A great deal has been written about the impact of the pandemic in relation to wellbeing. Last spring, the Office for National Statistics reported that over a third (37.4%) of adults said that the pandemic had affected their wellbeing. The same report found that the number of people reporting high anxiety levels rose sharply during April and May.
But, 18 months and several lockdowns later, it looks as though homeowners have made changes in their lifestyle as a direct result of the pandemic. Our YouGov poll of 2000 adults across the UK found that more than half (51%) of respondents reported improving their self-care routine. Exercising more (21%) was the most popular lifestyle change, with almost one in five (18%) also reporting changes in their diet and getting more sleep.
To understand how all this may alter our interaction with the spaces in the home, let’s look at how we’re now using those ‘public’ areas of a property.
Families are increasingly adopting zoned living areas, segregating space for work and play. John Lewis’ Flexible Living Report 2020 found that one in five people had reconfigured their open-plan space, observing that: “….Although sparked by urgent needs in the midst of the pandemic, this new perspective on a modular, flexible approach to living within our own four walls, is here to stay”.
Indeed, our own poll indicates that we may be shifting towards these more private spaces within the home, with half of our respondents entertaining at home less than they were before the pandemic.
It seems that, together with our greater understanding of wellbeing, our homes have now become the ultimate sanctuary and haven away from the outside world.
In its report, John Lewis also found that one in five respondents voiced the need to have a space where they could spend time alone. And that most private space of all – the bathroom – could hold the key to offering a place of sanctuary and respite within the home.
When it comes to bathroom design, the reality is that bathrooms are often viewed as functional spaces. But, with this growing emphasis and awareness of mental health and wellbeing, architects must now unlock opportunities by considering how to transform the humble bathroom into a modern-day sanctuary. And to do this, we must design for the four key senses.
Sound of silence
Let’s start with auditory. Our ears work even when we’re asleep – and when we are awake, we need to consider the impact seemingly mundane sounds could have on our mental wellbeing.
In fact, as we discovered in our 2021 whitepaper on the importance of acoustic design in the home, one in four adults (28%) were regularly disturbed by bathroom sounds at night or when trying to relax. One in five (19%) were periodically disturbed by flushing toilets, running taps, pipes and drains.
Therefore, managing the acoustics within a bathroom is crucial, and there are several ways to ensure noise is contained within a space. Sound-optimised drainage can reduce noise transfer from washbasins or showers; likewise, wall-hung toilets with concealed cisterns and pre-wall frames decouple from the construction and prevent noise from travelling down the wall, through the floor.
The eyes have it
When it comes to the visual sense, colour in the washroom can have a profound influence on how we view the space. The psychology of colour is an essential reference point here. White, for instance, brings a sense of cleanliness and purity, while green references nature and is associated with balance and healing. On the other hand, red is more dynamic and energetic, with blue perceived as more calming.
Meanwhile, opting for natural materials like wood, slate and stone over high-gloss within the space will bring warmth and comfort to the washroom. This can be incorporated in simple accessories, such as flush plate colours and finishes.
A deep understanding of the importance of touch has allowed bathroom designers and manufacturers to adapt and embrace how we interact with our spaces and the technology within them.
We can awaken the kinesthetic sense by incorporating textures into bathroom design; again, you can achieve this by opting for materials such as rustic wood or slate for surfaces and flush plates. And, of course, touchless innovations, such as infrared WC flush controls, continue to be popular in the bathroom.
Often overlooked, scent has a strong effect on our experiences because it’s processed in the olfactory cortex of the brain’s limbic system. It goes without saying that this can sometimes have a negative effect in the washroom.
Lavatory odours are generally dealt with by masking the unpleasant smell with a scented spray. The latest thinking in odour extraction technology by manufacturers takes a more innovative approach. For example, the new Geberit odour extraction unit can be installed in all concealed cisterns from the Sigma range and filters the air within the room to neutralise any unwanted odours.
A complete sanctuary
How we view and use our homes has changed forever. The FT noted earlier this year that:
As homeowners become ever more aware of wellbeing, we must understand how the washroom can provide the ultimate place of escape in the home. This means moving away from creating just ‘bathrooms’ to thinking about how good design can elevate this space by considering the potential for wellbeing.