Why Are Hotels in Love With This Unusual Design Trend?

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In the pursuit of creative layout and unconventional interiors, some hotels are opting for a questionable style feature that could isolate some of their clientele.

When you think of a sophisticated and beautifully designed hotel, I doubt that vision includes a snapshot of your travel companion on the toilet. However, in the pursuit of "edgy" design, some hotels are opting for fully-transparent bathrooms that allow guests unobstructed views of the room from the loo, and the other way around.

On a recent trip to Amsterdam with my father, I was surprised to find that our artfully fashioned hotel had opted to install semi-transparent glass walls separating the bathroom from the bedroom. Barely an inch of the bathroom was obscured from view, including the toilet, making for an awkward situation, to say the least.

Hotels around the world are purposefully designing glass-encased bathrooms in their luxury suites with the intent of creating a modern aesthetic, or a seductive atmosphere. The sleek design looks great in a magazine spread, but the practicality can waver.

“Transparent bathrooms are certainly trending at the moment, with some brands more than others,” said Tracey Sawyer, co-founder of Krause Sawyer, a New York City-based design firm that specializes in luxury hotels and boutique hospitality groups. “There are definitely benefits to it when it comes to letting light in and making the room feel bigger.”

While it can be inviting to have a modern retreat that feels spacious and luxurious, it can also be off-putting to lack privacy. A completely open layout can make for an uninviting and uncomfortable experience for some guests. So why are hotels continuing to embrace the trend?

“Due to the fact that bathrooms sit away from the windows in most hotel rooms, a transparent bathroom allows for more light to flow through the space, and helps to make smaller rooms feel much bigger than they are,” said Sawyer. “This is especially true in urban environments.”

But Sawyer recognizes that there are some flaws when it comes to sacrificing a guest’s modesty for the spacious feel of the room.

“That’s all great if it’s just one traveler or a couple, but how do you account for two of three in the room that aren’t part of a couple?”, Sawyer said.

New York’s Standard Hotel made headlines a few years back for taking the transparent-bathroom trend to a whole new level, by designing their public restrooms to be entirely visible from the street. Although an extreme case, they're not the only hotel to pursue a more voyeuristic design. In the past few years, more and more luxury hotels have been designing suites that highlight the restroom with fully or partially transparent glass to embrace a more sensual aesthetic—a topic The New York Times covered almost a decade ago in their piece, “Bathrooms That Are Part of the View.”

But not all hotels are going the exhibitionist route, at least, not entirely. Some luxury hotels are giving guests the option of controlling their experience by including curtains, shutters, or tinted glass to obscure the view into, and out of, the bathroom. The restroom in the Marvelous Suite at the W in Washington D.C. has tinted glass windows, and the Mandarin Oriental in Miami has an unobscured bathtub, but a hidden shower and toilet in a number of their floor plans. At the Andaz Maui resort in Wailea, Hawaii, guests have the option of an unobstructed view from the bathroom, but can also close shutters for some solitude.

Subtle design choices can make all the difference. When dealing with people’s modesty, every detail has to be taken into consideration. This is an issue that Sawyer and her business partner, Kajsa Krause, handle often when working with hotel clients. She explained that it’s all about being thoughtful and understanding what the guests want. Considering the placement of doors and windows, the transparency of the glass, or even having a separate, more private restroom to use can make guests feel much more comfortable in the space.

“You may want some more privacy if you're traveling with someone with whom you're not intimate,” said Sawyer. “That being said, placement of openings, level of transparency within glass and windows, and additional drapery panels can provide for the required privacy.”

By giving guests the option to block out the view, these hotels are creating a more welcoming atmosphere for their clientele. While some like the freedom of an exhibitionist bathroom on a romantic holiday with their partner, others prefer to keep things more private. Whether it’s taking a shower, bathing, using the toilet, or just brushing your teeth, some guests just prefer a few minutes alone.

In my case, the communal bathroom by the check-in desk did just fine, although not preferred. My father and I just took turns waiting for one another in the hotel lobby as the other went through their morning routine. I think the next time we plan a trip together we’ll be a little more careful when choosing our hotel.