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December 2016

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Design Trends & Tips - Spa Retreat Bathrooms

Spa Retreat Bathrooms

Is your bathroom looking a little cluttered lately? Are you in desperate need of an in-home retreat? Sounds like it's time to transform your blah bathroom into a serene spa.

Yes, a spa. A clean-lined, clutter-free, completely calming atmosphere that acts as your own personal sanctuary and getaway.

Scroll down to learn about soothing colors, natural textures & materials, decadent decor, soft lighting, and more, all focused on adding relaxation to your home.

The key to creating a soothing space, according to Susan Fredman Design Group, is to create a full body experience versus just getting clean - an aesthetically pleasing space but still extremely functional. Here's how you can be on your way to stepping into your own soothing space.

All bathroom images courtesy of Susan Fredman & Associates, photographed by Nick Novelli of Novelli Photodesign.

Bathroom designed by Ruth Mortensen of Susan Fredman Design Group.

Clear Out the Clutter

First things first - clear out the clutter. You'll never see a spa with countless bottles and products scattered on the surfaces. Making your space organized and having a place for everything will lessen your anxiety and create an instant calming effect.

When organizing your items, look for high quality countertop containers that will enhance and complement your space. Glass is quite popular, though you can also go with ceramics and color as well.

Clutter-free countertops


  • One way to clear clutter, says SF&A, is to create different "zones" for the various bathroom functions. For example, designate one zone to makeup, another to bathing, etc.

  • Rather than having towels tossed anywhere, roll them up, secure each with a ribbon and place them standing up in a basket by the bathtub. The presentation is chic and the location is practical.

  • Clear, frosted glass containers will help disguise your necessities while adding a touch of elegance and sophistication.

  • If you're unsure which kind of containers to use, choose ones that match your finish/fixtures.

  • If you'd rather skip purchasing new containers, store products with non-removable labels in drawers. For the other (few) products you'd like to leave out, remove the labels completely for a sleeker look.

    Use Calming Colors

    Most spas choose colors such as warm neutrals around which they'll base their decor. Why? "These colors are very restful," explains Michelle Quaranta-Herzog, Chicago's color expert and owner of Colori paint boutique in Bucktown. "Browns are very earthy and make us feel safe while whites are clean, fresh and pure."

    If earthy isn't your thing, stick with soothing pastels in your spa bathroom. Using primary colors - which can be beautifully vibrant - is much more energizing. Though exciting, this isn't the effect you want in a calming retreat.


  • In bathrooms, especially where you apply your makeup, Quaranta-Herzog recommends using colors that complement your skin - flattering yellow-pink-blue undertones. Hold a paint chip next to your face to choose a color that best suits you.

  • When painting with different colors, choose similar tones. This will enhance the harmony in the space, whereas too-different colors can have an incoherent - and hence unsettling - effect.

  • If you'd like to break away from traditional blue, Quaranta-Herzog likes using wonderfully calm and relaxing green. Not only is it emotionally balancing, but its elements also connect us to nature.

  • While red is certainly a hot color, there's a reason you won't see it in spas. Red is the color with the longest wavelength and shortest frequency, so it is very intense and stimulating rather than relaxing. Don't do it.

    The color combination above was hand picked by Quaranta-Herzog and is available at Colori. Click here to see more of her C2 picks.

    Nurture with Nature

    There are few visions more calming than a gentle babbling brook in the middle of some breezy woods, or a secluded stretch of white sand with mild waves creeping up the shore. It's no secret that nature often helps bring us to a contemplative place of peace.

    Bringing nature into your bathroom will help restore your sense of serenity. Flooring, furniture, fixtures and decor can all be reminiscent of nature through the use of deep, rich woods, natural stones such as granite and beautiful bamboo, which all add interest, color and texture to an area.

    Above: Bathroom by Susan Fredman Design Group, with stained warm cherry cabinets and large limestone tile foor


  • Incorporate a variety of textures in the space. The designers at Susan Fredman Design Group recommend stone, exotic woods, tumbled marble and limestone of varying textures and finishes.

  • Have white cabinets? Create a paneling effect with your choice of material by cutting it into rectangles and stapling (or nailing) it to the cabinets. To hide those unattractive slits of silver, glue 1/2 round molding around the perimeter of the rectangle, resulting in a beautiful - and functional - border.

  • If you're partial to hardwood floors, remember that they tend to expand and contract with temperature and humidity. A nice compromise is to go with laminate wood, which won't absorb nearly as much water.

  • If you're in love with your spa's ceramic tile, keep in mind that you'll want to stick with a neutral color and pay attention to your wall colors. Dark walls will look better with lighter flooring, lighter walls with darker flooring.

    Go Green

    If you're looking for a slightly simpler way to recall nature (and even if you're not), increase the green with the inclusion of plants, both large and small, spread throughout the space.

