There are few things that a good spa moment can’t redeem you from. Whether you’ve encountered a bad hair day, a rejection letter, canceled plans, a lost necessity, a forgotten umbrella, an animated road rager, a lurking migraine, a broken zipper, or the stress of simply moving through a grimy metropolis (just to name a few)—soak long enough in the seemingly bottomless depths of relaxing thermal waters or lie upon the warm wood slats of a steaming sauna, and the mind will clear, the blood pressure will lower, and voilà! You’ve been reborn.
To go one step further, convenience is the ultimate luxury. And with a few upgrades, you can transform your cookie-cutter bathroom into a luxurious retreat that just might possibly replace your therapist. “A bathroom is a unique place,” says designer Vicente Wolf. “It’s a place to be isolated, baring yourself completely. It gives you that moment to look at yourself in the mirror and start to unwind with your thoughts.”
For maximum relaxation, Wolf suggests bringing in as much natural light as possible. “If your bathroom doesn’t have a window, consider a frosted glass wall that picks up light from an adjoining space”—as he ingeniously did in the museum-quality bathroom of his Manhattan loft. As for how to fill the space, Wolf advises: “Think about adding elements that you have a connection to, like a beloved artwork or a piece of furniture. Also, including natural surface materials and even plants will connect you to the earth and nature, which has a great subliminal calming message.”
Don’t have the means (or leasing rights) to take a sledgehammer to the walls or install a state-of-the-art steam room? There are numerous upgrades you can make to add atmosphere to your existing loo. From smart mood lighting to plush textile comforts to a cute shower stool, the possibilities for relaxation central are endless—especially in the ELLE DECOR archives. We’ve pulled inspiration from our top designers who take bathrooms very seriously. Read on for 25 ways to create a retreat that will invite you to clear away the cobwebs and unwind after any kind of day. Do not disturb!
Use Natural Elements
Designer Montana Labelle’s grottolike powder room is the ultimate refuge. As the stone sink—tastefully paired with vintage sconces and a sculptural vintage mirror—proves the oldest trick in the bag will always be the most relevant.
Cue the Sexy Low Lighting
Sometimes making a statement in a bathroom simply requires investing in one standout piece. In this glamorous powder room, architect Michael K. Chen brought in two Lindsey Adelman sconces that, when placed symmetrically across each Venetian-plastered wall, are part lighting, part art.
Bring in a Dramatic Backdrop
Who wouldn’t want to soak and shvitz among a museum-worthy mural? In this cool-girl coven, New York–based designers Liza Curtiss and Corey Kingston covered the room in a massive de Gournay wallcovering that is further complemented by equally rich wine-red marble. “The bathroom definitely brought a lot of high drama,” shares the homeowner, Christina Wang. Talk about elevating day-to-day living.
Pare It Back
Vicente Wolf’s Manhattan loft is a lesson in quiet luxury, with a simple built-in shelf for linens and a perky plant on the limestone flooring. A frosted-glass wall separates the shower from the library while providing translucency.
Store in Style
There’s something satisfying about a row of neatly lined towels, which this spa-like Miami Beach sanctuary has taken full advantage of. In this steel and glass bathroom, a black floor-to-ceiling shelf is encumbered by nothing more than neat, hotel-worthy folded towels. Located just a foot away from the bathtub, no swimmer will have to look too far for plush, post-bath comfort.
Find a Shower Companion
If you’ll be sloughing off the tension from the comfort of your own home, a bath-side table will be just the addition you need for everything from easy access to that wine glass to holding a folded towel. In this home by Jett Projects in Brooklyn, a small black stool offers just the service.
Install a Statement Lighting Fixture
It’s difficult to imagine anything stealing the spotlight from this light-and-bright San Francisco bathroom, which is awash in Arabescato Corchia marble by Vaselli for Elementi. But the sculptural black Vincenzo De Cotiis pendant is truly a moment. A standout overhead light fixture can take the drabbest of bathrooms to a level that would make the fanciest of spas jealous.
