The Fall of the Bathroom Wall

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Sept. 25 2013 11:08 AM

The Fall of the Bathroom Wall

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A two-star room at Amsterdam's Lloyd Hotel features an open-plan bathroom.

Photo courtesy of Rob‘t Hart

The joys of washing up in the same room where one sleeps used to be found only in urban garrets and budget hotel rooms, a solution born of limited real estate or means.

But in the last decade the open-plan bedroom/bathroom suite has become a signature feature in luxury hotels around the world. Knocking down bathroom walls completely, erecting glass-walled bathrooms (with or without modesty curtains or blinds) and installing peekaboo showers allows natural light to penetrate through the space, air to flow and guests to let it all hang out, suggesting design-forward spa-like sex appeal (and logistical awkwardness when sharing a room with people who were never meant to see you naked).

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The Standard Hotel High Line in New York City

Photo courtesy of the Standard Hotel High Line

New York City’s Standard Hotels are known for their exhibitionist-friendly all-glass exterior walls, but the in-room tubs and glass showers add another dimension to the show. The Standard's High Line and East Village locations offer the kind of sexy special occasion suites you might rent for a casual romp a la Michael Fassbender in the 2011 film Shame.

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An open-plan bedroom/bathroom at the Standard Hotel's High Line location in New York City.

Photo courtesy of the Standard Hotel High Line

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Located in a former World War II prison, the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam offers one- to five-star rooms. Its two-star rooms include an open-plan bathroom (seen at the top of this post) designed to maximize space and light. Another room type features a cleverly designed fold-out bathroom that acts as a room divider and stows away to increase floor space when not in use.

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A room at Amsterdam's Lloyd Hotel has a fold-out bathroom that acts as a room divider then stows away when not in use.

Photo courtesy of Dorien Oxenaar

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A three-star room at the Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam has a pivoting bathroom divider.

Photo courtesy of Allard van der Hoek

The Hotel Particulier Montmartre in Paris is a romantic hideaway for a weekend affair or a honeymoon. Smack in the middle of its top-floor suite you'll find a floating painted claw-footed bathtub that looks like part of the furniture.

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The bathtub is part of the furniture in a deluxe room at Paris' Hotel Particulier Montmartre.

Photo courtesy of Morgane Rousseau

Like many hotel trends, the open-plan bathroom layout has spread to the home. These new master bedroom/bathroom/lounge suites challenge the conventional notions that his and hers lavatories are the key to marital happiness and that preserving mystery helps keep a couple together.

Isn’t the bathroom a last refuge in a shared living space? A place to collect yourself before ending up in a fight? A communal space that requires tactful negotiations when doubly occupied and guarantees implicit privacy with the lock of a door? And what about those night owl/early bird couples who don’t want to wake partners still sleeping?

“I think of bathrooms as living rooms,” Morgane Rousseau, who designed the Hotel Particulier Montmartre, told me in an email. “The bathroom is a private place sometimes but it’s also for sharing.”

Rousseau is currently designing an open-plan bathroom for a private apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, where “the bathrooms are open and thought out like salons,” with fireplaces, armchairs, tables to act as vanities or put your drink down, a pouf to put your feet up and relax.

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A glass-walled bathroom acts as a room divider between sleeping and lounging spaces at the Hotel Particulier Montmartre in Paris.

Photo courtesy of Morgane Rousseau

“When I made a proposal to the client to outfit a real room for the bathroom she was enchanted. She’s a very elegant and beautiful woman and I thought the idea of it matched her.”

Is having open-plan bathrooms just the natural extension of our open kitchens and a general global modern-day tendency to open up our living spaces and live in lofts or loftlike spaces? Is it an extension of the idea that bathrooms aren’t just functional necessities but spa-like focal points of our sanctuary-like homes? Or has the erosion of privacy in our public lives just made us all more comfortable being overexposed, even at home?

Rousseau thinks it’s a generational question. “I think with age we look for ways to seduce by modest gestures and by covering ourselves up,” she says. “I don’t see myself proposing an open bathroom to older people; they need much more privacy."

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