I remember the moment. Part of the design press, I was touring a decorator show-house whose opulent master bathroom was about the size of my first New York apartment. On entering the space, I noted multiple stacks of custom shelves and drawers topped with his-and-her sinks—in a wall-wide vanity beside a glassed-in shower that would never steam up.
There was also a family-size tub whose air-propelled water spouts spat out oceans of body-soothing bubbles, each releasing a sexy smell when popped. Then, within a walled-off compartment, I discovered a toilet with controls, seat and lid that could be tweaked by waving your hand. Yes, a bidet had its own separate stall.
Beyond these “basics” was an adjustable lounge chair and ottoman, lit by an overhead fixture you controlled by push-button. Nearby was a massage table that folded into its own niche and could be retrieved by pressing another button.
Yes, of course, there was a very serious-looking scale—its leading edge could be tapped with your toe when you wanted to slide it in or out of a wall slot. In a so-named “fitness corner,” I remember a wall-hung rack for barbells and weights and a niche for a stationary bike you could roll out when you had an urge to pedal.
Enough? There was more, actually, and I found myself scribbling frantically. Above eye level was a wall-mounted TV that could be angled, by pushing another button. I also noted hand controls for not only the TV but also a cutting-edge sound system. Under foot there were elegant Italian tiles, heated from below.
For me, the effect of this future-tilting design was kind of mind-blowing. I recall standing in the center of that vast space, just shaking my head, while other visitors were passing through. “Jeez, I think you could live in here,” I heard one man say. And another guy mumbled, “Too big. I’d freeze my butt in a space like this.”
In promotion material, this bath was described as offering “total live-in luxury,” and, indeed, I saw that a corner cabinet had been equipped with a small pantry, a mini fridge and freezer, plus a compact microwave set into a wall niche. This room had everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, though it was soon clear that few people visiting the space showed any desire to explore it fully.
Public Opinion Puzzlement
So much for the appeal of an opulent bath designed to exploit people’s dreams of comfort and luxury. I could see that most women touring the show-house were intrigued, but men tended to give the space the once-over. Which made me wonder what kind of forward-reaching design would actually gratify the average male.
Since that show-house visit, I’ve talked to male homeowners, of various ages, to learn if they harbored dream-bath desires and, if so, what were their secret wishes. The result? Puzzling. Yes, several guys said they already had well fitted-out master baths, thank you, but few reported actually spending time there with partners.
When pointing out the potentially seductive appeal of a two-person tub, I came up short. Only one couple I consulted said they had actually used one—together: He refused to comment; she took pains to say that, for each of them, getting in and out of their tub had proved “awkward.”
Probing further, I learned that some couples considered a shared bath a distraction (but not in a good way). Moreover, men, in particular, tended to feel compromised by the manifold luxury of a huge shared bath—features that invariably favored their wives or female partners.
So what would a man want? Would he enjoy sharing such nakedly intimate space with someone plugged into a noisy hair dryer, for example? And would a woman be able to focus on plucking her eyebrows if her male partner was groaningly hefting weights or flexing his lower limbs on a bike ride to nowhere? I also wondered if a man’s idea of a so-called “dream bath” differed from a woman’s? Or was it essentially the same?
What Would a Man Want?
The one difference I noted right off was that, though women could quickly define the amenities of strong personal interest to them, most men had to ponder, and one, an artist-photographer in West Orange, New Jersey, said flatly, “It’s not the kind of thing I think about, so I can’t really fantasize.” He was among several respondents who requested anonymity, so I’ve muddied the waters regarding the identities of those who shared their thoughts and ideas with me.
• Another New Jerseyan said, “Never had a dream bath—you’ll have to rely on others.” Then I guess he pondered the topic, because he called back: “My dream bath would have a walk-in shower for two, with room to spare and a good shower-head; a separate bathtub for the woman of the house; an environmentally friendly toilet; and a sink with a faucet that I can wet my head under in the morning.”
• An Iowan who retired to the Arizona desert to write a memoir declared that he had “never given any thought to how a dream bath might be equipped,” then said that he and his wife were a two-bathroom couple: No matter what the layout of any idealized shared space might be, it would have to meet her needs. Period.
• A career social worker now settled on a North Carolina hilltop insisted that “most men could care less about functionality in a bathroom—we don’t want to be reminded how messy we are. So I think I would want some kind of separation so I could maintain my hygiene without oversight—and would stay happier if the space was not visible to my spouse.” This suggested a very strict two-bath solution!
