A growing number of people with plans to build or renovate their home are dreaming of a bathroom that can do more – a place where they can switch off, relax and be active. After the experiences of the last year, the outside world seems more uncertain than ever before – and the private spa concept is becoming all the more valuable for individual wellbeing. As a result, the planning and implementation of a private spa are among the most stable segments of the building services and fittings business and one of the most important areas of expertise for interior designers and bathroom planners. But what exactly is meant by a private spa, and which components does it take to create one? Insights and learnings from 12 years of the private spa.

As bathroom architecture evolves into lifestyle space and the bathroom’s enhanced and extended functions turn it into a private spa, the classic bathroom is undergoing a thorough update. The idea of what makes a modern bathroom has changed fundamentally in recent years: snug features, products designed for convenience and comfort and more floor space are increasing both the amount and the quality of the time we spend in the bathroom. And with the corona pandemic, the need for a comfortable bathroom to retreat to has become even stronger: “There has been a significant increase in demand for holistic bathroom planning and the refurbishment of older bathrooms since the pandemic hit in March 2020. As a safe haven that’s a pleasure to spend time in and features extra-special products like a shower toilet or a freestanding tub, a private spa is right at the top of many home owners’ wishlist,” says Jens J. Wischmann, managing director of the German Bathroom Sector Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V. [VDS]).

A planning model for exclusive bathrooms: the private spa concept is evolving

The private spa is a bathroom concept that turns routines into rituals and water into an experience. There is no other room that brings together the desire for cosiness and the fun of styling a special setting or where the need for wellness can be combined with a passion for fitness. The latter is becoming an increasingly important factor for private spa fans. And the wellness effect is dependent not just on elements like a rainfall shower, a sauna or premium furnishings but on soft factors like ambience, warmth and sensuous surroundings too – because whereas physical wellbeing used to be the top priority, bathroom users are now attaching great importance to an aesthetic that promotes mindfulness. But the overall picture is only really complete when the interior design concept tells a story: a natural ambience, an elegant salon, a cool loft, an exotic world, a country idyll – imagination is the magic ingredient.

First introduced by Pop up my Bathroom in 2009 for the ISH, the term private spa has been used for more than 10 years now to signify individual concepts that take a holistic approach to bathroom design with the goal of creating a place for experiences. The following factors are key to the success of a holistically planned private spa:

01. High design quality: the colour and materials concept

Even though there’s no one right answer when it comes to questions of taste, top bathroom designers, planners and architects nevertheless follow a fundamental design code: to ensure high design quality, a private spa should stick to a consistent colour and materials concept that’s coordinated with the walls, flooring and sanitaryware. That sounds easier than it is, because no two shades of “white” are the same, and it really is essential to ensure all the colours and materials harmonise – even under varying light conditions. The colour concept of a private spa should be surprising, supportive of users’ early-morning routines and suitable for transforming the bathroom into a feel-good space in the evening. Collages of the colours and materials are a useful tool for visualising the concept and helping clients to picture their new bathroom.

02. Away from the wall: occupy the space

The physics of transporting water can’t be overturned – which is why, as a vertical structure, the wall seems like the logical place for the necessary installations. But the bathroom industry is also offering a growing number of solutions for moving the water into the middle of the room. Thanks to the freestanding bathtub, the usual line of wallflowers is starting to take to the floor. An increasing number of water-carrying products can be detached from the wall and integrated into an open-plan room concept. Especially in new builds, this means the architect is free to reimagine the private spa – similarly to how the popularity of kitchen islands has revolutionised the kitchen: all-round access, more communicative products, open layouts, alternative sightlines and bright spaces thanks to the feasibility of bigger windows. More spacious layouts are a great help when it comes to professional zoning: circulation areas, usage zones and function zones can be based on how the occupants live (together) and what expectations they have of a private spa.

