looking for different ways to solve design problems. It’s about providing a unique experience.”

A change in overall guest habits is also contributing to shifts in design approach. The ways in which guests store their belongings is changing. And, less space needed for guest storage is a win for bathroom design, resulting in more bathroom space.

“More and more people don’t unpack their suitcases and they travel lighter, with [fewer] cosmetics and much less clothing — all impacting storage,” says Lukus.

“We’re fans of open shelving,” adds Rankin. “Even if it’s just for one night, guests can make it feel like their home and spread out — I think that equates to luxury no matter what level you’re at.” She notes that Chil typically doesn’t initially focus on vanity aesthetics, but addresses the guests’ needs first before ensuring a pleasing design.

As Rankin explains, guest expectations once reserved for five-star properties are trickling down to all segments. “We’re finding expectations are changing. Guests expect amenities such as lit mirrors, speakers and access to technology while in the bathroom,” she says. “The challenge we have now is what will be the next thing that will blow people away?”

“The bar’s been raised,” agrees David Schlocker, president & founder of DRS and Associates, a company that represents several high-end architectural products for kitchen and bath, including ThermaSol — manufacturers of high-performance steam equipment, light and music systems for the bath. “Operators are looking for products that will differentiate them, as guests look for more sophisticated experiences.”

Travellers have come to expect a spa-like bathroom — spacious, with a clean, modern look, a decent-sized shower and technology. One such luxury is the ability to control water temperature from outside of the shower. Plus, guests want everything from easy access to being able to change the direction of the water stream. “We’re seeing a real eagerness to get the right temperature, power and lighting,” says Rankin.

Technology such as the ThermaTouch by ThermaSol offers guests optimal control and personalization. The wall-mounted touchscreen system can be programmed for multiple users and not only controls the exact temperature and steam settings, but the ThermaSol’s chromatherapy functions as well. The feature offers the holistic-healing benefits of various colours of light. “It’s the idea of light and ambiance, of how different light affects the way you feel,” explains Schlocker.

And that’s not all — the ThermaTouch screen offers nine different soothing scenes to watch, with corresponding music or sounds, including rainforest or water scenes. Guests can also use their own devices with ThermaTouch’s Bluetooth capability.

Technology has become an important component of bathroom design, which can benefit operators as well as guests, through the incorporation of water conservation and energy efficiency. “Products must be engineered to deliver performance with a great experience,” says Schlocker.

In the past, designers used to have to convince operators to install energy-efficient items such as dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures. However, energy efficiency is now commonplace. “It used to be they were special; the industry had to have them tested,” says Rankin. “These elements have proven to be not just energy efficient, but cost effective.”

Written by Marina Davolos

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