No longer an afterthought, the hotel bathroom has become a design focal point. Whether that means maximizing the efficiency of a smaller space or cutting into old closets to augment the floor plan, designers are delivering new looks to an old concept.
“Hotel guests spend a lot of time in the bathroom, so it’s important to make the space unique and memorable,” says Adèle Rankin, principal and global design lead at CHIL Interior Design. “White became the standard colour for bathrooms simply because it can make a small room feel large and it’s easy for people to see that it’s clean.”
Now Rankin says that design is veering away from simple whites and subway tiles in order to deliver a more eye-popping experience for guests. “We’re really looking to deliver that ‘wow factor,’ because if the bathroom doesn’t shine, the whole experience of that hotel suite will be tarnished.”
Rankin notes that CHIL will often sacrifice some of the bedroom space to make the bathroom moment that much more impressive. “As soon as you swing that door open to the bathroom, everything is on display,” says Rankin. “So you really want it to be a memorable moment because that’s what’s going to be remembered by the guest.” Important features for bathrooms, according to Rankin, include a proper shower set-up with a shower wand and rain head inside a stall with ample space: “You want to make sure that if you are that 6′ 4″ tall man, that even he feels comfortable — not squished in.”
At the Ottawa-based Fairmont Chateau Laurier, CHIL fashioned a dramatic bathroom in the Karsh presidential suite. “This place is bigger than some people’s apartments,” laughs Rankin. “But it reflects the luxury of a Fairmont in its grandness and opulence.” Rankin says the design team chose to cut into a heritage walk-in closet that never got used in order to create a giant bathroom with a shower big enough for two people.
For CHIL’s re-design of the Richmond, B.C.-based Versante Hotel, Rankin notes that “the bathrooms are the heroes of this hotel” in terms of their playfulness with the design. Examples of this include a multiple guestroom bathroom with a wet room and free-standing tub against a window wall.
Beyond the guest suites however, Rankin also says it’s important to conceptualize public bathrooms, such as those near the lobby or a ground-floor restaurant space. At the Versante, CHIL created a unisex, oval public bathroom with Chinese red lanterns on the ceiling and black marble as a featured material around the free-standing sinks. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” says Rankin. “This bathroom is a true original.”
While some hoteliers are expanding their bathroom footprints, others are finding design solutions within the constraints of less space. “We work in a lot of hotels where the bathroom footprint is getting smaller,” says Stanley Sun, co-founder and creative director at the Toronto-based Mason Studio. “But that’s an opportunity for us to get more bold.” Stanley says he might use a deeper colour of paint — such as maroon or a warm beige — though it must be a colour that makes the skin “glow”.
At the Andaz Ottawa Byward Market by Hyatt, Stanley said he kept the bathrooms simple, but created interest through the wood porcelain tiles. “There are so many incredible options in porcelain, the most operationally efficient material out there,” says Stanley. “I just came back from a fabricator in Italy who specializes in new technologies and what they are coming out with is so cool.” With innovative manufacturing processes, virtually any high-resolution image can be transferred to porcelain these days.
While some operators still opt for the classic white look, Stanley says he re-invents classic bathroom layouts by re-configuring the basics. “Something we’ve been doing recently that has been very well-received is using traditional materials in new ways,” he says. “Everyone is familiar with a subway tile or a carrara marble, but we modernize it in a way that makes people think — ‘oh I could have done that’. Examples include putting a more graphic pattern into a subway tile, stacking them vertically or creating an unexpected pattern with them.
Stanley says that the trend towards the micro-hotel has also created some unique design challenges. “We’re working on one right now and are actually re-imagining it with the glass block,” he explains. “It’s an old material that was used in bathrooms in the ’80s, but we are bringing it back to bring more natural light into the space.” Stanley says he also uses it in shower stalls. Mason Studio also placed the sink outside of the bathroom as there was no room for it within.
In tiny bathrooms, Stanley insists that keeping the space minimal is key. “You don’t want to clutter up the space with non-essential features,” he says. “Carefully placed mirrors can also provide the optical illusion of more space.” At the Toronto-based Kimpton Saint George, Stanley explains that they had to get creative with the smaller bathroom spaces: “We put the mirror sort of askew and also introduced lighting on the mirror — so the whole design almost looked like a broken make-up mirror.”
At the Kimpton, Mason Studio also played with the position of the bathtub, placing it directly inside the shower — as a free-standing fixture. “It’s something that brings a smile to someone’s face,” says Stanley. While some hotels, such as those catering specifically to a business demographic, might do away with bathtubs, Stanley says the fixture is here to stay: “You are accommodating a wide variety of people and you never really know who your guest is going to be,” he says.
Both Stanley and Rankin agree that lighting has become more consciously outfitted in hotel bathrooms. “ People are becoming more aware of good and bad lighting,” says Stanley. “So for us it’s about creating as much reasonable flexibility as possible in terms of types of light.” Stanley says there would first be a general ceiling light for the day-to-day tasks, but then an essential sconce on the glass for someone putting makeup. Designers are also creating a low-level lighting under the vanity for a more ambient look.
No space is too small for high-end design.
BY JENNY FEBBRARO