How to transform your bathroom into a luxurious sanctuary

Home to fine art, hi-tech gadgets and fashionable furniture, your bathroom - that last bastion of privacy - should be as well-designed as the rest of your home.

This bathroom from Maison Valentina incorporates the Sinuous dressing table, Mandy stool and free-standing Diamond bathtub. Courtesy Maison Valentina
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From the piping systems laid out by the ancient Greeks and the expansive aqueducts of Roman bathhouses, to the Great Bath of the Harappa civilisation and the honey-and-milk cleansing rituals of Egyptian queens, baths have held an exalted place in history. Until the 19th century, the scarcity of clean running water and modern plumbing meant that only the aristocracy could afford to sanitise regularly. To have a bath drawn for you – with heated water, rose petals and scented pastes – was considered to be the ultimate luxury.

While we’ve moved on from copper bathtubs, clay soap and candlelight, until recently the bathroom was an under-designed area, despite being a space that epitomises the concepts of privacy, comfort and indulgence. Now, technology, combined with a concentrated effort by designers to create a room that’s at once convenient and luxurious, is paving the way for what our predecessors, Cleopatra et al, yearned for: the bathroom as a sanctuary.

Markus Singler, managing director at Hansgrohe Middle East, says: “There has been a clear shift towards luxurious, spacious bathrooms where people can literally wash off their day.” Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari, founder of London-based NBB Designs, adds: “We spend a large amount of time in this space when we wake up and before we go to bed. These are both instances when we need to be soothed and relaxed. This is why bathrooms should be treated as an extension of your living space, a place to retreat to.”

Free-flowing and open-plan spaces are among the top bathroom-design trends for 2017. “Your space should flow well, allowing for physical movement and the easy incorporation of fixtures and beautiful accessories,” says Singler. “A trend that has continued from last year is bathrooms without borders, thresholds, or even door mechanisms. Floor-level showers should flow seamlessly into the rest of the space, inviting one to walk around at leisure.”

Lighting is an effective way to demarcate separate zones. “A beautiful chandelier or wall lights can add a different dimension to a bathroom. Install a dimming option to alter the mood and intensity,” says Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari.

The use of glass, too, can provide a real sense of liberty, says Dara Huang, founder of the architecture firm Design Haus Liberty. “A master bathroom we created for a penthouse faces a floor-to-ceiling glazed wall. Although it is impossible for anyone to see you on the 40th floor, this ‘exposed’ space instils a visceral sense of freedom.” Loos with views are gaining prominence in villas and high-rises in the UAE, with many luxury homeowners basing their buying decisions on “substantial sizes, spectacular sights and sophisticated fixtures”, according to Dubai-based estate agent Barkha Rastogi.

In keeping with the bathroom’s new standing as a luxurious extension of our living areas, furniture is no longer restricted to plain storage cabinets and wall mirrors, with crystal chandeliers, opulent ottomans and chaise longues sharing space with full-length mirrors, statement lamps and glossy bookshelves. “An elegant chair can add beauty and practicality to a large bathroom. High-end furniture can be upholstered in waterproof fabrics, which makes them ideal for pampering yourself, as well as slinging a bathrobe over,” says James Taylor, group sales and marketing director of Hadley Property Group.

Even those much-needed storage solutions can take the form of cabinetry that resembles furniture, adds Singler. “Opt for cabinets with legs and open shelves to showcase bottles, towels and other attractive items. Repurposed hutches and vintage dressers can be used as vanities, creating a beautiful focal point.”

Colour-wise, classic white remains a firm favourite, with faucets and fixtures in metallic or jet-black hues lending dramatic effect. “There is a growing demand for harmonious tone-on-tone accents, with soft wood and earth shades or striking contrasts using anthracite and grey,” says Thorsten Bies, sales manager at Villeroy & Boch – Africa, India, Middle East and Southeast Europe. “You can also introduce colour via a free-standing feature, such as a shaded or metallic washbasin or bathtub.”

Art is another good way to introduce colour and can play a vital role in the bathroom beautification and personalisation process, sprucing up an all-white or otherwise muted space. For instance, Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari collected favourite poems from her friends and family, and had these inscribed on her bathroom wall. “Feature walls can be an interesting conversation piece, and word art is a great way to add a personal touch,” she says.