03. Quality time in a quality space: (more) room for interaction and movement

Today the lifestyle people are cultivating in their living rooms, gardens and kitchens is being transferred to the bathroom too. As the quality of the space increases, so does the amount of time spent using it. The private spa is no longer just a room that’s locked when the toilet is in use, it’s a room where partners and families can spend time together too. Open spaces provide room for more interaction and shared activities. Expanding the bathroom into a fitness room adds a whole new level of use, and a comfy seat is ideal for reading. In both cases, increased floor space is a must.

04. Well-organised bathroom architecture and plenty of storage space: tidiness is wellness for the eyes

A bathroom that gets a lot of use bears little resemblance to the pictures of perfection found in glossy magazines. But there’s no doubt that an uncluttered bathroom plays an important part in creating a pleasant overall impression in a private spa. A storage concept, built-in shelving and bathroom furniture with large, well-organised drawers and tall cabinets help hide bits and pieces out of sight. In return, consoles, display cabinets or alcoves can serve as a stage for showing off select bathroom utensils or decorative items to perfection. The result is an authentic but neat and tidy interior that doesn’t look sterile or impersonal.

05. The blue element: water as the connecting thread

The enveloping steam of a hot bath, the sound of running water from a basin tap or the pattering of a rainhead shower: water is an element that conveys emotions and a crucial component in defining the character of a private spa. Bathroom manufacturers are helping stage water in a fittingly emotional way with numerous taps, shower panels, rainheads, massage jets, hydrotherapy applications, freestanding tubs and walk-in shower surfaces that evoke natural water scenery.

06. Storytelling: the bathroom as an individual space to be experienced

A bathroom planner or architect is a modern storyteller too. The process of planning or replanning a bathroom with private spa aspirations is shaped not only by a design concept based on formal and aesthetic considerations but by a narrative idea as well. That might mean incorporating a theme that the client has a personal connection with, taking the architecture of the house into account or factoring in the special location of the bathroom (e.g. in direct proximity to the garden). A family bathroom will look different than a bathroom for a single person. Is the client a nature lover who consciously opts for a sustainable lifestyle? Does colour play an important role in the design of the bathroom, or is the bathroom user a technophile? In a person-to-person conversation, the bathroom planner determines the client’s personal interests and bathroom rituals so as to tell a highly individual private spa story.

07. Cosiness in the bathroom: a home-like feel and warmth

The furnishings of a private spa span a spectrum that ranges from comfortable to cosy. Few other design trends have had such a major impact on the bathroom over the last 10 years as the trend towards a home-like ambience: warm materials like wood or textiles, furniture, carpets or even decorative wall coverings and flooring are key components for designing a snug private spa. Because the humidity in the bathroom is subject to extreme changes, the designer can also turn to imitations and water-resistant materials. Design-oriented radiators reinforce the overall impression. But even the best plan can’t convey the impact that a steaming bathtub and pleasant warmth will have on the client’s perception of the space – only the finished bathroom can do that.

08. Professional lighting design in the bathroom: emotion and function

When it comes to setting the stage for a private spa, lighting is probably the most important component of all. A professional lighting design is a must for creating the conditions needed to enjoy lots of nice personal moments in the private spa. At the same time, the interaction between natural light over the course of the day and the artificial lighting plays an important role. Depending on how the bathroom is being used at any particular time, either functional or emotional lighting is called for. The lighting design defines and implements various scenarios, up to and including a night-light. In order for the private spa to serve its purpose as a retreat that’s a pleasure to spend time in, it’s essential to ensure that the lighting harmonises with the bathroom architecture, sanitaryware and specially accentuated objects, such as an illuminated back panel in the shower or an indirectly lit bathtub.

