The Spa Experience

Although the current client focus on budget is challenging, there are still many clients today willing to invest in a personal retreat. Colleagues have told me that while their upscale kitchen renovation leads are down, they have had a surprising number of requests for bathroom proposals: notably, extensive master bedroom/bathroom renovations. Therefore, the master bath suite can be an important part of your business offering.

When creating such a spa, bath designers should consider how the space will affect the five human senses. Additionally, it’s important to have an in-depth understanding of why certain “therapies” are considered healthy for the bather.


After creating the concept space plan, complete the layout considering how the new room will enhance the user’s five senses. Here are a series of design details and product suggestions to include in a bathroom’s final solution.

  • Sight:
    1. Identify sight lines for the bather seated in the tub or standing in the shower.
    2. Simplify surface patterns/ textures used to define the space. (Simple, understated contemporary patterns can visually expand the space.)
    3. Incorporate variable light levels supporting both “rest” and“grooming” activities.
    4. Include chromatherapy equipment.
  • Hearing:
    1. Plan access to separately controlled entertainment systems.
    2. Protect the user from the“buzz” of a normal household.
    3. Add access to nature’s beautiful outdoor sounds.
    4. Understand the power of“feeling” a sound, as well as hearing it (vibracoustic technology).
  • Touch:
    1. Engineer the ambient temperature controls to provide a warmer environment for the nude bather, or a cooler room for a gym.
    2. Specify surfaces safe for a nude bather’s entry or exit from any type of water enclosure.
    3. Understand the differences in an overall, focused hydromassage vs. an aerated water bathing system.
    4. Understand the differences between a steam and a sauna experience.
  • Smell:
    1. Plan space for storage and/or display for incense, candles or other aromatic accents.
    2. Add an aromatherapy system.
  • Taste: Include an accessible surface for a snack or drink of choice.


Different clients value a home spa experience based on different personal pleasure expectations. To help designers propose the right home spa therapy to a prospective client, consider these key buying motivators:

  • Taking Care of Me. Most Americans feel overworked and time deprived. They are looking for ways to get a few moments alone, rejuvenate the exhausted body and smooth frayed emotions. A long soak in a bath is right for them.
  • Connecting. Connecting is about finding, building, maintaining and deepening relationships with people who are important to us. Home is the place to connect. For this bathroom buyer, a room planned for multiple users may be key.
  • Questing. Questing is about venturing into the world, gaining new experiences and pushing back personal limits. For this client, a multi-head shower experience may provide the desired adventure.
  • Individual Style. This is about expressing personal tastes, differentiating oneself from others and demonstrating sophistication and success. The personal design created for the bath space can satisfy this client’s hope for a “one-of-a-kind” retreat.


Successful designers have an in-depth knowledge about the various water-based therapies offered by major bathroom product manufacturers. These include aromatherapy, chromatherapy, hydrotherapy, thermotherapy and dry heat.

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses essential oils and other scented compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person’s mood or health.

Aromatherapy has roots in antiquity with the use of aromatic oils. However, as currently defined, aromatherapy involves the use of distilled plant volatiles, a twentieth century innovation.

Aromatherapy is the supposed treatment or prevention of disease by use of essential oils. Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils.

While precise knowledge of the synergy between the body and aromatic oils is often claimed by aromatherapists, the efficacy of aromatherapy remains to be proven. However, some preliminary clinical studies show positive effects.


Chromatherapy, sometimes called “color therapy” or “colorology,” is an alternative medicine method. Therapists trained in chromatherapy believe the use of color and light can balance energy wherever our bodies are lacking, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or mental.

Several findings indicate that color and light have been used for health treatments since the beginning of recorded time. Chromatherapy uses the narrow band in the cosmic electromagnetic energy spectrum (known to humankind as the visible color spectrum), composed of reds, greens, blues and their combined derivatives. These visual colors, with their unique wavelength and oscillations, are selectively applied to impaired organs or life systems with a light source to provide the healing energy. Trained technicians believe that colors generate electrical impulses and magnetic currents or fields of energy that are prime activators of the biochemical and hormonal processes in the human body. For a home spa, the use of such focused light colors can enhance a shower or a bathing experience

Underwater LED lamps (always specify two – one on each side of the bather) let the bather enjoy the full rainbow of colors, or select one to set a mood. Each color enhances the bather’s experience in a different way.

  • White purifies the spirit and offers refreshing peace. This can be used to relieve headaches.
  • Blue is the source of true relaxation. It calms in stressful times and is indulgent to the senses.
  • Aquamarine offers balance and relief from inflammation.
  • Green calms the mind, body and soul, and provides both relief and stability.
  • Orange soothes a sore, tired body and stimulates circulation and the respiratory system.
  • Red stimulates and rejuvenates. It creates a mood of excitement and activates circulation.
  • Purple promotes a true sense of tranquility. It reduces anxiety and detoxifies.


