Why is it that when we're in the shower or blow drying our hair we hit upon a great idea? What is it about the bathroom that allows us to free our minds? And what does that mean in terms of how we should think about bathroom design?
First, we should consider what research tells us. It turns out that when we do monotonous things, things that are repetitive or mundane and don't require much attention or mental focus, it relaxes the prefrontal cortex. It turns out that the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s center for decisions, goals, and behavior. Meaning we relax the part of the brain that, usually, spends it's time tracking, focusing and working on big ideas and decisions.
Further, and counterintuitively, our brains are most active when we are not focused on a specific task. When we let our brain wander is actually when it revs up and allow us to come up with that brilliant idea or solution to that problem that's been bothering us. And it's why these ideas seem to often "come out of nowhere."
Second, bathrooms are often the only space outside of our cars when we might actually be alone all day. And cars occupy a sort of public/private space and one which is (hopefully) occupied by our active attention on the act of driving. Meaning bathrooms are often a singularly quiet and private space in our lives. Therefore it's often a place where we, knowingly or not, relax. And when we relax, our brains release dopamine, that happy-making neurotransmitter. So now: we're alone, in a private space, relaxed and our brains are lubed up with a bit of dopamine.
The last bit on the research front is that there's also a correlation between the time of day we're often in the shower or drying our hair. It's usually either first thing in the morning or at night. Both times of the day when we're most tired. According to a study published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning, when we're tired is often when our brain allows us to be the most creative.
Now, why is an interior design firm writing about this? Fair question, so let's turn to the topic at hand...
All of this means that bathrooms, often viewed through a merely functional lens, deserve consideration for the potentially meaningful role they play in our mental lives. Knowing this we might suggest the following considerations for your bathroom (or perhaps for your bathroom remodeling plans):
The technology for installing underfloor heat has developed tremendously in recent years. It’s now much thinner and can be installed either as a standalone electric system or tied into your home’s boiler based water heat system. Underfloor heat offers a deeply satisfying warmth which radiates up through warm tiles under your bare feet. There are few better ways to start your morning and let your mind wander.
Well Designed Lighting on Dimmers
Lighting in bathrooms has to support a handful of different needs. First, there is task lighting for over the vanity/sink areas which allows you great vision during preparations for your day. Likewise in your shower where shaving your legs requires good light. And last is general lighting to illuminate the overall space. We recommend that all three of these functions be on separate switches and, most importantly, all on dimmers so that you can dial things way down for a relaxing bath or deep think in the shower. Or pump it all up for detailed work in the mirror.
Rugs underfoot to soften the space
Wall to wall carpet in bathrooms was a design trend in the 70’s and 80’s but now it’s met with a raised eyebrow, “won’t it just always be wet?” Or “yuck, how does it ever get clean?!” That said, there is something very inviting and relaxing to a soft rug underfoot. It’s not only nice to walk on, but also absorbs sounds from bouncing around on all the hard surfaces. Plus with a rug, you can roll it up and drop it at the cleaners if you occasional want a hygiene reset. We love small vintage rugs as a way to ground a bathroom design.
Plants In or Out of Your Shower
Plants are a lovely touch in a bathroom. They pump out oxygen. And offer a pop of organic shapes to break up the hard lines. If your shower is large enough having a ceramic planter in a corner with a collection of succulents adds an amazing spa touch to your everyday clean up. In fact, my mother used to populate her bathroom with orchids which love the wet, warm tropical air of a steamy shower.
Every bathroom needs a mirror. Every bathroom does not need a wall of mirror. We’d encourage you to rethink your mirror needs. If the whole notion of bathroom design is to balance the functional needs while also creating a relaxing space, and we don’t know about you, but combining the space where we find ourselves naked with a full built-in wall of mirror above the sink does not necessarily spell: r-e-l-a-x. Consider placing a brass or nickel framed mirror over each sink to allow the needed mirror space to do what’s needed, but not turn your bathroom into a dance studio.
Instant Hot Water
Not sure if you’re with us on this one, but nothing harshes our mellow like washing your face with cold water. Second to that is standing around waiting forever for the water in your bathroom sink to get warm. Not to mention the guilt of wasting gallon after gallon of water waiting for it to warm up. Consider installing in your bathroom a small tankless hot water heater, also known as a point-of-use water heater, for instant access to a warm face wash.
As with lighting, when you add in-wall/ceiling speakers or just mount a Sonos speaker in your bathroom you suddenly have the ability change the mood at any time. Crank up your morning with a little dance party in the shower. Or slow things down for a mellow Friday night bubble bath.
The Right Bathtub
Maybe it’s because we, Jordan and Lindy, the co-founders of Westward Foundry, are tall, but we’ll end with this idea: bathtubs come in different sizes for a reason. Yes, often the size of a tub is driven by the requirements or limitations of the space available. But make sure you think through you and your families needs when you're picking out your new bathtub. Is it long enough for the tallest member of your family? Is it deep enough for you to enjoy a good soak? How many kiddos might you need to soap up on bath night?
All in all the point is: we often think great thoughts while we’re in the shower or the bath or simply going through the monotonous process of getting ready for bed because we are relaxed and letting our brain work on other ideas. The ideas above might help you create a more relaxing bathroom and spark that next great idea!