Design Notes Archive

Needle Baths

Needle Baths

In the spirit of fresh starts, we are kicking off 2023 with an homage to the most invigorating of showers—the Victorian needle bath. A wild contraption designed more for medicinal purposes than daily hygiene, the fixture boasted a series of sprays that were meant to stimulate the organs for better health: skin, kidneys, liver, spine. Most also had a shower rose on top, some a handheld spray as well, and some even a bidet. One could control the temperature and water-pressure by turning valves but unlike today, the ideal temperature was lukewarm at best. This was meant to refresh after all, not to relax!   

Popularized at the turn of the 20th century, needle baths were extremely expensive, both to buy and operate, so they were typically found only in exclusive spas and health clubs or aristocratic homes. The Edwardian example at Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne in Argyll is one such example, left. Fitted in a tile-clad alcove, it was the only shower in the home (baths taking precedence) and so this wet room was created to impress guests with the shower's technological advancement. The historic mansion was completed by Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer in 1907 and remains a private residence but public house tours are available most Fridays from April through October (booking required) and private tours are available as well.  

That’s not to say if you fancy a needle bath you must hunt down a vintage relic (though Norfolk Reclamation has a few). The Water Monopoly’s Jonas Needle Shower is a stunning modern-day interpretation as is Catchpole & Rye’s La Cage Shower, which Scott Maddux and Jo leGleud of Maddux Creative recently installed in a Grade II listed, gothic revival home in North London, centre. Surrounded by arabescato marble from Blyth Marble (they book-matched the slabs to create a seamless look), it captures their unique ability to make antique styles feel fresh. Details like floating shelves to hold identical toiletry bottles and a clear shower curtain keep the focus on the curvaceous plumbing.

In New York’s Hudson Valley, interior designer Sara Story’s freestanding shower pays homage to needle baths without all the bells and whistles, right. The centerpiece of her bathroom in the historic Niederhurst estate (also a Victorian gothic home built in the 1870s), the sleek frame was designed by her architect Dirk Denison and custom built by Rareform Architectural Products to support Dornbracht plumbing. Proving that great minds think alike, she too paired the statement design with a richly veined marble, this one Italian Paonazzo that incorporates an infinity drain. Stepping into any of these fixtures seems like a refreshing way to begin the day, or in fact, the year ahead. 

Photographs © Ardkinglas; Paul Massey; Sara Story Design