ROI for the WC

If hotel accommodations cost $35,000 a night, the bathroom had better be pretty nice. That's the going rate for the Ty Warner Suite at the Four Seasons Hotel New York, and here are some of the bathroom bonuses:

  • The master bath walls, floor and ceiling are clad entirely in Chinese onyx.
  • A chromatherapy infinity soak tub overlooks Central Park.
  • A 5-foot-by-5-foot shower, 10 feet high, features a "sensual steam rain shower experience." The shower offers views in two directions, including toward Central Park.
  • Sinks are carved out of a block of solid rock crystal with solid rock crystal fixtures, and are illuminated from below by LED lighting.
  • A single-pane glass door opens onto a glass balcony offering guests 360-degree views from inside and outside.
  • Floors are warmed with radiant heat.
  • The toilet has a wireless remote, sensors and heated seat. The remote operates front and back warm-water sprays, the seat-warming unit, a warm-air dryer, a water massage feature and a catalytic deodorizer.

"Bathrooms now draw customers," said Stanley Carman, a hotel designer with design firm McKee-Carman in Dallas. "In the past, you would not see a bathroom in an advertisement or on a Web page. Now marketers are showing off the bathrooms."

At the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach in Florida, General Manager Brad Cance said that $100,000 had been spent on each suite during a major renovation, a good chunk of it spent converting half baths to full baths by adding showers.

"By doing that, we are able to increase the price point of the suite, garnering a higher profit," Cance said. "Our standard is a five-fixture bathroom [toilet, separate shower and bath, double vanity], providing a luxury experience to the customer. By investing in your bathrooms you have a more tangible rationale to drive rate, particularly when the economy rebounds."

The Ritz-Carlton even packages the bathroom. For example, a Sleep Package featuring bubble bath, a custom music CD, milk and cookies and body cream goes for $40. A Steamy Night In, for couples, includes a CD and bubbles, champagne and a "few extra surprises" for $120.

There's even one for kids (of any age) called Bath Science, which includes Jell-O and marshmallow treats, tropical punch and science-theme bath toys, for $55.

Thomas Mathes, general manager at the soon-to-open Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel in New York, said the chain measures customer response to everything in the rooms and has found that "both men and women want more and better towels and better amenities. They also want good lighting, more counter space and better water pressure. We have even found that having really good hair dryers makes a difference." -- H.C.

A decade after Westin's Heavenly Bed sparked the hotel industry's bed wars, that famous mattress might find itself supplanted in the minds of marketers and guests alike by the Celestial Bathroom.

Designers and developers are looking to the hotel bathroom as the new frontier of the guestroom, seeking to turn what has long been a mostly functional space into an "oasis," a "mini-spa," even an "escape."

Among the trends in the "bathroomization" of the guest-room are:

  • Much larger bathrooms, up to 50% of the total room space.
  • An "open" feeling so that the bathroom is seen as part of the overall space, made private when necessary with sliding doors, blinds and lighting techniques.
  • Fixtures that emulate a spa experience, such as rainfall showerheads and fountain faucets.
  • Special effects: At the Sanctum Soho in London, bathtubs sit on islands of glowing pebbles with "starry lighting" overhead so that, according to the hotel's designer, "guests feel they are in a little spaceship."
  • Electronic media, with high-tech makeup mirrors that incorporate a hidden TV screen.

The glamorization of the bathroom has been a long time coming. Stanley Carman, a veteran hotel designer with McKee-Carman in Dallas, said that in the days when Holiday Inns established national standards, the bathroom was a "needs-only space" and "not a big focal point."

At some point, Carman said, resort operators began realizing they could make a statement with bathrooms, because guests on vacation spent a "good part of their waking hours in that space."

Later, he said, developers of urban hotels sought to emulate the resort model to the extent that space allowed.

There has even been a democratization of the stylish bathroom, Carman said, noting that La Quinta, a midtier brand, now boasts granite counters in bathrooms "because some of these materials have become less expensive."

Responding to changing guest needs

Claus Sendlinger, CEO of Design Hotels, a marketing alliance, said the transformation of bathrooms was being driven by changes in how guests use the space.

"This has to do with people not just using the bathroom as a place where they shower or shave," he said. "As a result, every design choice should matter: the use of natural materials such as stone and wood; a separate, walk-in glass shower; an oversized showerhead that creates a rain forest-like retreat; a spacious area where a guest can do yoga or exercise; and balanced, soft lighting."

