Soak up the views

Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the 432 Park Avenue residential skyscraper has bathrooms with panoramic views from the tub (left). Large windows and less privacy are among the trends in bathroom design, as seen in this one (above) in W
Large windows and less privacy are among the trends in bathroom design, as seen in this one in Walker Tower in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Property developers and home owners are pulling out the stops to design luxurious bathrooms

NEW YORK • In every home she designs, Clodagh is known for her focus on sustainability and nature.

Above all, she is uncompromising in her efforts to bring the outdoors inside.

And the Irish-born interiors expert - who goes by only one name - believes there is one room in which such connections with nature are more impactful than anywhere else in a home.

"I always suggest designing bathrooms with a view," she said. "That is a room, remember, that used to be called a water closet because it was so tucked away.

"But you spend eight or 10 hours in there a week and it's one of the places where you can refresh, renew and get natural light.

"The skin is the largest organ on your body and taking in natural light is very propitious for health and wellness."


Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the 432 Park Avenue residential skyscraper has bathrooms with panoramic views from the tub. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Her own home offers a view of the outdoors from every amenity, be it tub, sauna, shower or toilet.

For clients, she finds ingenious ways to provide a view, such as a skylight so "you can lie in the tub and look at the sky".

Clodagh is not alone.

Increasingly, whether in luxury developments or private homes, the design and location of a bathroom are no longer an afterthought.

What was once a handy way to maximise dead square footage that remained after the rest of the living space was mapped out has become a stand-alone selling point.

High-end developments now place bathrooms in prime locations, where they can enjoy maximum light and the best-possible views.

The wet rooms in French architect Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Avenue in New York, for example - heavily featured on Bravo TV's Million Dollar Listing - have huge, picture frame-inspired windows that, quite literally, turn the views of the city into wall art.

Converting the 1929 Walker Tower into contemporary condominiums included expanding the windows and installing a huge tub in front of the south-facing views.

The wet rooms in Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly's 432 Park Avenue are enormous, with almost an entire wall of glass where the vanities sit.

"Even today, Vinoly will tell me it is his favourite bathroom in the city," explained Mr Roy Kim, who worked on the project and is now chief creative officer at real estate brokerage Elliman.

Likewise, when developer Kevin Maloney began planning his new Cary Tamarkin-helmed tower in Soho, 10 Sullivan, one of his first considerations was where to put the master bathroom.

"In all the full-floor units of the building, it looks north, so that when you are soaking in the tub, there is the Empire State Building," Mr Maloney said.

"A buyer walks in and every time he sees that, he'll say, 'Wow.'"

It is not just New York buyers tub-thumping for bathroom vistas though.

In Miami's Oceana Bal Harbour, designed by local starchitect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, each of the 240 units has bathrooms placed specifically to capture views of the Atlantic Ocean or of the Miami skyline.

Wet rooms first began morphing to flashy perches around a decade ago, when Gwathmey Siegel's Sculpture for Living building appeared on New York's Astor Place, according to Corcoran superbroker Julie Pham.

But bathrooms with huge windows and stunning views, such as those in that development, were not instant hits. Gwathmey Siegel's building famously struggled to attract tenants, in large part due to some of the goldfish bowl-like atmosphere its window-heavy design created.

Ms Pham says such concerns are rarely raised now, especially on any apartment with a price tag higher than US$10 million (S$14.1 million).

"The bathtub in front of a picturesque window? It has become iconic for the uber-wealthy," she explained. "A bathroom with a view catapults you to the super-luxury calibre, not just the everyday luxury class."

Mr Kim believes an additional factor has contributed: the nesting instinct that has become more prominent since futurist Faith Popcorn first coined the concept of "cocooning" in the 1980s.

"People want to be comforted, to have a spa-like experience in their own home. I call it super-cocooning," he said.

Consider, too, the influence of hospitality design, which often now provides touchstones for high-end real estate.

The Signature Room at the John Hancock Center in Chicago, for example, is renowned as much for the views from the women's restroom as for its menu, while New York's Standard Hotel was an exhibitionist's haven in the Meatpacking District.

Bathrooms in its rooftop bar were fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over the city, curtain free - until waist-high screens were added three years after it opened.

Such screens are recommended for many glass-fronted bathrooms, though some developments opt for a more high-tech solution.

The late architect Zaha Hadid's building in the west of New York's Chelsea has glass-encased bathrooms fitted by Innovative Glass with smart walls that frost to opaque at the flip of a switch.

Perhaps such steps are unnecessary, though. As privacy becomes less important (or even possible), exhibitionist bathrooms that offer views for both residents and neighbours are likely to become even more common.

Not every buyer will be quite bold enough to embrace the layout at 737 Park Avenue, however.

The condominiums in this 1940s conversion feature bathrooms with so-called duelling toilets-cisterns placed directly across from each other, so there is no need to leave your significant other's company for even a moment.

It is certainly a bathroom with a view, if not one that will appeal to everyone.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Soak up the views'. Print Edition | Subscribe