The Evason Resort & Spa // Hua Hin, Thailand
Not that long ago, the bathroom was but a utilitarian space, hidden from view within the inner recesses of the home. Part and parcel of western domestic architecture for several centuries, the general practice across Asia was to keep bathrooms a distance away from the living quarters. The concept of sitting in a tub, a common practice in the west and in the colder north Asian countries like Japan, was largely unknown and unnecessary in tropical Asia. The traditional Asian shower required only two items-a large urn and a scoop-and consisted of splashing bowls of rainwater over the body. Bathing took place outdoors where a breeze quickly dried the body after the bath.
Now, not only has contemporary Asian design embraced the concept of the bathroom as an art form, young designers in Asia are rapidly taking the lowly lavatory to a new level, with a creativity that continues to raise the bar. Originating in Southeast Asia, tropical resort bathrooms came to the fore along with the tropical resort villa, thanks to the pioneering vision of Australian architect Peter Muller, whose design for the Oberoi Bali in the mid ‘70s represented a radical new concept in hotel design.
Another key inspiration driving the new wave in bathroom design is the global spa movement that has gripped the new millennium. With the western world discarding their conventional pain-is-gain spa treatments for the holistic rejuvenation rituals long practiced in the east, the Asian-style spa has now become immensely popular. Both homeowners and designers are currently strongly influenced by the luxury and beauty embodied in spa design, and its celebration of bathtubs, hot tubs, steam rooms, changing rooms, and all manner of state-of-the-art facilities for cleansing and cosseting the body.
With buzzwords such as “wellness” and “pampering” echoing in our ears, the new approach to washing transforms the act of bathing from function to ritual. Likewise the humble bathroom has transcended from the utilitarian water closet to become something like a temple dedicated to body worship. Architects began to focus their attention on the bathroom’s design, creating a space of beauty, style and atmosphere to relax the mind and delight the senses.
Some distinctively Asian-style spas have impressed upon people that a bathroom need not be the humdrum white-tile construction. With many of the world’s most popular and exotic spas located in Southeast Asia, travelers and spa aficionados have been inspired to recreate the luxurious ambience of the Asian spa back in their homes.
Two directions in contemporary Asian bathroom design are currently emerging: the tropical garden bathroom and the sophisticated urban bathroom. Bathrooms following the tropical garden direction have taken inspiration from the many resorts and spas in Bali and Thailand that offer idyllic outdoor bathroom suites. These emphasize the connection to nature and rely on natural, earthy materials for visual impact and ambience. In contrast to their tropical garden counterparts, urban style bathrooms embody the western approach to bathroom design. They are enclosed within the dwelling, sometimes with no windows or direct access to the outdoors.
The Farm // San Benito, Philippines
The common element in urban bathrooms is a sense of high-tech glamor and minimalist chic, often making use of the latest in European design such as Arne Jacobsen fixtures combined with surfaces in stainless steel, glass, cement, resin, and marble. In both the urban bathroom and the tropical garden variety, designers have managed to retain a unique Asian identity, often by incorporating native materials into bathroom designs with innovation and imagination.
Textures are important because they immediately add dimensions to the space. Plain white tiles have taken a step back while stone, terrazzo, glass, marble, wood, stainless steel and cement are now the hot new favorites among Asian bathroom designers. In Asia, terrazzo is the material of the moment, and has transcended from humble flooring to become increasingly fashionable as the material for custom designed tubs, vanity counter tops, walls and seating; in some cases, entire bathrooms are outfitted in terrazzo.
Another popular trend in Asia is to feature different bathroom styles within one home, so that each bathroom has its own theme and color, mood and identity. After all, the most delightful aspect of designing bathrooms is their versatile, relatively small size and multitude.
There is definitely a move toward more creative and daring bathroom designs, fueled in part by the ease and habit of global travel. With access to diverse cultures and a new taste for international styles, both homeowners and designers find inspiration from all sources.