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The art of bathing

The focal point of the bathroom can be sculptural, colourful, high-tech or clad in beautiful materials – perfectly reflecting the tastes of its owners.

beautiful baths
The art of bathing
Emily Brooks
July 14, 2022

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Bathing is one of the world’s oldest and most universal rituals – but while the principle might remain the same, interior designers are continually finding new ways to make the experience more elevated. From investigating new materials and technology to reinventing the classics, a bath can be a true centrepiece, and this is an area in which homeowners are willing to make some serious investment. “More time spent at home has encouraged people to consider what they need from their space. Spa-like, sanctuary bathrooms, inspired by luxury hotels, are the most desirable styles,” says Emma Joyce, brand manager EMEAA for House of Rohl, whose stable of brands includes Victoria + Albert Baths.

“There is a long-term shift away from utilitarian white bathrooms, and towards colourful, personalised spaces,” she adds. From waterproof wallcoverings to coloured taps or baths matched to an exact RAL shade, this is now an environment where a designer’s fertile imagination can come out to play, truly reflecting the tastes of the homeowner.

Photo Credit Daniel Johnson

The overarching trend for bathrooms is that they have become places of personal expression, full of colour and pattern; this example by Nebraska-based Maison MxM features a coloured Richmond bath by Victoria + Albert baths

Interiors by Chan & Eayrs. Bath by The Water Monopoly

Interiors by Tamsin Johnson

Of course, none of that may be necessary when you have some exceptional architecture and an incredible view to do the talking. When there is a generous floorplan, designers are placing the bath front and centre in a room, surrounded by generous windows to create a connection to the outside that creates a calming and peaceful experience.

Even for those without such palatial space to play with, though, the bath should still act as a focal point. “If possible, position the bath so it’s the first piece seen when you open the door. They are now considered decorative as well as functional, so use the bath as a feature piece,” says Phil Etherden, managing director of The Albion Bath Co.

Interiors by Marie Flanigan and Sydney Manning. Photographed by Julie Soefer

A Tay bath from Drummonds takes centre stage in a scheme by interior designer Sophie Head in the Cotswolds

“The bath is the focal point of the bathroom and where space allows, we find that a full-sized bath is usually the first choice. Freestanding baths are available in many styles, single or double ended, along with many possible feet or plinth options to choose from,” he continues. Freestanding baths do need space around them to look well-proportioned with the rest of the room and allow easy access for cleaning – but on the other hand, a freestanding design that tapers or sits on feet will result in a feeling of more space because of the greater visible floor area. With the ubiquity of traditional claw-footed baths available in every high-street DIY store, designers are turning to other styles as a point of difference, especially monumental-looking designs.

Bath by Studio LoHo. Interiors by House of Grey

Interiors by Banda Property

That’s not to say that built-in baths can’t be just as attractive: it just requires a more innovative approach to materials. Cladding a bath surround in travertine, coloured marble or Moroccan zellige tiles can uplift the design, especially if the cladding material is echoed across walls and floors to create a modern monolithic look. Architect Ben Allen used a distinctive green fibre-reinforced concrete to grace the bathroom for his award-winning ‘House Recast’ project, which offered a dramatically different approach to remodelling a standard Victorian end-of-terrace.

The bath, basin and wall and floor panels were all cast offsite, with the concrete having a cloudy, imperfect finish that recalls the traditional tadelakt used in Moroccan homes. A ribbed, vaulted ceiling with a rooflight pours daylight on to the bathing area: the whole space feels more like a chapel than a bathroom.

Studio Ben Allen’s chapel-like, concrete-clad bathroom for the House Recast, an award-winning renovation and extension of a Victorian end-of-terrace in LondonPhoto: French + Tye

Interiors by Phoebe Nicol

Material innovations are helping to move product design forward and create better products. Solid-surface composite materials are warm to the touch, hygienic, hardwearing, and lightweight compared to traditional enamelled steel or cast iron; many companies have developed their own trademarked brands such as the Albion Bath Co’s Iso-Enamel or Laufen’s Sentec. US-based Vast Studio, meanwhile, has introduced a series of sculptural freestanding solid-surface baths that are then covered in a selection of unusual cast materials, from smooth mottled cement to aged silver – the closest you can get to your bath looking like an actual piece of sculpture.

An Aegean bath by the Albion Bath Co made of Iso-Enamel. Bathroom design by Leanne Ford Interiors. Classical-looking baths that sit on plinths with a ‘bull-nose’ rim, are overtaking traditional claw-footed models in popularity.

Laufen’s The New Classic bath designed by Marcel Wanders Studio and inspired by neoclassicism, is made from Sentec, a solid-surface material.

Strong silhouettes and unusual finishes – like Vast Studio’s Bathtub IV in blush concrete – elevate the bath to a sculptural statement within the room

Designers are experts at teasing out not just the aesthetic tastes of their clients, but their lifestyles, too, in order to tailor an interior to how they live. It’s no different with the bath: if homeowners like a deep, up-to-the-neck soak, a more upright, Japanese-style bath might be the answer. Duravit recently introduced a deep circular tub as part of its White Tulip collection designed by Philippe Starke, which has an elegant shape that flares out at the top. If bathing for two is on the agenda, specify a large double-ended bath (so that the taps are in the centre), but if space is tight and homeowners don’t use the bath very often, a compact design might work – Victoria + Albert baths recently introduced three of its best-selling styles in a shorter 1500mm version, which the brand’s Emma Joyce describes as having “beautifully sculpted shapes, bringing luxury and indulgence to the bathroom, that are practical solutions in almost any size of room.”

Deep baths, like Duravit’s White Tulip, designed by Philippe Starck, are perfect for those who prefer to bathe Japanese-style – upright, and up to the neck in water

Interiors by Hollie Bowden

Baths have become a byword for self-care and sheer indulgence: the much-needed down-time to offset the fast pace of everyday life. The best examples should make people want to lock the door, leave the phone in the next room, and spend a precious few minutes (or even hours, for the truly dedicated) floating in blissful relaxation.  

Written by Brooks