The wellness factor

Sophie Weston at Geberit explains the role that architects and designers can play in improving wellbeing, by helping create a sensory ‘sanctuary’ in the bathroom

Wellbeing. We all know what it is – but just how many of us truly achieve it? When Geberit recently commissioned some research to establish the impact of wellbeing in the home, we found that three quarters of respondents had felt so stressed within the last 12 months they were simply unable to cope – and the problem was only made worse by the same number telling us that they struggled to find the time to relax. When we consider, too, that we now spend 90 per cent of our lives indoors, then this space will naturally have a dramatic impact on our wellbeing.

This is where design comes in. Good design is increasingly less about the aesthetics and more about the impact that the space has on our lives, and adopting a multi-sensory approach and considering how we can improve both mental and physical wellbeing. And, with our research telling us that the most popular place of refuge for homeowners was the bathroom, there is a real opportunity for designers to create bathroom spaces that offer moments of tranquillity and escape in this otherwise hectic world.

Finding the formula for space

Bathrooms, often harsh and sterile places with poor acoustics and cold surfaces, can easily be transformed into softer and more sensory places of recuperation.

Typically, the main areas of focus within bathroom design include materials, textures, colours and patterns. However, there are other aspects that also warrant consideration. To do this, designers must first understand the four key senses; auditory (sound), visual (sight), kinaesthetic (touch) and olfactory (small) and the impact that these have upon wellbeing.

Establishing a sensory space

Let’s start by looking at the visual sense and the impact that lighting has on us – in particular preserving the sanctuary of sleep. Preventing overstimulation of this sense can be achieved through opting for automatic lights that cast soft light onto features such as smart shower toilets and cisterns featuring orientation lights that guide users around the bathroom space.

Consider, too, auditory – an extremely powerful sense and one that is constantly working to decipher information. Our ears work even when we’re asleep, with the brain continuing to process the sounds it detects, albeit in a different way. And when we are awake, we need to consider the impact that irritating sounds could have on our mental wellbeing – a dripping tap or traffic noise, for example.

Managing the acoustics within a bathroom is key, and there are several ways to ensure noise is contained within a space, both inside the room and behind the scenes.

Often overlooked, scent, which is processed in the olfactory cortex of the brain’s limbic system, has a strong effect on our experiences. Naturally, this can have a negative effect in the washroom. Lavatory odours are generally dealt with by masking unpleasant smells with harsh chemical sprays. The latest thinking in odour extraction technology takes a more innovative approach, filtering the air within the space to neutralise unwanted odours, with the technology integrated seamlessly into the washroom solutions and, therefore, in a way that’s unobtrusive to the design.

Finally, a deeper understanding of the importance of touch has allowed bathroom designers and manufacturers to adapt and embrace the ways in which we interact with our spaces and the technology within them. From heated toilet seats and remote controls to hygienic, presence-detecting flush mechanisms and no-touch taps, many bathroom features are becoming even more user-friendly and tactile.

Creating a sanctuary

Architects and designers have the perfect opportunity to deliver washroom solutions that provide an antidote to our ‘always-on’ society and a shot in the arm for our health and wellbeing. With a greater societal focus on how we can help combat the stresses of modern life, good design in the bathroom or space could be the key to unlocking better lives. And it is critical for architects and designers to be aware of this opportunity.

Sophie Weston is channel marketing manager at Geberit