09. Special extras: innovative bathroom products create added value

The bathroom has been impacted by enormous technical progress in the last 10 years: planning and installation have been simplified by digital tools and innovative mounting systems that open up totally new design options. New technical approaches that can be used in combination with pre-wall installations permit new architectonic solutions, such as innovative shower drains, storage options, recesses or mountings for walk-in showers. In front of the wall, innovative products are setting new standards when it comes to hygiene, safety, comfort, convenience or smart technology. Electrification is advancing all the time, which is why every new design should include the corresponding wiring for future retrofits.

10. The grand finale: enhancing the private spa with personalised touches

Once work on the new private spa has been completed, many bathroom planners are content to ensure it has been swept clean before handing it over. Various home improvement TV shows demonstrate how to do it better – with a few well-chosen flourishes. It doesn’t take much to enhance the new bathroom. Colour-coordinated decorative items, cosy accessories or elements with a connection to the client add the perfect finishing touches to the private spa and turn the handover into a special occasion.

Jens J. Wischmann, managing director of the German Bathroom Sector Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V. [VDS]), sees the ISH digital 2021 as coinciding with a further growth spurt for the holistic philosophy of the private spa: “A time of crisis such as we’re experiencing right now naturally gives people a special reason to see their bathroom as a safe haven and turn it into a private spa. But that’s not their main motivation. The growing desire for a private spa is in fact a long-term development that’s causing the bathroom to play an increasingly significant role within the hierarchy of rooms in the home. That’s why I would appeal to the architects who design tomorrow’s housing to make bathrooms bigger in future!”

The room concepts the bathroom sector has developed for this modern bathroom culture exhibit a great many different elements – including e.g. cosiness, differentiated functions, the staging of water or rainfall showers. Taken individually, there’s nothing revolutionary about any of them. Combined in a meaningful way, however, they add up to an innovative, ambitious type of bathroom: the private spa.

12 years of the private spa

The private spa concept took the kind of bathroom that was previously often referred to as a “wellness oasis” to a new level by decoupling it from the term wellness and promoting a new and distinct bathroom format.

The origin of the concept was the Pop up my Bathroom communication campaign initiated by the German Bathroom Sector Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V. [VDS]) and Messe Frankfurt: in 2009 – to mark the anniversary edition of the ISH, which was celebrating its 50th year – Pop up my Bathroom presented the 10 most important bathroom trends for the first time. In addition to “homing” and “the green bathroom”, the Pop up my Bathroom trend researchers also publicised the trend towards what they called a “private spa”. That was the starting signal for an unprecedented trend career, because now, all over the world, the private spa concept – which is often taken up and disseminated in variations such as “home spa” – stands for upgrading the bathroom into a private space in its own right. “In 2009 the word wellness was being used for anything and everything – it was mainly associated with shower gel and various types of tea,” says Jens J. Wischmann, managing director of the German Bathroom Sector Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V. [VDS]), summing up the motivation for coining a new term at the time. The Pop up my Bathroom team is convinced that words and images create realities and therefore help to cultivate trends for a market: “The desire to upgrade the bathroom was perceptible everywhere. German bathroom manufacturers were already developing lifestyle-oriented products for the bathroom at a high level. The term ‘private spa’ conveys many different positive values and aptly describes the idea of holistic bathroom planning. As the umbrella association for the bathroom sector, we’re delighted to have made such an important contribution to the evolution of the bathroom and the ISH.”

Pop up my Bathroom, an initiative of the German Sanitary Industry Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V. [VDS]) and Messe Frankfurt established in conjunction with the ISH, is an experimental platform for architects, bathroom planners, interior designers and journalists. It aims to explore and illustrate what possibilities the bathroom can offer people as an aesthetic and functional space. On the one hand, it gives experts a chance to find out about new developments, on the other hand it aims to convert the designs it develops into pictures that will be understood all over the world. The website www.pop-up-my-bathroom.com has therefore been expanded into a continuously updated blog that serves as a communication platform and has attracted almost 1 million international visitors. Until the next ISH opens its doors, it informs professionals and interested consumers not just about the Pop up my Bathroom trends but about the latest developments in various segments of the sanitary industry as well.