"Proper storage is also key," Sendlinger said, adding, "Both men and women need plenty of room to put away their personal items without feeling crowded by them. After all, if the bathroom is the new bedroom, you want it to be clean, minimal and serene."

Lesley Purcell, who designed the Sanctum Soho Hotel in London, said bathrooms should relate to the room they are part of, "rather than for all bathrooms in a hotel to be cookie-cutter rollouts."

"Other than the comfort of the bed, the bathroom is the most important part of the room," Purcell said. "The trend will be to provide as many spa-like features as possible: luxury amenities, fabulous towels and robes, perfect lighting and stunning finishes."

Diana Schrage, senior designer for Kohler Co., the fixtures manufacturer, which has a large hospitality customer base, believes that the day of a bathroom being a utilitarian space is over: "This previously underutilized space now serves as vital a function in health and well-being as other areas of the home."

Space wars

Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach bathroomJames Carry, a principal with Wilson Associates, a design firm in Dallas, said the general rule now is that a bathroom should be about a third of the square footage of the room, much larger than 20 years ago. In fact, he said, "the size of the guestroom has not increased as much as the size of the bathroom."

Consider the Upper House, a new hotel in Hong Kong. At a very generous 300 square feet, each bathroom provides walk-in rain showers, dressing areas and free-standing bathtubs with panoramic harbor or island views. While the materials are expensive, the room is simple and uncluttered.

Of course, bathrooms that large are not typical, but designers are using tricks to create a spacious feel. "We can 'borrow' space from the rest of the room and add it to the bathroom through the use of sliding panels; or glass walls with draperies that pull back or blinds that disappear to the ceiling," Carry said. "That way, you can make the bathroom larger or smaller depending on the time of day or use."

At the Hotel Le Germain in Montreal, a large, glass window divides the bathroom and bedroom, leaving the shower in full view. Automatic blinds on the outside of the glass can be raised or lowered from a button in the bedroom, but not from inside the shower.

"One of the benefits of opening the bathroom is not an exhibitionist effect but to permit light into the room," said Jill Cole, a principal with design firm Cole Martinez Curtis.

Of course, openness is not always optimal. At the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach in Florida, "We thought that the guest should always have the option for privacy," said Ayelet Rahaf, the resort's creative director. "This is important, especially for group business with possible roommate situations where it might be an odd situation sharing your room and finding the need for privacy in the so-called open bathroom space. Therefore, we have the shower separate from the bathroom. Perfect for families with kids or business colleagues sharing a room."

That separation has also become common because, as Carman said, "We try to allow more than one person at a time to use the bathroom facilities."

Lighting the loo

Lighting has become as critical to upscale bathrooms as to a Broadway musical. Carry said that "color kinetics" enable guests to "change the color of the water in your tub or shower through the use of lights. You can even change the light around the bathtub so that it might be a wonderful rose color, very sensuous."

Creative lighting can also be practical. For those who must use the bathroom at night, Carry said, "there are now floor lights that are movement-sensitive; when you get up, they will lead you to the bathroom without disturbing anyone who might be sleeping."

While not many bathrooms imitate spaceships, like the Sanctum does, many do aspire to be mini-spas. At the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, for example, guests can sit on a bench in the spacious shower and enjoy a water massage.

The spa feel is reinforced in the ever-competitive area of personal care products such as shampoos and lotions. At the Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel in New York, set to open May 15, General Manager Thomas Mathes boasted, "We will be the first hotel in New York to have bath amenities from Etro, which is an Italian clothing line."

Bathrooms with a view

Eventi bathroomWhile it is very expensive to have windows in a bathroom, that is becoming a frequent option. At the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, Rahaf said, "We capture the majesty and magic of ocean views by placing our egg-shaped, stone bathtub on marble platforms, which provide an ideal perch for viewing."

Those exterior views are pricey for developers, Carry said. "While it is much more expensive, we are using the outside of the building for bathroom windows," he said. "In a market this competitive, hotels need to make an impact. If you want to be the best in town, it's a good idea to create incredible drama."

Sometimes the view is inside, Carman said. "We will put art in the bathrooms, usually poster art, prints, maybe photographs."

At the Eventi, Mathes said, artist Barbara Nessim created a line drawing on a sheet of glass, which has been reproduced in each bathroom "to provide a stunning effect."

In the end, as always, it's about competition and guest experience. Andrew Windsor, Kohler's director for hospitality sales, said hoteliers are beginning to realize how much time the guest spends in the bathroom.

"In the ever more competitive world of hospitality, it is becoming critical to give the guests something to tell their friends about," he said.


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