Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trophy Bathrooms, Manhattan Style
A bathroom with a view at Midtown Manhattan's brand-new 432 Park Avenue

Trophy bathrooms.

You've heard of trophy wives, right?  And trophy homes?  Well, when it comes to trophy homes, just about every room gets blinged-out and hyper-accessorized.  New rooms also get added, such as media rooms, gift-wrapping rooms, and even miniature religious chapels.

For a long time, however, the most private places of any home - trophy or not - had been kept in the shadows.  These rooms were usually small, and were ferreted away into the bowels of a dwelling, tucked out of sight, with discrete views, if any, and absolutely nothing to celebrate.

Well, not any more!  The inner sanctum of personal - and often undignified - physical maintenance has now become one of the most celebrated rooms in a trophy house.

That humble ceramic-tiled shower with an opaque curtain?  It is now a glass-sheathed, marble-walled "wet room."  The impolite toilet?  It has now been practically re-visioned as a sleek throne.  Instead of being secreted into a corner or closed off by its own louvered door, toilets can now command prime bathroom real estate.

Uninhibited.  Out there.  Brutally honest.  Nothing to hide.  And leaving nothing to the imagination.

Indeed, it's imagination overboard with today's trophy bathrooms.  And the trend isn't just for today's McMansions and upscale exurban tract homes, where bay windows flank sunken bathtubs. 

A few restaurants, bars, hotels, and other commercial establishments have been tinkering with the concept of unconventionally visible public bathrooms for a number of years, but even public bathrooms expect their patrons to remain mostly clothed.

But not so for a number of prime new ultra-luxury residential towers in New York City.

For generations, the New York City residential bathroom has been designed for cramped, discrete utility, and if they had a window, it was tiny, and faced a back alley.  Today, however, privacy is for commoners.  If only the little people pay taxes, Leona Helmsley's infamous quote could be reinterpreted today as being "only the little people have little windows in their bathrooms."

Witness the pictorial essay compiled by the New York Times of some very immodest, very glassy, and very view-filled bathrooms currently being offered in the city's most expensive residential projects.  At what is perhaps the city's newest celebrity tower, 432 Park Avenue, you can purchase a brand-new apartment with at 10' x 10' plate glass window centered in front of your pod-shaped bathtub, and a glass wall hiding very little of your shower space and toilet area.
From your bath pod, you'll be able to peer down the corner
of 215 Chrystie Street
If such a spectacle isn't enough for you, there's the pod-shaped bathtub - no rectangular tub-and-shower combos at these price points - tucked into the corner of another celebrity building being literally erected with glass corners.  Which, yes, means that you can take your bath practically peering over the corner of your apartment building.

Yet another luxury building in Manhattan is remodeling its bathrooms to have two toilets facing each other behind glass walls.

It's as if exhibitionism has become the next rung on society's elitism ladder.  Talk about conspicuous consumption!  Still, if you've got twenty, forty, or ninety million dollars to spend on an apartment, there's only so much marble and African wood that can be purchased to outfit such skyscraper palaces.  At some point, these apartments have to provide the biggest "wow" factor architects and interior designers can imagine.  And when it comes to "wow" factors, how much better can it get than showcasing Manhattan's dazzling skyline?

Enter Manhattan's take on the trophy bathroom, which outclasses anything you'll find on the ground in suburbia, simply because you need the verticality of these sky mansions to pull off the desired effect.  Like a Realtor quoted in the Times article says, wealthy homebuyers in Manhattan have always wanted a view from their living room; now, they also want a view from their bathroom.  And when it comes to views, Manhattan can certainly deliver.

So what if the bathroom offers some of the best views?  Remember, only the little people would be intimidated by so much glass when they're getting into and out of a bathtub.  Or off of a toilet.

Besides, it's not like these glass bathrooms are going to be on low floors, where the only view will be of other buildings - and their occupants.  It's also not entirely clear how many of these new apartment towers are being constructed with such transparent trophy bathrooms.  It could be that the market for such exhibitionistic elitism is smaller than developers and Realtors say it is.  Then, too, how many of these glass-walled bathrooms are going to have designer shutters over them anyway, after their naked novelty wears off (which will probably happen by the third night in the homeowner's new apartment)?

According to the Times piece, if this is a bona-fide trend, it can actually be considered quite beneficial for the homeowners of these see-through bathrooms:  considering how self-conscious so much visibility could make the people using them, a rise in physical fitness among Manhattan's penthouse population may be forthcoming.  In what other room in your home are you almost always nude, with lighting that accentuates everything you don't want accentuated, and plenty of mirrors so you can't avoid it?

What's more likely, however, is that the type of people purchasing homes with such bathrooms are people who already possess a personal confidence that has either propelled them into pursuing physical fitness.  Or theirs is a personal confidence that says their personal looks don't matter.  What matters to them is being able to own an apartment where one's bathtub can command a view replicating the vantage point of a ship's captain piloting the mighty USS Manhattan down into New York Harbor.  Looking south from high above Manhattan island, its pointy tip makes the borough look like a nautical vessel plying the waters represented by the Hudson and East rivers.

Of course, that ship effect is lost on any north-facing bathroom.  For buildings near Central Park, there's hardly any northward skyline in which to revel, either.  Besides, what happens when other buildings of equal - or greater - height eventually get constructed near these luxury buildings currently under construction?  Hardly anything ever stays the same in Manhattan's skyline.  Will owners of today's crop of trophy bathrooms have to start going to court against future developers who either want to obstruct views - or, perversely, take advantage of them?

Hey - a boom in trophy bathrooms is one thing.  But a boom in high-powered portable telescopes may be forthcoming as well.

Purchased not only by people living in these skyscraper palaces.  But also by folks living within sight of them.

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