While on a recent reconnaissance mission to sniff out design trends, Vancouver-based interior designer Sharon Bortolotto toured a hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. The iconic building had undergone a substantial renovation, and yet when it came to the bathrooms, there they stood like embalmed Hollywood starlets — pristine and original; they hadn’t aged one bit.

“They changed everything but they did very little in the bathrooms,” says Bortolotto, principal and founder of BBA Design Consultants in Vancouver, who has spent more than 30 years finessing both commercial and residential spaces. “The bathrooms were so nicely done in a neutral beige 20 years ago; they didn’t need much.”

Bortolotto’s anecdote sums up what hospitality designers should aspire to in the bathroom: timelessness over trendiness. Think marble and porcelain in a neutral palette. White is always a good go-to. Not only does it make a bathroom feel spacious, it’s associated with cleanliness and hygiene, which is critical to guest satisfaction. She often restricts splashier, gimmicky touches to paint, wallpaper or artwork that can easily be painted over, or replaced, on a dime.

After all, bathroom renovations are costly, especially for hoteliers grappling with the expense of multiple rooms. “In a guestroom, you may not have to toss out the case goods every seven years; you might reupholster them,” Bortolotto says, noting the cost to do so doesn’t come close to overhauling the loo. Dealing with plumbing and electrical, the sinks, the taps, the bathtub, the toilet and the glass showers makes for a pricey project. “If you’re renovating a room for $25,000 to $30,000, the bathrooms are generally a third or more, so [you’re spending] $8,000 to $10,000 on each of them,” she adds.

Must-haves for the make-over? “Nice big vanities and good lighting — the big feature is having enough room to put your stuff on the counter, and not on the toilet seat,” she says. And don’t forget the lit makeup mirror and the [variety of lighting sources].” As for tubs, “I think they’re more of a selling feature than people actually using them. I think larger showers are more beneficial.”

Investing in good-quality material at the outset, such as marble, is key, Bortolotto says. But beware: should a visitor spill a bottle of Coco Chanel eau de toilette — sacré bleu! — on a marble vanity, it will stain. Polished marble is a pain to maintain, but remarkable innovations have helped (see Fake it with Porcelain, adjacent).

Sensible and timeless over fleeting and faddish also describes the newly renovated bathrooms at the Quality Inn in Corner Brook, N.L. “Guests travel more and they have a certain level of expectation,” says Debbie LeBlanc, Quality Inn’s GM. “When it came time to renovating the rooms, we tried to think of every detail guests would want.”

Mid-market hotel or not, a ho-hum experience wasn’t one of them. As such, the designers didn’t skimp on the materials. “We have Caesarstone countertops with cabinets in a nice light wood…. The cabinetry has tons of space,” LeBlanc says of the look that is “simple, clean and stands above the competition in our market.”

Eco-friendly features, meanwhile, take it over the top. These include low-flow toilets and showers, with excellent water pressure thanks to a new water pump; LED lights; wireless thermostats; and the swapping of electrical heating with PTAC units, energy-saving heat-pump systems.

Noticeably absent at the Quality Inn — or not, depending on who you ask — are bathtubs. The North American hotel sector has been forgoing bathtubs for years. And even luxury players are being strategic when it comes to tubs. Take Fairmont’s 611-room landmark Château Frontenac in Quebec City. Last year, the 1893-built heritage hotel, which conjures up scenes from Downton Abbey and the Victorian claw-foot soakers to match, completed a $75-million revitalization. The ambitious project, by the design firms Wilson Associates, based in Dallas, and New York’s Rockwell Group, saw the addition of restaurants, a banquet space, a spa and the transformation of the lobby.

Additionally, all of the hotel’s guestrooms — including 38 suites and 60 posh Fairmont Gold rooms — were renovated. But they don’t all sport bathtubs. “When we have a room with one bed, we decided to use only one big spa-style shower. And with rooms with two beds, we kept the bath, as they are likely used by families,” says Marie-Claude Brousseau, director of Public Relations.

Washrooms that service the public spaces have been kitted out in what Brousseau describes as a “contemporary fresh” look. Dark herringbone floors offer graphic punch against a two-tone white-and-ecru vanity, which has storage galore below and above due to a long glass shelf. A large shower is built for two — or three, or four (no judgment here).

Even the bastion of cool, Toronto’s Drake Hotel, opted for vertical cleansing over reclining in suds at the 11-room (plus two suites) Drake Devonshire Inn. The contemporary lakeside retreat in the village of Wellington in Prince Edward County, Ont., boasts a dynamic, art-forward scheme. Here, smart country-chic bathrooms feel casual yet luxurious. It’s not immediately clear why these bathrooms, with their random china plates on the walls, are so darn lovely. It could be the subtle textural mix: the friendly tongue-and-groove cottagey walls (brilliantly carried out to the headboard and a wall in the guestroom itself), mosaic tile floors and marble showers; or the custom Corian vanity with integrated towel holders and quirky old-timey faucets.

The balancing act is the work of John Tong, principal of +Tongtong, who designed the Drake’s original outpost on Queen Street West. “A lot of people think I’m an urban guy,” Tong says. In fact, “I owned a cottage almost 20 years before we bought a house in the city.” He and his wife are nature buffs who camp and canoe, he says. “[The Devonshire] has been that opportunity to bring those two worlds together in my work in a big way,” he continues. “So the washroom is one place where you do see a bit of country but also a level
of elegance.”

The key was “transmuting [opulence] and luxury without it feeling stuffy.” For instance, the bathrooms’ contemporary linear sconces have architectural presence but “they’re quite basic,” Tong says. “The shape you see is actually just the glowing bulb; there is no shade.”

Nor are there bathtubs. “There are some people who love a bathtub, but I think operationally it wasn’t something they wanted to offer,” Tong says. “There is this cleaning issue and a sense that bathtubs are not desirable by a lot of people.”

Besides, who wants to loll in the bath all day when Prince Edward County, with its vineyards, beaches and uninterrupted views of Lake Ontario, is just outside the door?

Written By: Iris Benaria

Volume 27, Number 5


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