According to Designers, the Biggest Bathroom Trend of 2023 Is Self-Care

Above: Arabescato Corchia marble plays foil to natural light in the primary bathroom of a San Francisco home designed by Nicole Hollis.

Although the past couple of years are not entirely in the rear view mirror, as a whole, humanity seems to have rebounded. But one aspect of the long isolation—that the primary bathroom became a refuge when everyone was always home—has remained. We’ve developed an unyielding need for personal space, and that’s not something we’re apt to give up quickly.

Bathrooms as we know them are a relatively recent phenomenon. Ancient Romans and medieval Europeans, for example, used public facilities for communal bathing, thus both getting clean and socializing. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that having a discrete bathroom in one’s house was regarded as de rigueur. Today, people are redoing their baths are pushing hard to keep—and extend—that separation.

Anna Karp, CEO of New York design-build firm Bolster, says she is seeing a shift in priorities: People are putting more money into a space’s overall layout than into expensive tiles and fixtures. Additionally, sofas and built-in shower seating have become mainstream. This is partially for comfort; but also, “for those who are aging in place, it has become quite common if people are staying in their homes for a very long time,” says Karp. (It’s also handy to have a ledge for shaving one’s legs.) Some of her clients are seeking sound insulation, which includes using heavier doors for additional privacy.

bathroom that looks like a room with a raised wooden platform on which is a wooden clad tub in front of the window and in the foreground is seen a sofa and small table with candlesticks

Sandy hues and a wooden tub in a California home by Studio Shamshiri.

Stephen Kent Johnson

For Los Angeles interior designer Pamela Shamshiri, the primary bathroom is more and more about wellness and how that is achieved: “What singular spa ritual does the client want to get out of it? Because you usually can’t do everything.” (With space constraints, sometimes you have to choose between a large soaking tub and a steam shower.) These rooms are often more multifunctional as people now meditate and work, so furniture such as armchairs and armoires are finding their way in. Shamshiri once lived in a Rudolph Schindler house that featured a bathroom with heated floors on which she would lie and work for long periods. Although it had only shoji doors, when they were closed they sent a clear message: “Everyone knew I was in self-care mode.”

“The modern bathroom probably has more going on behind the walls than you could ever imagine”

Making the bathroom more connected to the rest of the house is key, according to New York interior designer Joy Moyler. She particularly dislikes cold and clinical spaces, which she says are “like something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” To combat asylum austerity, she recently placed table lamps on a long vanity, which she deems to have been a great success. “It doesn’t, however, work well for women who need to put on their mascara—and don’t stab themselves in the eye.” The solution is multiple layers of lighting that are appropriate for different moods and tasks.

Architect Chris Fogarty of the firm Fogarty Finger, who designed the luxury residential project Astoria West, in Queens, New York, is firmly Team Tub. “If you’re English like me, having the bathtub is critically important,” he says. For walls and floors, he preferred porcelain tile—especially the new thin, large-format versions—for their marble-like appearance and longevity. Also, the more spare and simple the bathroom, the more complex the construction process can be. Floating vanities, for example, require hidden steel bars or else they’ll eventually sag. “The modern bathroom probably has more going on behind the walls than you could ever imagine,” he adds.

charming bathroom with a shower inset into a small cottage like structure and the sink just outside it and the tub in the foreground all connected via an arch to a bedroom in the background

In a London home designed by Buchanan Studio, an enclosed toilet is sheathed in pink-and-white checkered tiles.

Alicia Waite

In addition to being a refuge, separate bathrooms for couples can also provide added benefits. Moyler recently had requests by women for a particular medicine cabinet with a lockable drawer in it. “This is where they can store the good jewelry,” she said. “And if they need to leave in the middle of the night, they can take it with them instead of waiting outside the bank to get into the safe deposit box.”

winter 2023 cover elle decor

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE