Bringing Home the Hotel Bath

An industry insider explains how to recreate resorts’ spa-like experience at home.


As anyone who’s ever suffered a broken water heater or trickling motel spigot can tell you, the quality of your morning rinse can set the tone for your entire day.

It’s no surprise, then, that in this highly competitive market, hotels around the world are upping the ante by offering guests ever more luxurious amenities and features in the shower, sink, and tub. “Hotels are trying very hard to make customers happy,” says Stefanie Podolak of the high-end fixture line Speakman, featured on Joss & Main until September 22. She should know: Speakman collaborated with the Westin brand on its raved-about Heavenly Shower. “Hotels know that there are two things guests remember about their stay: their bed and the shower,” Podolak explains. “They’re the two things in every hotel room that every guest will use.” Naturally, savvy hoteliers are doing all they can to set themselves apart in both regards. Intrigued? We asked Podolak to spill some of the industry’s secrets. Here’s what she had to say.

Start with your shower head.  When choosing a new set of fixtures for a master or guest bath, it’s best to start by selecting your shower fixture, Podolak advises. “It’s not just design, it’s performance. To some extent, a faucet is a faucet, but there is a dramatic difference between styles and quality in showers.” A shower head for hotels has to meet a quality standard in its construction, she says, because hundreds of thousands of people will use the product during its lifetime.  “It’s about durability. If they’re made for hotels, they’re made to withstand that abuse.”  Another aspect in which hotel-grade fixtures like Speakman excel is in delivering consistent shower pressure, she says. “With hundreds of rooms, a hotel has so many outlets for water pressure. A shower head needs to be able to take any level of water pressure and exert full force,” which is something a flimsy model just won’t do. The higher the grade of the hotel, the more likely they’ll go with a full brass-construction shower head; many spas and resorts choose Speakman’s solid brass 8-jet option. The Heavenly Shower for Westin, Podolak reveals, features dual shower heads on a curved brass manifold.

Build in choices. Hotels like shower fixtures to feature a massage function and several different spray patterns. Some of that is for luxury–when was the last time you spent enough time in the shower to enjoy a massage?–but it’s also for versatility, Podolak notes. “Not everyone’s shower preference is the same,” she observes. Ensuring you have several spray patterns, or better, creating a combination unit with a regular shower head and a hand-held shower on the side, provides the flexibility needed in a bathroom shared by family members or used by a variety of people (like a guest bath). The much-coveted rain shower, she points out, has limitations. “They’re popular for creating a ‘waterfall’ experience, but it’s very different,” she says.” “In terms of functionality, it’s one and done.” Combining a rain shower with a standard fixture and/or hand sprayer can give you the best of everything.

Pick your styles and finishes with practicality in mind. These days, designers are looking for modern shapes, not the typical circular faucet, Podolak notes. “Tastes in shower head shape are changing. Now they might be square, larger, or flatter than before, and the faucets, handles, and accessories have changed with them.” A sleek and clean structure is popular in hotels, Podolak says, not only because of aesthetics, but because flat surfaces are easier to keep clean. Finishes are also evolving; the gold-tone fixtures of a few decades ago have made way for chrome and polished nickel. Torn between the two? Consider this: “Chrome is beautiful and shiny, but it shows fingerprints. Brushed nickel shows less.”

Plan for the whole experience. Why kill the bliss of a steamy shower by reaching for a scratchy, faded towel? Hotels consider bath linens an essential part of the experience, says Podolak. Whether you opt for a cushy, oversized bath sheet or a thin Turkish-style fouta towel, leave a lasting impression by investing in soft, well-made textiles and keeping them clean. Finally, think about how the shower experience ends: When you step out of the bath, what are you landing on? A cold tile floor? Consider adding a spa-style teak mat or a plush and absorbent rug. For a final touch of luxe, a waffle-weave or fluffy robe will keep you feeling pampered until it’s time to get dressed and out the door.