How to make a blissful bath

Recreating the spa experience at home in the city, with deluxe tubs, high-end showers and fixtures
By C. J. Hughes | January 08, 2016 12:00PM

January is a time of renewal, when many of us refocus on our health and well-being. But sometimes you can’t spend a week at Canyon Ranch, or you just may prefer a spa that’s closer to home  —  like down the hall.

Increasingly, the master bath is playing the role of spa, say interior designers, architects and manufacturers of bath fixtures. They explain that clients  —  both for his bath and hers  —  are adding deluxe tubs that soothe with air jets and aromatherapies, installing roomy showers with a range of muscle-loosening sprays, and mounting racks that keep towels toasty warm. The result is an indulgent escape that eases the stress of the world, just a few steps from the bedroom.

“Master baths have become the chill room,” said Lee Stahl, president of Manhattan-based design-build firm The Renovated Home, who has created retreats like these in high-end apartments from Soho to the Upper East Side. “They are more spa-like now than I’ve seen in 25 years.”

To insure that you can stretch your legs, the bath needs to be spacious, which can be a tall order to fill in a New York apartment building, even a high-end one. But master baths measuring 200 square feet or more are increasingly common, said Thomas Juul-Hansen, an architect who has styled several luxury condo projects.

Glossy new condos, with their tricked-out baths, are in turn influencing renovation projects in high-end homes around the city, experts said.

For roomier baths, Juul-Hansen said, clients are sacrificing secondary bedrooms. But for some that is not enough square footage, since couples often want separate his-and-hers chambers, a configuration featured at One57, the super-tall 90-story Midtown spire, which has homes with dual-bath layouts on its top 20 floors. “It was really a trend-setter,” Juul-Hansen said.

Whether for him or her, the centerpiece is often the tub, with a favorite being
BainUltra’s Thermasens line, which packs in a spa-like three-in-one experience. First, bathers are massaged by dozens of air jets. Unlike Jacuzzis, which shoot hot water, air is more germ-free, designers say.

Second, the tubs, which are available in a slew of decorative shapes, come with an array of colored LED lights, which are mounted on an adjacent wall to add a touch of phototherapy. And essential oils, which scent the water, are part of the experience, too.

A BainUltra Thermasens Origami bath was $4,350 in mid-December at Ferguson Bath & Kitchen Gallery in Soho.

“It does about everything but go 100 miles an hour,” Stahl said. “It’s like buying a Porsche for your bathroom.”

Showers, typically separate from tubs, offer a variety of sensations as well. In a Park Avenue co-op, Jason Fischer, a designer with the interior design firm of Sandra Nunnerley, recently created a 48-square-foot shower on the “his” side of the master bath, with a few of the fixtures that modern clients demand including a ceiling-mounted rain-head shower from Waterworks’ Henry collection. Eight-inch-wide chrome-finished versions start at about $1,200.

That space also featured a Waterworks hand shower, to train streams on knotted muscles; they start under $900.

Body sprayers are a must-have for the shower, and some high-end baths even offer a collection of them.

Sandra Nunnerley, of the eponymous design firm, just completed a renovation of a Financial District duplex apartment where the chocolate marble shower is lined with a half-dozen sprayers, in varying sizes and shapes. “He also has the Statue of Liberty,” she noted, pointing out that a window in the shower overlooks the landmark.

As rain heads go, Gessi is a highly desirable brand. But the Italian company’s voluminous water streams can run afoul of New York plumbing codes, according to Jason Renzi, who works in the company’s Anaheim showroom. But clients are “often sold on the idea as an art piece,” he added.

Nevertheless they are another popular option, designers say, and many of their models do comply, said Stahl, who has worked with them. Several stylish square models, which sit flush against ceilings, start around $1,000. Pirch, a home design chain that carries the brand, will open a Soho boutique in spring 2016.

In the toilet category, there’s no argument. Designers say Toto’s sleek new NeoRest 600, which offers a heated seat, a lid that automatically opens and closes and a built-in bidet, is the ne plus ultra. Juul-Hansen said Neorests, which start around $5,000, are installed in all the master baths at 50 West, a new Downtown condo.

When you get out of the shower, a warm towel can help ease the transition, which has some reaching for towels warmed on Amba Quadro heating racks. Nunnerley recently installed a hefty 115-volt version in her Fidi unit; it hugs the wall and offers about three-dozen rods. And for those concerned about adding too many gizmos to the bath: “They look just like a standard towel rack,” Nunnerley said.

Finally, stone. Clients want it, often huge single pieces that can be carved to their liking, whether for tubs or sink bowls. While marble can get dirty in tub applications, critics say, that hasn’t dampened demand.

Specifically, travertine and onyx are in, said Oren Alexander, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman who’s active in the luxury market. He recently sold a three-bedroom in Midtown where the customized master bath clocked in at a whopping 600 square feet and has Central Park views to boot. “I described it as the ultimate luxury: volume and space in a place where you usually don’t get,” he said.

Along similar lines, James Lansill, the senior managing director of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, which works on many high-end condo jobs, added that the paler stones of the past are being pushed aside by more colorful and veiny versions, which are book-matched so the dark lines meet at the edges. “We’re seeing more daring and intricately patterned marbles,” he said.

But endless pools? No way, brokers say, and not because they could drip on neighbors. The smell of chlorine can be too nose-wrinkling, which might ruin any spa-like bliss.