Loo & Improved

Designer fixtures and open-concept — could it be hotel bathrooms have caught up with residential ones?

Designer fixtures and open-concept — could it be hotel bathrooms have caught up with residential ones?

As if divulging a secret, Hans-Peter Mayr whispers: “One lady was with us for three days and was in the bathtub six times — she had never done this before.”


The tub in question is in the Sparkling Hill Resort, which is so otherworldly its peak is comprised of a giant crystal that can be seen from 20 kilometres away. Another point of difference is its cold sauna, the only one in North America where temperatures of -110 Celsius freeze guests for good health.

Opened this past May in Vernon, B.C., Sparkling Hill Resort, which is carved into a granite ridge, cost $122-million to build. (Construction permits alone were $55-million and $10-million was spent on the Swarovski crystals that are implemented throughout the building.)

As for the penthouse tub, it’s no innocent. Who could resist its comely heft and handsome body? Or the panoramic view of the Monashee Mountains and Lake Okanagan? Floor-to-ceiling glass gives these rooms enviable edge. “We only have good views — I’ve worked for 25 years in resorts and normally 50 per cent of the rooms have good views and the other half bad ones,” says resort CEO, Mayr.

Each penthouse (there are three) also includes a sauna and on-trend glass shower. The property’s 149 suites showcase custom bathtubs built for two — “but there’s no leg issue, two people can sit beside each other comfortably and take in the sunset,” Mayr says. “It’s like being in nature.” As night falls, a glow emanates from the Swarovski crystals that twinkle like stars in the ceiling, the millwork and from inside a glass fireplace.

All this splendour can be enjoyed in an open-concept environment, as the entire room is a bath area, Mayr says. During the resort’s planning stages, the window was a point of consternation: “We had a lot of discussion about privacy. Can we do it? Will North Americans like it?” (Mayr is from Austria where they’re not uptight about such matters.) “In the end, it was our best decision.” (For the prudish, there are window blinds.)

Bravo, the bathroom has grown up. It’s no longer the first room on the left or the right as you enter the hotel room. And if it is, it’s certainly not a shameful chamber where bodily functions transpire in utilitarian surroundings. At the new Le Germain hotel in Calgary, Marie-Pier Germain, chief of marketing, is particularly proud of the loos.

“We integrated natural light into the bathrooms,” Germain says. “The window in the shower [water flows from the ceiling] is a big feature.” The large vertical window is frosted, save for a revealing peek-a-boo line for the adventurous.

Double sinks by Swiss stalwart Laufen, perch atop a chunky wood counter with a floating nook below for towels and toiletries. Unsightly plumbing is hidden in the wall-mounted toilet. While the bathroom is not totally open to the main room, it is much larger than the configurations of older hotels, and the fashion-forward feel connects it to the main suite.

As an eco-initiative, some hotels are even dispensing of little shampoo bottles. Le Germain offers Molton Brown’s Heavenly Gingerlily shampoo, conditioner and body wash in a shower wall-mounted metal dispenser. “It looks neat and it’s environmentally sound,” Germain says.

At the new 102-room Thompson condo-hotel in Toronto, the bathrooms could very well belong in a designer’s home. (One hotelchatter.com blogger describes them as “cool, fashionable and discerning.”) The description is apt: Thompson boasts C.O. Bigelow products, fluffy white robes, heated marble bathroom floors and a pocket door that closes off the toilet.

Eco features include Lucent lighting that switches off the entire room with a press of a button. But the rooms are not too hip to go out of fashion overnight: “We tried to be timeless, contemporary and user-friendly,” says Thompson Hotel co-partner, Tony Cohen. “It’s important to stay relevant 20 years from now.” Perhaps that’s why 60 per cent of them only have showers.

Will hotel tubs become extinct? “We’ve seen less of them over the last 10 years, especially when you retrofit properties and get more space by removing the tub,” Cohen says. “However, I think there’s always a market for bathtubs in hotels.”

But don’t bother with the bubble bath at Montreal’s Aloft. The tubs are MIA at this 136-room boutique, which takes its cue from hip urban loft culture. It’s immediately apparent in the lobby where industrial pipes are juxtaposed with sleek flat screens.

Part of Starwood Hotels, the property is a 2008 new-build. Eclecticism ensues, from the lobby to guestroom: “We played with texture,” says general manager Kathleen Machabee. “The headboard is cork and the wall behind the plasma TV is done in corduroy.” Near the loo is a nook offering EnRoute and Wired — just like in any guest’s stylish home.

Inside the bathroom, the large glass shower looks in on the bedroom. Another eco-friendly dispenser here doles out suds by trendy Bliss Spa. The details are everything, says Machabee: “Even our soap bar has indentations, so you feel like you’re getting a massage.”

Denis Smith, general manager at Winnipeg’s luxury 117-room Inn at the Forks knows details. Six years ago when the Inn opened, focus groups revealed travellers wanted larger bathrooms. “They also unanimously voted that the hair-dryer had to come off the wall,” Smith laughs, “so we put a hands-free dryer on a wonderful little trolley. We also went with an illuminated makeup mirror.”

Bathrooms at the Inn boast custom glass vanities, and deluxe rooms have head-and-body spa showers with waist-level jets. Luxurious slate walls reference the great outdoors. Evidently, a natural aesthetic is hugely popular in hotels.

Once upon a time, eco-consciousness was strictly for the granola set. It’s now a given that your Rolex-sporting visitor will care about your hotel’s environmental initiatives. Just over a year ago, the Inn at the Forks was awarded a five-key rating for its green programs. Partially used portions of the Deserving Thyme bath products (made in Vancouver in biodegradable bottles) are donated to women’s shelters, while linens and towels go to Shalom Mission.

Green is red-hot at Delta hotels, too, says Paul Gardian, the Toronto-based executive director of brand operations. To wit: dual-flush units can be found at the Delta Vancouver Airport. Currently, bathroom amenities go into a recycling program, and as Delta moves into 2011, it’s considering phasing out mini-bottles altogether in place of dispensers.

Because the consumer’s view of hotels is evolving, the newly opened Delta hotels in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Burnaby, B.C., have a much more residential feel than older properties. Technological and design advancements have sucked the sweet guile out of staying in a hotel, Gardian says. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when finding a fridge in a guestroom was avant-garde: “Hotels used to offer what you couldn’t get at home,” he says. “You could watch movies in bed and order room service. There was granite in the bathroom and it was a big deal.”

That’s why even mid-range city hotels (it’s different in the countryside) must embrace design or risk being viewed as dinosaurs. If a customer can have it at home, he or she will want it in a hotel. In the struggle for the guest dollar, hotels that stay on top of their bathroom design can move brightly into the future, flush with gains.


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