Sculptures, masks and plates, stone or ceramic features, and marble finishings are other artistic solutions. Another key trend for 2017: “Book-matched marble walls can create a visually striking design element comparable with some original art pieces,” says Alex Isaac, head of design at Morpheus London. Book-matched installations consist of two pieces of marble that mirror each other to form a dramatic V effect. “A beautiful symmetry can be achieved here through the piece’s continuous veining. The finished effect gives the impression of an open book, with each slab matched to create a mirror image, much like the wings of a butterfly,” explains Alex Holden, managing director of Oliver Burns design house. Closer to home, the Italian brand Lithea, which is available at the Purity showroom in Dubai, produces eye-catching 3-D designs, and (quilted) matelassé and origami patterns on tiles and feature walls.

The development of modern printing techniques also makes it possible to display vivid artworks and meaningful photography in the bathroom. “Photography reproduced directly onto acrylic is a good solution,” says Isaac. He cautions against displaying pieces that can be affected by humidity. Echoing these sentiments, Singler adds: “If you’re keen on hanging a piece with glass, be sure it’s securely fastened. The most obvious ‘don’t’ is don’t hang expensive or sentimental artworks that could be potentially destroyed by condensation.”

Wise words of wisdom indeed, and yet Simon Mass is having none of it. The Miami resident and chief executive of The Condo Store Group of Companies has placed an original US$110,000 [Dh400,000] Damien Hirst in his powder room, which is custom-fitted with extra ventilation. “Oil paintings are traditional, but they have an irreplaceable charm. If, like us, you want to display some of your masterpieces in a bathroom, place them in a Plexiglas box.” Mass and his wife engaged the services of an art consultant to ensure the right conditions were maintained within the box, so that the painting and some of their other delicate prints can breathe.

“For us, finding and showcasing something unique and cherished in all our rooms is a priority, but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says. “The Hirst, for example, is placed away from the wash basin, and in a custom-made, impact-resistant Plexiglas frame, so no children or curious adults can touch the actual piece.”

Next, Mass is designing a 1,000-square-foot spa-like sauna with soothing water features. Residential spas are also popular among homeowners in the UAE, which is unsurprising, says Singler, “in a region known for its penchant for pampering and luxury. There is the climate to consider, too – we live in a hot and sandy place, so wanting to keep clean and refreshed with ease makes sense. Some ways to do this are installing a steam shower, whirlpool tub or sauna, as well as using materials such as quartz, mosaic tiles, coloured glass and acrylic.”

If your tastes lean more towards a fully functional thermal spa or an ice chamber, Esadore offers a range of sophisticated solutions. The Dubai-based company has installed bespoke spa features in private residences and royal palaces across the UAE. These include saunas, hammams, heated beds and walls, steam and scrub rooms, vitality pools, ice chutes and experience showers, which can range in price from Dh30,000 to more than Dh1 million. “For people in the UAE, privacy is a luxury worth investing in. The bathroom is at the epicentre of relaxation and well-being. Creating a spa-like bathroom allows you to create your own escape and gives you a level of privacy on a regular basis,” says Theodora Kioussis, managing director, Esadore International. She adds that clients also value the benefits that technology brings to their space. “From preprogramming your steam room to turn on before you enter, to built-in speakers to listen to your music while relaxing on a hot bed, technology can complement a lavish-looking bathroom.”

Whether or not you have an in-house spa, hi-tech gizmos can transform residential bathrooms into light-, sound- and sensation-filled havens. While anti-fog mirrors, and waterproof sound systems and televisions were considered a novelty until a few years ago, these days, cleverly concealed surround-sound dry speakers, digitally controlled showerheads and water-saving fixtures are gaining traction.

“One feature you should invest in is a top-of-the-line, self-cleaning rain shower with changing lights and programmable shower settings. It can uplift the whole ambience of your bathroom,” says Nizam A Baki, managing partner at Purity, which stocks international brands such as Boffi, Fantini, Aquavision, Omvivo and Vaselli, among others. The Croma Select range from Hansgrohe and its high-end arm Axor also provides an individualised shower experience with three kinds of sprays: a soft rain shower, an intense rain mode and a pulsating water jet, while Dornbracht’s new Horizontal Shower recreates the effect of a massage using water.

Smart fixtures that “remember” individual preferences are being given top priority, too. “An automation system is a must for the tech-savvy,” says Mass. “My current favourite is the iPhone- and Android-friendly system from Savant, which takes care of every aspect of the bathing experience by controlling the temperature, music, television and lighting, so there is really no need for you to leave a desired area.”

And that’s the only issue with transforming your bathroom into a personal spa or an inviting sanctuary – you may never want to leave.

Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, February 2.