The Great Disappearing Act Of The Hotel Shower Door

Frequent travelers may have noticed a new trend that has been appearing in hotels throughout the country recently. What began overseas during the 80s is now a widespread staple of high-end and luxurious hotels worldwide. Namely, the disappearing hotel shower door. While hotel bathroom showers traditionally include a partition, it is now common to find a shower with a half curve of glass only, or simply a shower head and drain open to the rest of the room. For patrons, the trend may seem bewildering, or downright infuriating, but the days of a shower curtain or door are clearly long gone. 

It has been said that the half-door, or no doors, concept serves a handful of purposes that would otherwise not exist with a full partition. Some of these reasons include the illusion of a larger room. Without a shower curtain or door, the room instantly becomes brighter and a bit more spacious as guests are able to scope out the entire space at first glance. It also provides easy cleanup for housekeeping. Shower curtains, especially cloth curtains, are more likely to trap bacteria than shower glass. Frameless shower doors offer less chance of mold build-up and are easier to clean, something to consider as the travel industry begins to slowly reopen.

Darrell Long, Design Principal and Regional Managing Director at Wilson Associates recently provided his expert opinions.

1.   When did this trend begin in the US?

In the United States, it wasn’t until approximately ten years ago that the idea was implemented. The origins were profoundly entrenched in the boutique hotel market. The implementation was more of a cool factor and less of a necessity. And in most situations and circumstances, the first generation of open bathrooms in the U.S. was not thoughtfully designed and, in most conditions, grotesquely under-performed. 

I believe the word trend may not be applicable in the case of when the movement of open bathroom-types started. I’m not quite sure if we can track the actual lineage of the open bathroom origins; some will argue Europe, while others will say Japan. Personally, I’m on the Japanese side of the debate. Ancient Japanese residential design includes communal treatment of circulation—the roots of modernism. The design philosophy of dense-to-transparent is wholly applicable to this conversation. It is the antithesis of maximizing programmatic ideas and spatial allocation; it was simultaneous form and function. 

2.   Why did it take so long to move from Europe to here?

Concerning the U.S. implementing a more open bathroom design philosophy many years after our European counterparts, well, it is quite simple—Europe did it out of aesthetics. The U.S. did it out of necessity. It’s important to note, though, the MENA and Asian markets are not as kind to the idea as the West. Tradition and privacy demand a different level of importance and hierarchy in the overall function of the design. 

3.   Other than illusion of a larger room and easier clean-up, are there other advantages of the no shower door design?

Function. Form follows function. In the U.S., mostly with respect to standard guestrooms, as we design open bathrooms that beautifully expose the vanity overall bathroom, we in-concert have to be aware of innate privacy issues. We will always place a door in the water closet, but the shower stalls are a different story. The average shower footprint is three feet by three feet. A door is necessary and expensive under this size condition. But, when we are able, mostly in guest suites, to enlarge the shower beyond five feet wide, we do encourage just a plane of vertical glass two feet wide perpendicular to the showerhead wall with a minimal curb to maximize water retention. Again, this saves the cost of a door system and provides a “more open” aesthetic. 

4.   What keeps all of the water in the shower basin without any residue spilling onto the floor? 

In the earlier years, nothing kept water in the shower basin so the function played second fiddle to the form. The result was “let’s treat the whole bathroom as a shower” so doors and curbs were not considered in water retention. Conceptually, the open-shower concept was a great idea that spoke more to marketing and less to operation or housekeeping. Today, we utilize 2-inch floor curbs to mitigate water spillage and vertical glazing to mitigate shower over-spray onto the bathroom floor. 

5.   What feedback have you received from resorts and hotels that have moved in this direction?

The feedback over the years has been both ambiguous and polarizing. About 10 years ago, it was considered too “risqué” and overtly sexualized for hotels. The ones that enjoyed this design idea were marketed under the same risqué condition, and it worked! Today, if we employ the theoretical equation that “brilliance plus time equals complacency,” we are left with a more widely acceptable design idea and solution. It has almost become the norm.  

6.   Do you foresee any other notable hotel design trends?

Regarding trends, particularly related to the reduction and maximization of physical guestroom floor-space in the U.S. market, the visual illusions will need to be expounded with a watchfully creative eye. The legacy items that we have always designed in rooms will be reduced, or overall omitted (large closets, desks, etc.) and replaced with more functionally decorative design elements that people actually use.

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