Add Some Greenery
One of the easiest tricks for transforming a bathroom into a spa is incorporating plants. Whether they’re hanging from the ceiling, perched on the countertop, or sitting on the floor—the right plant can bring a lush vibrancy to any space. Here, Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent’s beach house shows off a holly olive tree in an old Indonesian limestone planter.
Invest in Plush Towels
Nothing says luxury like good quality linens—such as these towels by Nate Berkus + Project 62 for Target, perched upon a wooden chair from Pasadena Antiques & Design. Other pampering elements like hand creams, candles, and colognes are splurges that can do wonders.
Bring in Vintage Finds
Take notes from designer Montana Labelle’s primary bathroom in this Toronto home, where flea market and antique fair finds achieve a lived-in look that is both personable and sophisticated. For your own space, don’t be afraid to bring in items that mean something special to you—humid conditions considered, of course.
Dim the Lights
Never underestimate the power of good lighting to transform a room. Swap out your regular light bulbs for a lower wattage, install a dimmer or a wall sconce that is intentionally lowly lit. This West Elm sconce picked out by architect Amanda Gunwawan for this Los Angelos loft, for instance, is the star of the show when illuminating the bathroom’s limewashed walls. We may never leave this room!
Bring in an Apothecary-Style Bottle
There’s a reason Aesop bottles recurrently pop up in all these images. Designers love a well-designed product—and this cult-favorite sink-side luxury is one of many skin-care brands that take packaging aesthetics seriously. In lighting designer Marie-Lise Féry’s French house, an Aesop bottle sits perched beside an abstract vase for a tastefully styled countertop moment.
Everybody’s definition of what is relaxing is different. Don’t be afraid to use bright colors and off-the-wall (or on-the-wall) patterns in your space. The Gucci wallcovering in this prewar apartment depicting herons, paired with chic gold sconces by Urban Electric Co., creates a youthful space that in itself is the escape. Hot tip: If you’re using a statement wallpaper, tone everything else down so you don’t have competing patterns that feel overwhelming.
Bring in an Ottoman
Nothing says “luxury” like plush seating—and a tufted ottoman in the bathroom certainly brings an unexpected touch of opulence. We’re loving this traditional-style house outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which boasts a master bath complete with a Kohler claw-foot bathtub, a vintage Vietnamese screen, and a custom tufted ottoman. Is this a living room or a bathroom? Either way, we’re not complaining.
Add a Bidet
They say that cleanliness is next to godliness—so why not install a bidet in your bathroom for a derrière that will get the ultimate pampering? In this 22-story tower in Greenwich Village, luxe amenities create a modern appeal.
Incorporate a Rain Showerhead
Another way to wow with appliances? Install a rain shower or other chic shower fitting just as designer Carlos David did in this Manhattan apartment. Because nothing says “spa” like a memorable bathing experience.
Think Beyond Lighting Fixtures
An ethereal combination of lighting and paint transforms this Malibu, California, bathroom into Mediterranean grotto—proof that one can create a vibe and a mood from the get-go, no matter how small or mundane your bathroom is.
Paint the Cabinets
For the gut remodel of this Deco-inspired space, interior designer and owner of Stone Textile Studio, Elizabeth Mollen, drenched the walls and cabinetry in a moody black color that is as sophisticated as it is inviting. We’re taking all the notes!
Enlist a Tub Caddy
Who says organizational products can’t double up as decor? The bathtub tray in this classical Seville, Spain, pied-à-terre will instantly elevate your daily soak. While the clawfoot tub really steals the show beneath antique chandeliers and French sconces, this sponge depository is quietly there, dripping in modern luxury and fully at your disposal to house bathtub items.
Hang Elegant Artwork
Showers and tub surrounds can be instantly elevated with smart statement wall art. The bathside painting in this Washington, D.C., home is a stellar example of art that is—shall we say—artfully placed.
Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.
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