Design Notes Archive

Sports Baths

Sports Baths

January inevitably invokes the idea of making resolutions, new year, new you, and all that jazz. If you’re one of the millions around the world who’ve embraced The Great Resignation, you’ve already started on a new path, putting your personal wellbeing at the top of your priority list. Seismic shifts in culture and economics tend to trickle down into home design and the past few years focus on wellness, coupled with the surge in home gyms, is sparking a return to what Philip Mazzurco called “the sports bath” in his 1986 book, Bath Design. “A realistic expression of this concept is the bathroom equipped with the latest therapeutic as well as exercise amenities,” he said, describing novelties at that time that included whirlpool baths, hydrotherapy shower sprays, and newly portable home exercise equipment. Today’s incarnations aren’t quite so literal, but they are giving a stylistic nod to those athletic club-inspired looks of yesteryear. 

One stunning example is the country house bathroom of Martin von Haselberg, left, designed by Fernando Santangelo. Sitting center stage is a soaking tub, called an ofuro, that is traditionally used as part of a Japanese bathing ritual. Purchased in Kyoto, this one is made of Hinoki wood, a type of cypress known to release essential oils when filled with hot water. Also conjuring health club airs—a glass-enclosed steam shower, eco-friendly cork wall panels, soft rubber floor, and teak bench with terry cloth cushion cover. 

Go back further to 1956, when French art dealer Louis Carré, who represented artists like Picasso, Giacometti, and Calder, met Finnish architect Alvar Aalto at the Venice Biennale. The two aesthetes shared a vision of modernism that resulted in Carré tapping Aalto to design his house outside Paris, including a main bathroom with spa-like amenities, centre. Opening out onto the garden, the room’s streamlined design includes a sunken tiled shower and soaking tub, en-suite sauna, and red pinewood ceiling sourced from Lapland, meticulously installed by Finnish craftsman. The home is now a museum owned by the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the only residential property designed by Aalto in France.

Aalto’s design of Maison Carré was in turn an inspiration for the gymnasium-referencing guest bathroom in a New York apartment designed by Home Studios, right. Curvaceous tiles, custom crafted by DTile in the Netherlands, form a seamless transition from floor to bench in one corner and to tile-clad tub in another (bringing visions of an indoor swimming pool to mind). If you’re looking for wellness, designers frequently cite the soothing effect of repetition and Oliver Haslegrave has cleverly achieved it here with the large- and small-scale tiles, copper-framed windowpanes, wood panelling, and even the switch plates.

Whatever wellness goals you may have in mind, be they physical or mental, comfort is key to creating a supportive environment. Do consider things like underfloor heating in a room with lots of tiled surfaces, and dimmer switches even in the bathroom. Nothing beats soaking in that extra deep tub with the lights turned way down. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022!  

Photographs © William Abramowicz; Unknown; Brian Ferry