    In addition to brightening up any room, indoor plants contribute to making a space healthier with their oxygen-releasing function. Some plants, such as the bamboo palm, can even reduce the level of airborne VOC (volatile organic compounds).


  • Don't be afraid to be exotic. Bathrooms are perfect places for plants that are typically hard to keep alive because they require such humidity. Try bonsai trees and tropical plants to add a unique, exotic element to the space.

  • Traditionalists should stick with white lilies - they'll match any decor and are both simple and gorgeous.

  • Love low maintenance? Try the lily family's aspidistra (cast iron plant), the attractive Boston fern, the common pothos - also known as devil's ivy, the cascading heart-leafed philodendron or the ever popular orchid (note: orchids do best with more light).

  • When it comes to placement, try to protect your plants from the shower spray and direct streams of water, as this can damage their leaves.

    Soften the Lighting

    Bright lighting is too jarring to have in a relaxing haven. Globe-shaped vanity bulbs, while common, definitely fall into this category. Instead, you'll want to look for softer lighting and tons of natural light (think skylights), if possible.

    And what would a spa experience be without candles? Mix and match large with small, and take comfort knowing that candlelight flatters every skin tone.


  • To easily adjust your lighting, change to a softer bulb, such as halogen. Halogen bulbs produce a wide color spectrum which allows the true colors of natural materials to glow.

  • If you're able to undertake a slightly more involved project, get a dimmer for the bathroom. This way, you can adjust the lighting based on your every whim and mood.

  • If your bathroom has little to no natural light and connects to a bedroom, consider replacing the door with one made of frosted glass. You'll still have privacy, but it will allow the bedroom's natural light to brighten up the bathroom.

  • Don't neglect the bath! SF&A suggests installing LED lighting in whirlpools. Not only will this create a mood-enhancing effect & emit ambiance, it is also quite a romantic addition to the space.

    Heated Haven

    Warm pockets of soothing steam, towels that feel like they just came out of the dryer, floors that keep your toes toasty - these are all things that you can (and should) bring into your in-home retreat.

    Don't worry about stepping out of a hot shower and being shocked back to reality by the bursts of cold air circulating beyond the shower door. Don't feel obligated to wear slippers to avoid freezing floors. Make a change by keeping your bathroom warm and cozy.

    Above: Steam shower


  • Invest in some towel warmers, says SF&A. There are several kinds - wall mount, free standing, warming drawer - so you're sure to find something to suit your structure, layout and preference.

  • Install radiant heated floors; they are energy efficient and take the comfort factor to an entirely new level.

  • Put steam units into the shower itself, keeping the heat from dissipating into oblivion while you bathe. And while you're at it, SF&A suggests adding a radiant heated seat bench in shower to encourage more relaxation.

  • To truly create a warm living space, consider putting a fireplace - yes, a fireplace - in your bathroom, as SF&A has done. This lends an inviting element to the space while it provides additional heat and pleasing visuals.

    Finishing Touches

    In addition to candles, don't forget about the little finishing touches that can complete the calming effect. Use these tips to pull it all together.


  • Add upholstered furniture in the bathroom, says SF&A, which will create a trendy, even more inviting place to relax, blurring the lines between bathroom and living room.

  • Spas don't just appeal to your sight and touch; they also soothe you with sounds. Keep a CD player hidden in your bathroom - in a wooden box perhaps - and play a calming CD whenever you dip into a relaxing bath.

  • Delight your sense of smell with sweet smelling products and aromatherapy. Note that soft scents like lavender are typically calming while scents like peppermint will invigorate.
    Get it in Chicago: Findables has the Thymes bath products in scents such as sensual Kimono Rose.

  • Get oversize shower heads. Rain showerheads are extremely popular, according to SF&A, and will create a waterfall effect so you feel as though you are truly in an oasis.

  • Take it a step further by installing multiple body sprays/showerheads for a full body experience - this also turns the bath into multipurpose space, a place to bathe the kids, wash the dog, etc.

  • Treat your toes to plush texture by investing in a luxurious rug for your bathroom. Flokati rugs are handwoven Greek rugs with a shaggy, thick wool pile, and they make wonderfully luxurious additions to any area.

  • Indulge with true luxury linens. If you want to go one step further than looking for large, fluffy towels, consider an oversized bath sheet. It is a more luxurious size and you'll really be able to wrap yourself in it.

    Michelle Quaranta-Herzog's Calming Color Combos

    The C2 Palette of 496 colors is beautiful, refined and unmatched in complexity and subtlety. It was created by a team of expert designers, colorists and paint professionals, one color at a time.

    To view the complete C2 Color Collection, available at Colori, visit Colori online.

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  • Susan Fredman Design Group - Milwaukee

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