Mirror, mirror

It has been widely reported that hotel bathrooms have evolved from the simply functional to the slightly fantastical, from compact to commodious and from strictly private to peek-a-boo. Along the way, tubs have yielded to showers, square footages have risen and toiletries have gone upscale.

Bathrooms, presumably the last bastion of privacy in the American home, no longer retain that position in today’s hotel room. Once a secure, closed space, bathrooms have opened up in countless ways to transform a functional space into a spatial function. Glass walls, inset windows and glass doors — variously clear, frosted or patterned, with or without screens, blinds or drapes — have altered the notion of enclosure, playing with views into and out of the bathing area, and bringing natural light into a space where once the sun never shone.

Lavatories — once upon a time set outside the bathroom, then for many years within it — have reemerged, not shielded from the sleeping room as they once were, but open to the room.

Showers with glass walls have replaced tubs with shower curtains, reflecting not only today’s preferred manner of bathing, but visually connecting the bathing space with the bathroom and often the guestroom.

Only toilets have mostly remained in the same configuration, or have become more private, many times being located within walls or behind a door.

One influence on the new un-private bathroom is the resort hotel. Typically in warm climates and often featuring rooms with open-air configurations, the casual lifestyle of resort hotels has permeated hotels in every part of the world. Boutique hotels, with design intent to transform simple spaces into sensational experiences, have driven the evolution of the bathroom to become an expression of style. Both have occurred in the context of evolving notions of privacy and formality, as lifestyles open up in cyberspace and real spaces, moving toward informality and openness. Additionally, increased ADA clearances have brought spaciousness to formerly condensed spaces.

This has been a multiple-year trend that seems to have now reached its completion. The open bathroom may have come as far as guests generally would like — perhaps even a little further. Biology being what is — and psychology too, not to mention environmental factors and ergonomics — the idea of closed doors and controlled spaces are making a come back. But open bathrooms seem destined to stay in evolved forms and with lasting influences on standard bathrooms. We see this in the open shelves replacing vanities below the sink, frameless glass shower enclosures and dramatic finishes, as well as small elements of the open bathroom concepts.

Even these latest generation of bathrooms, though less unusual than their immediate predecessors, stand in contrast to bathrooms built five or 10 years ago, putting pressure on older hotels to modernize or to compensate with deluxe materials and fixtures. It may be tempting to consider this as fashion, like hemlines going up and down, when the basics are enough. But as hotels have evolved from matching life at home to exceeding life at home, the bathroom mirrors and defines that transformation.