It's that time of year when we're particularly drawn to the luxury and comfort a spa can offer, but we can't afford to be in one all the time. Whether you want to update your existing bathroom or are planning a renovation, here are some ways to bring a sense of the spa home.
As the collective consciousness turn its attention to resetting, getting organised, and generally cleaning up in the New Year, we find ourselves constantly drawn to spas and the promise they offer of improving our mental and physical health. Spas are places for relaxation, self-care, and treatments which enhance our bodily wellbeing, and as such they're exactly where we want to be in the gloomy days of winter. There are many beautiful spas in the UK we want to head to at such moments, but for the times when we can't be in one (and let's face it, that's the vast majority of the time), there are plenty of ways we can bring a bit of the spa to our own homes, reminding us to take a moment in our busy lives to unwind and look after ourselves.
First up, we discuss the little things you can do to make an existing bathroom feel more spa-like, and then we move onto design ideas for renovating a bathroom with the spa in mind.
Creating an atmosphere
If there's one key to the atmosphere of the best spas, it is scent. Aromatherapy is popularly considered to have beneficial effects on stress and anxiety, and frankly, it's just a pleasant experience to walk into a thoughtfully scented bathroom. Ahmed Kassem, manager of the spa at stylish London hotel The Beaumont, names lavender, lemongrass, ylang ylang, eucalyptus, green tea and jasmine as the most popular scents for his spa. An indulgent scented candle in one of these fragrances can set the scene perfectly, while an essential oil diffuser is a long-term option that allows you to make your own blends.
Lights are traditionally dim in a spa, and this can be difficult to achieve in a bathroom, where overhead lighting can be harsh. If you are renovating a bathroom from scratch, always consider wall lights as well as ceiling lights; they can cast a softer light which is more flattering, especially when you are looking in the mirror. Our guide to bathroom lights (chosen by interior designers) has some good ideas. If you don't have that option, bringing a temporary light into the bathroom can be helpful. Some essential oil diffusers actually have lights within them, such as the ESPA Diffuser Pod, or consider a wireless lamp that you can pop on a high shelf or windowsill away from any water that might splash on them.
As Ahmed at The Beaumont notes, “Music can be great great for relaxation; when there are no vocals or pounding rhythms it can help promote deep breathing and meditative states. Scientific research has confirmed that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat and produce the alpha brainwaves that are associated with relaxed conscious states (frequencies from 8 - 14 hertz or cycles per second). Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums, and flutes are all popular in spas, as well as nature sounds like rain and thunder, particularly when mixed with other music, such as light jazz, classical, and easy listening music. Most importantly, you must like the music!”
If you're going to make one purchase that will add a sense of luxury to your bathroom, thick, fluffy bath towels should be it. Just think of the sheer pleasure of taking a towel from a generous, neatly arranged pile of them in a good spa's changing room. That's what you want to feel at home. Look for a high GSM count when buying towels; this is a thread count measure for towels and an indicator of quality. 500-700 GSM should get you something delightfully plush.
Installing a spa-like bathroom
If you're planning a bathroom renovation and want to create a more thoroughly spa-like atmosphere, there are some key principles that can help instil a sense of calm and luxury. Using natural materials and making a considered choice of colours are excellent starting points, and there's an increasing choice of sanitaryware out there that can replicate some of the facilities a spa offers.
Use natural materials
Wood is generally used for saunas around the world, and is also popular in Japanese design, a frequent source of inspiration in spa design. Stone is another pleasing choice in a bathroom; marble and travertine are widely used of course, but clay and terracotta can also be great ways to incorporate a sense of the earth into a bathroom. As Erdem Akan, Design Director at VitrA, explains, “Using natural materials and organic shapes in the bathroom enables us to create a tranquil space which feels connected to nature. Incorporating materials like wood automatically makes the space less utilitarian and more in tune with the other spaces in the home and this flow creates a sense of calm and continuity.”
Using white in a bathroom might be an instinctive move, and there's no doubt it creates a serene atmosphere and a sense of cleanliness. But we're all in favour of a colourful bathroom, and increasingly the spas we admire are moving towards using strong colour. Blue and green in particular can be some of the most relaxing colours around, and there are some very stylish design ideas out there. We've long adored the spa at Beaverbrook, with its rich, jewel-coloured tiles and a stained glass ceiling by the artist Brian Clarke. Beaverbrook's spa director Rene van Eyssen emphasises the importance of light and a connection to nature, especially in the winter months, noting how the colours within the spa transform the grey winter light coming in from outside. The spa at The Ned in London is almost as bold with colour and makes marvellous use of green marble. Many of our favourite bathrooms use colourful zellige tiles, whose handmade nature can bring a texture and visual interest to a space.
Upgrade your bathtub
We adore a freestanding bathtub; it's a wonderful look in almost any style of bathroom. But an inset tub recalls the hot tubs and plunge pools you can find in spas, and they have the added advantage of providing plenty of space around the water itself where you can rest a nice cup of green tea (or a glass of champagne, as you see fit). One of our favourite examples is in the interior designer Jane Gowers' house in London – a spectacular stone plunge pool with a deep surround (below). This is a fairly major investment of course, but buying a standard inset tub and building a wooden surround for it would also be very lovely.
The idea of the at-home jacuzzi may feel a bit naff now that it's not the 1980s anymore, but let's face it, getting into a hot tub at a spa, complete with high pressure jets, is one of the highlights. There are some beautiful versions available to buy for residential bathrooms that won't prove to be an eyesore, though the best way may be to customise an existing tub and add jets in. Yousef Mansuri, head of design at C.P. Hart, advises that this works best in a steel inset tub, as the pipework can be too bulky for a freestanding tub. The Toto Flotation Tub (from £27,000) is one exception–an egg-shaped bathtub with an inclined surface to lean against.
If you don't want to go this far, consider upgrading your taps - a waterfall bath spout can certainly add a sense of occasion to bathtime, and there's something about the gushing water that feels incredibly luxurious.
Saunas and steam rooms
One of the best aspects of any spa has to be the sauna and steam room. If you have a pretty healthy budget to play with, it's perfectly possible to install versions of each in your own house. C.P. Hart stocks Effegibi's ‘Touch & Steam’ devices, elegant glass panels controlled by a touch screen that conceal powerful steam-producing technology; it can also change colour and delivery aromatherapeutic steam. This is a good option for small spaces, as it only requires 80-100mm cavity space in the shower wall. Duravit also stocks specialised steam showers as well as compact ‘Inipi’ saunas that can be fitted into the corner of a bathroom - obviously you'll need a little more space for this option. Effegibi also make a ‘Sky Sauna’ (from £18,000) with elegant glass doors that can fit into one end of a space. Yes, it's an investment, but think what a luxury it would be.