• A Boston lawyer living in Needham, Massachusetts, was explicit in describing what his dream bath would be. After specifying his need for his own sink and counter area plus “ample shelf, closet and/or drawer space,” he also requested “some natural light—perhaps windows high up—and dimmable lighting, a shower bench, a built-in fogless mirror and ample storage for soap, shampoo and razors, etc.”
Added to his wish list was a built-in radio with good speakers and a link to a speaker in the shower. He said he also would want “one of those TV’s behind a mirror, or otherwise built in, and at least two overhead shower sprays plus one handheld, too.” He said grab bars would be useful, but said they should be “tastefully colored.”
More pointedly, he envisioned “a separate toilet area with its own door, a space big enough so your arms aren’t hitting the walls plus ample magazine storage.” His final request: “It would be nice to have some form of urinal—or maybe a nice trough!”
• Then a Manhattan-based designer weighed in: “I like to spend as little time as necessary in a bathroom,” he confessed. Then he described what he’d like in a dream model and essentially let his hair down: “A built-in TV and computer plus WiFi, of course, so I could use that computer while sitting on the john.
“Then I’d like a steam shower and a built-in closet—either in the bath itself or connected to it. I’d also like the bath attached to a huge dressing area with windows or a skylight.”
• Another Manhattanite, vice-president of a busy design firm, took a different tack,
shunning some bath-design sacred cows: “Having air jets and other whirlpool-tub elements are gimmicks to me—why would I want to re-circulate dirty or soapy water lathering up funky suds?”
He had not only a harsh view of mechanized tubs but of toilets as well: “I still prefer toilet paper—I have yet to feel comfortable relying on any wash/dry feature for cleanliness.” He did, however, give the nod to a steam shower: “Now that’s something I know I’d enjoy if I had the time.”
In Southern California, where sunlight abounds year round, several respondents voiced their interest in specific amenities.
• A writer in Palm Springs insisted that his needs were basically simple: “No tub, but a spacious clear-glass shower stall plus some kind of non-slip flooring; a couple of wall handles to grasp for security; and, for added pleasure, strong water pressure and a couple of showerheads aimed at various parts of this receptive body.” Then he added, “Also a couple of built-in waist-high trays for soap and shampoos.”
• A Glendale-based photographer also claimed that his needs were simple, then delivered a focused wish list: “First would be a whirlpool tub—when I have sore limbs, it’d be nice to have the option to soak with Epsom salts and have water jets.” Living long term in a mostly rain-free region, he was naturally concerned about water use but said he would like his dream bath to have a splashy rain-head shower.
“Also,” he added, “I’d want really good ventilation and—if it exists—a mirror that doesn’t fog up while I’m trying to shave. Good lighting at the mirror would certainly be important plus enough storage space to keep my towels handy instead of down the hall in a linen closet. And a wonderful luxury would be a heated floor.”
• A TV executive in Pasadena insisted that “bathrooms are never intended to be living rooms as well,” then proceeded to extol the designed-in bath amenities he recalled from a home he’d just visited: “There was a terrific walk-in shower with a bench—all nicely tiled—plus two separate spray heads, and the shower unit doubled as a steam bath. That made me think, ‘Man, it sure would be nice to take a hot steam anytime you want it in the middle of winter.'”
• A poet and playwright living in Burbank said that “my dream bathroom would require three spaces. Two would be separate bathrooms for solo personal care (toilets, bidet, cosmetics, shaving) on either side of a central room.” Then he insisted that this third space—the one separating the his-and-her baths—would be built in the traditional Japanese style and contain only a hot tub made of wood.
“This uncluttered room should minimize distractions to enhance the meditative, relaxing and restorative power of a Japanese hot tub.” He also said he preferred wood walls and floors, rather than tile. Overhead, he envisioned “a big skylight that could be opened to give a sense of outdoor space in fine weather.”
Clearly, there was no consensus as to which fantasy features would make men pause and take notice. Most respondents seemed more attracted to the concept of privacy, rather than lulled by the prospect of enjoying shared space. Their ideas of luxury differed a bit, but few were willing to nudge their imagination regarding the concept of a super-richly appointed bath space.
Yes, they took our discussion seriously, but a few did seem to consider my questions borderline impertinent—perhaps a bit too personal for open discussion. (This reminded me that it was not long ago that toilets were rarely mentioned or shown in any magazine.)
One of the men I queried was a golf addict in a California desert community. His response took a whimsical tack, suggesting that his dream bath might include “one very tall blond back scrubber!” He ended by adding, “The only change I would make in our present bath is to move my wife’s overloaded counter to—maybe—Indiana!”
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Photo Credit: Getty Images