How a Designer Builds Wellness into the Bathroom
Designing for wellness means creating spaces that contribute to physical and mental health and well-being. Our living spaces can be transformed using lighting, materials and décor to enhance a connection to nature, insulate from disruptive stimulation like noise and pollutants and provide access to healthier routines. Denise McGaha of Dallas-based Denise McGaha Interiors is an expert interior designer who helps her clients incorporate wellness seamlessly into luxurious, custom designs.
“We are working on bringing health and wellness into every project we work on,” McGaha told Interior Design editor-in-chief Cindy Allen in an interview for DesignTV. “It’s important for our clients to have a private respite that they can use any time of day or night.”
In Texas, McGaha said they tend to have large projects. Homeowners often plan to use the extensive square footage for amenities such as a home gym and spa, housing the wellness components of their home in a basement or third level. However, in recent years, McGaha has noticed a shift in which her clients are now more interested in adding those spa features to their everyday master bathroom suggesting a trend toward an increasing integration of healthy lifestyles into home design.
McGaha has personal experience with this emerging wellness trend stemming from her own master bath renovation in 2019. She took the room down to the studs, designing a totally new floor plan with enhanced amenities and decor, ultimately transforming the space from a dark, cramped bathroom into a light, bright, creative room in the home that “just happens to be used for bathing.” From both her experience with clients and in her own renovation, McGaha spoke about designing the bathroom with wellness in mind, emphasizing the importance of her MrSteam steam shower health benefits, the diffusion of light, balanced color and material and more factors for creating a joyful, relaxing space for daily use.
Create clean lines for a calming disposition.
McGaha’s original master bathroom had an enclosed walk-in shower that felt dark, cramped and never warm enough. Because it was enclosed, the shower blocked light, making the bathroom feel smaller. To remedy the design problem as well as fulfill her desire for a soaking tub, she installed a marble bath and shower right next to each other, extending the tub deck into the shower to serve as the shower bench. Now the shower is glassed-in, with a rain-head showerhead and equipped with a MrSteam steam unit, including the Linear Steamhead.
“Even when you’re in the shower, you get to experience the entire room,” McGaha said of the glassed-in shower. “It feels more open and airier.”
In addition to better distribution of light, the design also follows the golden ratio rule of design, dividing the wall into two-thirds dedicated to the bath and one-third to the shower. Modern architect Le Corbusier famously noted the organic rhythms of the golden ratio for the human eye, which we can translate into wellness design by following more balanced proportions. The resulting effect, bolstered by the clean lines of the tub and delicate division of space with glass, is soothing yet bold enough to fit with her maximalist aesthetic.
Add a steam shower for a daily spa-like experience.
McGaha said homeowners may often confuse the phrasing of ‘turning the bathroom into a spa’ for buying a nice robe and burning a candle. However, in her quest to make wellness an everyday lifestyle, she knew she had to go further. One big part of this was adding a steam shower in her master bath to regularly reap its health-enhancing benefits for the respiratory system, skin, physical resilience and mental well-being.
“We are so often over-stimulated and stressed,” McGaha said. “Being able to prepare your mindset in the morning or unwind in the evening with a steam is so valuable. My mental well-being is better, I get great ideas and I feel like I have done something good for myself before I leave for work.”
Since installing her steam shower, which includes Aromatherapy and MusicTherapy, McGaha estimates it’s used nearly every day by herself and others in her family, adding that her husband loves the Aroma Steam Therapy for soothing his respiratory system from allergy symptoms, and her teenage son uses it to recover from workouts. From her experience, she shares the potential health benefits with her clients.
“I talk to my clients about health benefits, like how it helps raise your metabolism or how it makes your skin absolutely glow,” McGaha said. “I have one client who suffers from terrible allergies and he told me he sometimes gets up for a steam at night and it actually helps him sleep better.”
Find balance through material and texture.
McGaha’s firm is known for bold designs, mixing materiality, color and style for beautiful and unique results. For the bathroom, she wanted a design that fit with her style but would also last through the years. She started with a classic black, white and blush scheme for a timeless and neutral palette, which contributes to a sense of calm. However, McGaha isn’t a minimalist, and it should be said a wellness-enhancing design doesn’t have to be flat and neutral. Maintaining a balance is key.
“I added feminine touches to balance the black and white,” McGaha said. “We have blush cabinetry, chandeliers, a soft window covering that matches the wallpaper and décor to bring a balance to the room.”
The wallpaper is striking, using black and grey paint for an organic pattern reminiscent of an abstract animal print, abstract being a key feature as it’s softer than a true snakeskin or leopard print. She uses two kinds of marble, black with white accents on the tub and white with grey streaks in the shower. In an unexpected balancing act, the shower ceiling is tiled in black. The juxtaposition results in a stunning symmetry of color and material in the space that feels textured, alive and balanced.
Add art and décor to enhance comfort.
While clutter has been shown to increase anxiety and stress in people, spaces that are too spare or clinical may trigger feelings of sadness or emptiness. For McGaha, she experienced her original bathroom as a source of near-dread, noting that that she used it only for pragmatic purposes. To make the room feel more comfortable and joyful like the rest of her home, she added original wall art and richly detailed décor for pops of color and layered texture.
“I’m a designer,” McGaha said. “I wanted fabulous wall paper. I wanted art. I wanted color. This bathroom used to be a room that I would just go in for a shower and then get out. Now it’s like another room in the house that happens to be for bathing.”
With her love of art, decor and wallpaper, it’s important to note that her daily steam showers don’t bother or degrade the materials.
“I start the steam shower from bed from my smart phone,” McGaha said. “I steam for 15 minutes, then turn on water shower and that steam dissipates. It doesn’t escape into the room – I utilize every bit of steam.”
Make Wellness a Lifestyle
Between giving the bathroom a unique design, opening up the floor plan for better light access and adding amenities like a steam shower, McGaha’s master bathroom is now an inviting retreat that the whole family loves to use for their individual wellness needs.
“We were both asking, ‘Why did we wait so long to do this?’,” McGaha said. “I feel like I leave so much happier now. It changed how we utilize the space.”