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Building An Outdoor Bathroom: Using Your Landscaping To Create A Decadent Spa Bath

One of the simplest tricks to creating a relaxing spa style bathroom is to incorporate natural elements into the design. That can be anything from unfinished wood surfaces to a nice view or even potted plants or cut flowers; bringing in any kind of natural element can help make it feel like you’re getting back in touch with nature, which is a big part of what spa-inspired spaces are all about. But the best spaces go a step further, actually connecting the indoor bathroom with the landscaping outside, or even putting part of the bathroom outdoors.

Having access to an outdoor space is the first step toward converting a bathroom with a view into an outdoor bathroom (by CTA Architects Engineers, Audrey Hall)
Having access to an outdoor space is the first step toward converting a bathroom with a view into an outdoor bathroom (by CTA Architects Engineers, Audrey Hall)

I’ll say up front, outdoor bathrooms aren’t for the faint of heart; they feel very open (which is sort of the point), but for some that can mean feeling exposed, which isn’t quite so relaxing. And regardless of where you live, there are going to be days where bathing outside won’t exactly be a pleasant experience. So it’s important to design an indoor/outdoor bathroom to match your outdoor space, your need for privacy, and the climate you live in. The most conservative way is to simply install a sliding glass door and treat the area outside your bathroom as a sort of patio. Positioning a tub in front of the door will give you the best views year round, and allow you to open the bathroom up in nice weather and let in a little air to enjoy while you bathe.

Folding windows or removable glass walls are great for climates with at least one warm, dry season, and allow you to keep your bathroom entirely open without actually putting any fixtures outside (Willman Interiors / Gina Willman, ASID, photo by Linny Morris)
Folding windows or removable glass walls are great for climates with at least one warm, dry season, and allow you to keep your bathroom entirely open without actually putting any fixtures outside (Willman Interiors / Gina Willman, ASID, photo by Linny Morris)

French doors, shoji doors, and plain glass sliding doors all offer protection from the elements and varying degrees of privacy, but they also block the view, and typically can’t be completely moved out of the way. Folding glass walls, on the other hand, can be moved completely out of the way (or even removed entirely), offering an uninterrupted view of your nature space, and truly blending the indoor and outdoor areas by essentially removing the exterior wall. These are an especially good option if you live in a mild climate, where the bathroom can be left completely open for most of the year and you don’t need to worry about rainwater crossing between the two spaces.

Outdoor showers are both fun and functional, not to mention relatively easy to install (by Slifer Designs, photo by Matthew Millman)
Outdoor showers are both fun and functional, not to mention relatively easy to install (by Slifer Designs, photo by Matthew Millman)

But to really get an outdoor bathroom, at least part of the bathroom has to actually be outside. That isn’t quite as weird as it might seem – outdoor showers are actually pretty common, both in public places like beaches, as well as near pools, hotels, or resorts. Of course, if you want to use them for regular bathing, you’ll want a little more privacy than a shower on the edge of a beach boardwalk, but the idea is the same: run the plumbing outside, and install the shower head near a surface that drains well. Effectively, this will turn your entire garden area into a big, open shower stall, letting you enjoy a shower under the open sky when you want one.

Outdoor bathtubs are a bit more complicated to install, but provide an incredibly decadent, relaxing experience (by ZAK Architecture)
Outdoor bathtubs are a bit more complicated to install, but provide an incredibly decadent, relaxing experience (by ZAK Architecture)

Similarly, you can put just your bathtub outside. This is the natural opposite of an outdoor shower. Where outdoor showers are relatively simple to install, outdoor bathtubs require a little more care and planning. Bathtubs will catch dust, leaves, and debris (not to mention rain and snow) if they aren’t covered, and definitely need a fixed drain, where outdoor showers can sometimes get away with an existing storm drain. At the same time, though, having a bathtub outside makes more sense in many ways. Because most people shower regularly and treat baths as a special occasion, it makes sense to keep the shower inside and use a large, decorative soaking tub as your special spot to indulge, unwind, and relax. This also minimizes the chance that you’ll be stuck without a place to bathe in inclement weather, and is also a bit more private, since you’ll be soaking in the tub rather than standing out in the open under the shower.

Full outdoor bathroom suites are rare, but in the right cliamte, they can be a real treat (by John Lum Architecture, Inc. AIA)
Full outdoor bathroom suites are rare, but in the right cliamte, they can be a real treat (by John Lum Architecture, Inc. AIA)

In all but the most mild, temperate climates, it’s rare to find a truly open air outdoor bathroom. Almost always at least the toilet and bathroom vanity are kept inside for privacy, ease of access, and simple practicality. But it’s not unheard of for the bathtub and shower to both be installed outside. The bathroom above is a great example of how to do this effectively. Located on a second story balcony, the walls are designed to maximize privacy while minimizing the interruption of the view. The shower feeds into a drain located beneath the deck, and the soaking tub is designed like a hot tub, with folding cover to keep out messes. The small walkway provides easy access to the master suite (and the rest of the bathroom), creating a perfect, sensual getaway that’s open and inviting from the inside, but almost totally hidden from the outside.

Even if you can't actually connect your bathroom with your outdoor spaces, try to make the most of the view (by Butler-Johnson Corporation)
Even if you can’t actually connect your bathroom with your outdoor spaces, try to make the most of the view (by Butler-Johnson Corporation)

Of course, if you live somewhere cold, building any kind of outdoor bathroom is pretty impractical, if not outright impossible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your outdoor landscaping an integral part of your bathroom design. The shower above looks out on a private garden, and though the large glass window doesn’t provide access to the yard, it puts the landscaping front and center in the design of the bathroom itself, letting the plants beyond lend a fresh color to the simple, composite stone material of the shower itself.

Privacy will always be a major consideration when planning a design like this, but if you have a beautiful outdoor space adjacent to your bathroom, it’s worth at least trying to incorporate it into your design. But what do you think? Do you love the lush, relaxing vibe of an outdoor bathroom, or are you the type to keep your curtains shut? Let me know in the comments below!