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1: Reflections on bathing (mostly)

Summer has arrived, after the stormiest of springs. As the world swirls tumultuously around us, I’ve also been thinking about the calm, the respite, the interlude of reflection that bathing can inspire. As designers, we have an opportunity to elevate this experience. I’d like to take you on a detour to my largest bathing experience ever.

Vals, Graubünden, Switzerland, 2019

We have traveled to Vals to experience the thermal baths designed by one of my favorite architects, Peter Zumthor. We arrive at the end of the afternoon and eagerly wait for the baths to open for us at 11 pm. The baths are municipal, for the people of the town. Guests at our hotel are able to enjoy them late at night and early in the morning. At the appointed hour, the hotel is full of guests wearing robes, all heading to the baths. As we enter, we are reminded that talking is not permitted inside.

bathing

The baths are completely built from thick slabs of local quartzite. The walls above us and the walls below the water are continuous stone, so the water is almost one with the architecture. Everywhere is stone: it feels like a cave, and it sounds like a cave. My experience is intensified by the quiet—the only sounds are “watery.” The baths are actually a succession of dimly lit pools of varying temperatures, shapes, and sizes.

My friend and I exchange wide eyes of wonderment each time we meet up in one of the pools. It’s fluid, it’s light, it’s magical. Our experience is one of discovery. We wade through a channel that leads us to the large outer pool … where we discover the dramatic nighttime silhouette of the Alps. Everyone shows such respect for the experience, using mute communication to share their wonderment. People are pointing, and raising their eyebrows, and nodding with their chins.

When the baths close for the night, my friend and I go to our rooms. We can’t wait to get up in several hours, to “spa” again in the morning. Vals is 5,879 miles from San Francisco, but the summer of 2019 seems much farther away. My experience in those pools was spiritual and powerful, and has become part of my design ethos around “bathing rooms.”

At Stone Interiors, we create ways to elevate your experience in any room. In a bathroom, where there are functional requirements, there is still so much room to make a place for connecting with the beauty and restorative powers of bathing, whether you are a soaking tub devoté or an outdoor shower aficionado. Perhaps you will be the primary user, or perhaps it’s a bathroom for two (double sinks are not the only option!), or perhaps it’s shared by five houseguests. Any bathroom holds the potential for functional superbness and unexpected delight. 

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