Creating Tranquility in Your Bathroom
Now that the hustle and bustle—and stress and overwhelm—of the holiday season is behind us, we can get to the really important stuff: relaxation. Ah, Calgon, take us away.
Calgon, or at least their famous bubble bath commercials from the 70s and 80s, had the right idea. Amid our chaotic worlds—often filled with carpools and deadlines and obligations galore—the idea of escape, even if it’s just for a steamy bath, is particularly enticing. And while a bubble bath may be all you need for your personal at-home spa day, Jennifer O’Connor has some suggestions that will provide a permanent area of tranquility in your own bathroom.
O’Connor, owner of O’Connor Home Design in Cape May, is an expert in residential design. And she’s got a knack for knocking a bathroom design right out of the park. O’Connor recommends a master or main bathroom that’s as functional as it is gorgeous.
“I think tranquility is really important for a primary or master bathroom,” says O’Connor. “It needs to feel soft and inviting—no one goes in there and wants to be energized. It’s a place to take a moment for us.”
Tranquility means plenty of things to plenty of people—your peaceful dip in the ocean is a shark attack waiting to happen for someone else. So, what are the common threads when it comes to a peaceful master bath? Hint: It’s not just color and plush towels.
“It needs to be functional,” says O’Connor. “What good is a gorgeous bathroom if it doesn’t work for you and your family? Organization is key. Everything should have a dedicated location. If not, the space can fill you with anxiety and stress.”
The best part is that organization doesn’t have to cost a penny. The bad? It’s easier said than done, as anyone who’s tried to Marie Kondo their home can attest. But organization lends itself to the idea that the first step in a peaceful bathroom is the removal of stress, and the things causing stress.
Function means more than an organized makeup drawer, though O’Connor stresses the importance of even those little things to make a bathroom feel fresh and new. It also means choosing items with care and function in mind. Case in point: the mid-80s corner Jacuzzi tub. “Twenty years ago, people did these giant corner Jacuzzis. Now they’re the first thing I’m ripping out,” says O’Connor.
These days, freestanding soak tubs are all the rage, and while O’Connor has done a ton of them in the past year, she also makes suggestions to her clients, so they don’t end up with something useless.
“They’re not cheap, so you want to make sure you sit in it and it’s big enough,” says O’Connor, who often brings clients to Weinstein Plumbing to get a real feel for them. “There are so many options with them. I ask my clients: how long will you be in the tub? Do you want jets? There are several considerations.”
Of course, there’s nothing worse than getting out of a long soak, after perhaps indulging in a glass of wine with a good book, than stepping on an ice-cold tile floor. Sure, a bathmat would help, but to truly give your space the spa-like treatment, consider your floors.
“Heated floors are everything! When you step out of the tub or shower, you are instantly warmed from your toes up,” says O’Connor.
And they are, according to O’Connor, worth the splurge—and it is a splurge. Bathrooms must be gutted, and the system has to be installed before even a substrate layer is put down. Not worth the splurge? Heated towel racks.
“I can’t remember the last time I did a heated towel rack. In theory, it sounds great, but a lot of it comes down to budget. Even on houses that don’t really have a budget, it’s like ‘do we really need that?’ Who cares if your towels are slightly warmer?” says O’Connor.
Rather, spend your money on things that will make or break your bathroom experience—things like showers with multiple and hand-held shower heads. And good lighting.
“Lighting is very important. We are past the days of one light source in a bathroom,” says O’Connor. “Now, everything is dimmable. Many times, we have recessed lights in the ceiling, lights over the vanity and an exhaust fan with a sensored night light. Some clients also ask for backlit vanity mirrors. It’s important to be able to achieve the perfect lighting during all hours of the day.”
Whether you’re shooting for a full bathroom renovation, or only looking to invigorate an existing space, there are small things that make a big impact. The biggest among them will come from the walls themselves.
“Paint is an instant transformation,” says O’Connor. “In our area, soft blues and greens are popular. Sea Salt is one of my favorite colors and Nimbus [both Benjamin Moore] is a pretty, more beigey color. They are my first go-to colors for a beachy, spa-like kind of bathroom.”
If there’s more room in the budget, O’Connor recommends wallpaper, which can add both color and texture, and even help dampen sound—something utterly key to a relaxing experience. “I think of a grass cloth wall covering when I think of a tranquil bathroom,” says O’Connor. “You don’t want anything jarring or too brightly colored.”
Other than the walls, think incremental and potentially short-term updates. Other than things like bath trays and bath pillows, which definitely add to the comfort and function of a long soak, don’t ignore the pleasure that good, scented candles—lavender and eucalyptus are proven to help destress— or fluffy new towels and a new shower curtain can bring.
“I change out my bath towels on a seasonal basis—blue for summer, off-white for spring, gray for winter. TJ Maxx is right around the corner and new towels are a really inexpensive way to change things up,” says O’Connor. “When you walk into a room and see something that was different than it was yesterday, it makes you happy.”