Since the ancient Greeks, people have found natural healing powers in bubbling pools of hot water. The Romans, Greeks, Japanese and other cultures have realized the many benefits to mind and body.

The heat, buoyancy and massage found in the warm, soothing waters of a jetted tub experience are both relaxing and rejuvenating. This type of therapy can be enjoyed in three different ways: (1) focused massage experience in a jetted tub where streams of aerated water bounce against specific body parts, or surround the body with a circular stream of concentrated aerated water; (2) an all encompassing non-directional massage of random air bubbles gently breaking against the skin; or, (3) a combination of both.

The medical profession does agree with the spa industry that jetted tubs are beneficial in relieving several medical conditions and everyday stress.

Physicians and physical therapists recognize the value of a massage water experience as an ideal environment for rehabilitation therapy. Muscle pain can be eased, fatigue overcome and stiffness and soreness relieved when relaxing in a hydro massage tub because body temperatures rise. This causes blood vessels to dilate, resulting in increased circulation and blood flow that accelerates the body’s natural healing properties. The reason the healing process is increased is that lactic acid and other toxins are replaced with oxygen. The release of endorphins also serves as the body’s natural pain killers.

The water experience also helps increase flexibility and range of motion, preventing exercise related injuries. Stretching in a whirlpool bath stimulates the production of lubricants between connective tissue fibers as well.

The Arthritis Foundation recognizes the benefits of hydro massage and warm water exercise to help relieve arthritic pain. Body weight is reduced by approximately 90% in a water environment, relieving pressure on joints and muscles, and providing a safe and gentle environment for warm water exercise.

Relaxing in a bubbling air bathtub simulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel good” chemical, giving the bather a sense of renewal and rejuvenation. The warm water and soothing massage also can help relieve anxiety and relax tense muscles as thousands of air bubbles burst against the skin, increasing blood circulation along the surface of the skin.

It is worth adding that a warm, relaxing bath with or without any type of bubbles is often recommended by many doctors to improve the quality of an individual’s sleep. Relaxing in a hot tub for 10 minutes, approximately 90 minutes before bed time, causes the body’s internal thermostat to pull the temperature down, enabling the person to drift into a deeper, more relaxing sleep.


Heat has always been used in various forms for therapeutic use. Sunlight, heated sand and heated water were initially used as an effective means of therapy for ailments and pain. Early users of heat therapy also obtained heat from hot stones and coals, open fire and irons. The first scientific inquiries into the use of thermotherapy were conducted in the early 19th century. Heat therapy is the foundation of steam (wet) and sauna (dry) therapies.

The application of heat widens blood vessels and increases blood flow to the skin. Heat also opens the pores in the skin. Therefore, it relaxes superficial muscles, decreases muscle spasms and reduces stiffness of the joints, as well as allows impurities to be flushed from the pores of the skin.

Moist heat appears to be more effective in treating pain than dry heat , as the moisture allows the heat to penetrate more deeply into the muscle. Therefore, thermotherapy is frequently used in combination with other therapies such as hydrotherapy (jetted water therapy) and cryotherapy (cold water therapy). These two therapies are sometimes used to reduce inflammation before thermotherapy is introduced to increase blood flow to the muscles.

As the blood flows, local tissue metabolism is enhanced. The improved blood flow lowers concentration of pain-producing toxic metabolites. This combination offers relief from pain.

  • Dry Heat (Sauna). Saunas have as long a history as the steam bath. The 2,000-year-old custom has been enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and the North American Indians, although the Finnish version (a country in which there are more saunas than automobiles) is the most popular today.

    The sauna is a high-temperature (160 degree to 200 degree), low humidity (8% to 15%), restorative experience for the body. Its heat produces perspiration, which cleans the skin and liver, stimulates circulation and reduces muscular and nervous tension, as well as heightening mental alertness.
  • Wet Heat (Steam Bath). Steam baths are yet another way to provide a relaxing yet refreshing spa experience. Referred to as “Turkish bathing,” steam baths were reportedly used by Hippocrates (the Father of Medicine) in treatments for fever in 395 B.C. A steam head releases steam into an enclosed space. The moist, high heat invigorates the body’s system and cleanses the skin by opening the pores and flushing out dirt. The normal steam bath lasts for 10 to 20 minutes in an enclosed environment, where the humidity level reaches nearly 100%.

    Designers who combine their space planning expertise with keen knowledge about the physical heath benefits as well as emotional reactions to various water-related therapies will be better able to identify the client’s expectations and then “match” the therapy to the bather. By carefully planning the fixture and surfacing details of the room, the “spa experience” will be as invigorating or relaxing as possible within the limits of the room size and the project budget.

Author’s Note: Bathrooms highlighted in this article are featured in Kasmar Designer Baths, Volume VIII. For more information, go to