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Want to turn your spare bathroom into a spa? Here’s how

There’s more to it than filling your tub

A rustic and dark bathroom with a white standalone tub. Credit: Getty Images / Artjafara

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If there’s anything we need more of these days, it’s “me” time. With everything that has transpired over the past year, our bodies, brains, and spirits are spent.

But, with this rough road has come a renewed focus—creating spaces in our homes that allow for much-needed self-care. More homeowners are looking for ways, both big and small, to create an at-home spa retreat.

Leigh Spicher, national director of Design Studios for Ashton Woods Homes, says, “Today’s culture is a constant grind to go faster and be better, but thankfully this has also brought about a focus on health and wellness so we can be our very best selves.”

As quarantine restrictions have whittled down your houseguest list, you may find that your guest bathroom sits idle. What better spot is there to turn into your own cocoon room? Plus, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.

Francesca Weber, co-owner of Arrow Design in coastal New Jersey, says, “A home spa doesn't have to cost a fortune unless you want it to. If you have a large budget, replace your tub with a hydrotherapy or whirlpool tub and install a rain-head shower feature. If new plumbing is not in your budget, freshening up the paint color to something serene. Changing out the light fixtures to dimmable bulbs will transform the space as well.”

We asked a few experts their tips for creating an at-home spa, from big budget splurges to easy DIY upgrades.

Get moody with lighting and sound

A dangling white light fixture.
Credit: Mistana

Add moody and soft lighting.

TaskRabbit’s lifestyle expert Ariel Rothbard suggests, “Start with swapping bright fluorescent bulbs for softer mood lighting.”

Her rule of thumb: The more dim you go, the more relaxed you’ll be. Install a dimmer switch or fill your light fixtures with dimmable bulbs, such as the programmable and smart phone app-controlled GE Dimmable LED smart light bulbs.

The light fixtures themselves are a place to play, too. Try frosted glass, add a chandelier, or include touches of nature like shells.

If your budget is sky high, harness airy views with an actual skylight to make a bathroom feel like a true retreat. The Marvin Awaken Skylight offers tunable soft LED “natural” lighting for a relaxing soak in the tub to help you wind down from a busy day.

Unfortunately, stillness can be tough to achieve at home, especially if you have a family. Enter the sound machine.

Maureen Stevens, an interior designer who splits her time between New Orleans and Austin, says, “Any [sound machine] of your choice is a great addition.”

She favors the chirping sound of Birdybox. “It almost makes you feel like you’re sitting and relaxing in a garden,” she says.

For less chirping, more relaxing, try drowning out distractions with the Pure Enrichment Doze Sound Machine & Sleep Therapy Light, which also boasts a ray of light to synchronize with your breath, along with six relaxing sounds.

Soothe yourself with some color therapy

The Cricut Joy printer.
Credit: Cricut

The Cricut Joy can print up to 20 feet of continuous Smart Vinyl decals.

As Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis suggests, we seek out connections with nature. This may explain why browns, grays, and greens (the epitome of nature’s harmony) transport us to tranquility.

Boston-based designer Lisa Tharp, says, “Pale, cooler tones are perfect for a spa setting. They inspire tranquility and reconnect us with nature.”

Tharp, who recently launched an eponymous collection of non-toxic and organic paints for Ecos Paints, suggests replacing bright colors with their softer, more complex cousins, muting them with touches of gray to become infinitely more relaxing.

Ethereal blues evoke atmosphere and water, while neutrals with green undertones, recall dappled light filtering through trees. Violet tints encourage meditation and healing.

Tharp says, “Low contrast between wall, millwork, and door colors—or even the same color on all—invites rest.”

Stevens agrees, suggesting, “A soothing wallpaper or mural can take you to a relaxing place or perhaps even recreate the look of your favorite space.”

If you want to take materials into your own hands, try a crafty, DIY approach. The newly released Cricut Joy cuts up to 20 feet of continuous Smart Vinyl decals (think typography of “relax” and “breathe” or soothing patterns) that easily replace expensive wallpaper and borders.

Add depth with flooring

A clean and minimalist bathroom.
Credit: Ashton Woods Homes

Use elements you may find at a boutique hotel in your own home spa.

When it comes to flooring, add visual interest and depth with the use of geometric shapes or luxury vinyl plank flooring.

Spicher says, “Skip typical tile and add a little something special, like you’d find in a boutique hotel with a charming, relaxing spa. This is perfect for baths and adds the extra character of wood flooring. I especially love the mix of natural wood (vinyl) with white wall tile.”

Embrace space-age fixtures

A person takes a shower.
Credit: Moen

Add some aromatherapy to your shower.

From scent-streaming showerheads to sensor-operated faucets, your at-home spa can be as space-age as you please.

Swapping out your single spray showerhead for one with several functions like Waterpik’s PowerPulse Therapeutic Strength Massage shower head is an easy fix.

Or, go a step further with a showerhead that features an essential oil diffuser, like Moen Aromatherapy Combination Shower. This simple indulgence uses aromatherapy capsules to infuse lavender, pine, berries, or tropical essential oils into your shower water.

If you’re budget-conscious, employ Rothbard’s trick. “Hang fresh eucalyptus over your showerhead with rubber bands. “Every time you shower, you’ll be surrounded by this great relaxing scent,” she says.

You can buy fresh eucalyptus online easily, and even as a subscription box.

Consider one larger upgrade

A free-standing tub in a spa.
Credit: Kohler

The Stillness Bath from Koher.

Spicher begs, “Please add a free-standing tub. This is the ultimate luxury and [one] that is being lost. We need this kind of self care in our life right now.”

If money is no object, Kohler’s incredible Stillness bath tub is the ultimate retreat. Its Infinity experience begins with water filling from the bottom of the bath and overflowing into the Hinoki wood moat for a soothing sound. It’s not yet on the market, but when it hits it will cost you between $6,000 and $16,000.

Full-spectrum lighting surrounds the bath to set the mood with chromatherapy. The experience envelopes you in water, light, fog, and aroma. You may never want to leave.

Mix up your metal

The bathroom is also a great place to have fun with finishes.

Spicher says, “What makes a spa-like bath more spa-like and less bland is the use of mixed materials.”

Her suggestion: Don’t match the faucet finish with the lighting. “Add character and depth by mixing brass with matte black and even textures like sisal décor and interesting geometric shapes.”

Don’t forget the finishing touches

A white bath mat and a towel warmer.
Credit: The Company Store / Zadro

Add accents to bring an inherent sense of peace.

Adding smaller elements, like plants or spa accents, to your at-home spa should bring an inherent sense of peace.

Cover your floor in plush mats—we tested and love this one—and keep your towels and robes toasty with a warming device.

Fill your shelves with plants that thrive in humidity, such as Boston ferns, aloe vera, bamboo, and orchids, or invest in a small LED light kit to keep on a shelf in even the darkest of corners.

As you unclutter your mind, be wary of clutter in your room. Spicher says, “Declutter countertops by adding drawers and storage.”

This includes beautiful storage for luxury towels and specialty soaps, such as the Mae in Maine Nook Collection baskets lined with supple cork from Portugal.

And, like any spa worth its bath salt, you’ll need candles. There’s simply nothing more soothing than this simple addition. We like Remix’s Abundance Magic Candle and the Chiji Pure Love crystal energy candle.

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