Why do hip hotels think their guests no longer want bathroom privacy?

Exhibitionists only.
Exhibitionists only.
Image: Reuters/Bob Strong
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If you’ve been in a high-end hotel room recently, you may have found yourself wondering: Where has all the privacy gone?

The trend of “open plan” or “deconstructed” bathrooms is not quite new—The Standard hotel was an early progenitor. But the popularity of transparent shower doors visible from the bed and freestanding tubs in the middle of the room seems to have reached a fever pitch, with both boutique hotels and big brands alike increasingly integrating the concept into their properties.

This may make sense for a romantic couple’s weekend away—provided, you know, you’re into watching your paramour bathe. But couples aren’t the only people who travel together, and there are litany of scenarios for which this set-up is completely inappropriate.

Sharing a hotel room with your father, your teenaged kids, your friend, or even a colleague means that bathing exhibitionism becomes less sexy and more unbearably awkward verging on untenable. So why on earth do hotels think we want this?

Mike Suomi is the principal and vice president of interior design at New York-based firm Stonehill Taylor, which counts brands like Hyatt and Hilton among its clients as well as boutique properties such as the Nomad Hotel and the Refinery Hotel. He says the trend is driven by a number of factors, including hinting at a spa-like atmosphere to enhance the guest experience. But primarily, he says, opening up the bathroom to the rest of the room creates the illusion of more space.

“The hotel guest room itself across the board has been shrinking in overall size footprint,” Suomi told Quartz. “Travelers today seem to require less and less space than an older generation expected. With less square footage, [opening up the bathroom] is one strategy for making the room feel bigger than it really is.”

Suomi notes that another thing which has changed is hotel owners’ knowledge about who their guests are. With many hotels finding that the majority of their guests Monday to Friday are single business travelers, the open-plan bathroom setup is a suitable option for creating more space.

There is also a bit of nostalgia in the mix, as hotels look for ways to make staying in a high-end property feel more novel and luxurious. (They have to compete with Airbnb somehow.) “It goes back to a time a long time ago when atelier apartments had bathtubs in the kitchen where you’d fill them with hot water,” Suomi said. “At the Nomad Hotel, the most popular rooms are the atelier rooms, where there is the toilet and the small sink in one enclosed compartment and then on the other side there is a bigger vanity, and a giant free standing tub that’s completely in the bedroom.”

While the trend itself may be based on sound design principles, the problem more often arises in the implementation of it, Suomi says. If hotels want to make everyone happy, they either need to have alternative rooms available or implement clever screens, shades, or LCD glass functions so guests can have it both ways.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of traveler you are,” Suomi says. “If you don’t like something in the guest room, you have the right to get another room that is given to you at the same price.”