Peekaboo bathrooms

Special to The Times

To Brigit Hamanaka, it’s a fairly standard bathroom except for one thing. “It’s all windows on that side,” she says.

That side is an exterior wall completely composed of transparent glass. In a house high on a seaside ridge of Pacific Palisades, the view is not only of the Pacific Ocean but also of El Medio bluffs across the arroyo. Hamanaka has visited neighbors to see what they see, and has come away unconcerned about peeping Toms.

“I just turn it on, steam up the shower and get in,” she says. “I figure if people have nothing better to do, then that’s their problem. It doesn’t bother us.” She has thought about putting up curtains, but they would only clutter the view. “It’s awfully nice to be taking a shower and looking out over the ocean.”


Think of it as one more reason to watch your diet and work on those abs. The bathroom, the home’s last bastion of privacy, is going public.

As Southern Californians maximize views, embrace indoor-outdoor living and celebrate open-plan design, glass-walled bathrooms are burgeoning. If the kitchen has morphed into the new family room, and the living room has moved into the garden, then the bathroom is becoming the new picture window -- gateway to the world outside.

“Privacy isn’t quite what it once was,” says Ric Abramson, architect of Hamanaka’s house. “We’re much more progressive today in our sensibilities about privacy and openness. Things that were formerly taboo are now spoken of, and that shows up in our division of space.”

Malibu architect Ed Niles says natural light and a connection to the outdoors is essential, especially in the bathroom. Ninety percent of the bathrooms he designs face east for the early morning sun.

“The bathroom is the first space you go to when you wake up, and it’s very important for that reason alone,” he says. “It sets an attitude, a sense of what the day is. Is it raining, or are the birds out and the sun is shining?”

In some cases, glass bathrooms don’t look to the outside. Transparent walls and doors open to the bedroom, erasing traditional barriers between spaces.

“I’ve remodeled houses in the Colony where the bedroom is here and the toilet is right there in the room -- exposed,” Niles says.

Renee and Meyer Luskin considered remodeling a home on a peak overlooking Mandeville Canyon but then followed Niles’ suggestion for something new and unique: a glass-and-steel structure of swooping curves and clean lines. Every room in the home was to be transparent except for a walk-in closet.

The master bathroom’s design includes twin water closets, an enclosed shower and a Jacuzzi set into the French limestone floor, next to the marble island with his-and-hers basins. Initially the room was totally transparent, but Renee told Niles that the space was too revealing. “If we have guests downstairs and I’m up here getting dressed or the lights are on,” she recalls thinking, “I won’t feel like I have any privacy.”

The couple thought about installing shades but settled on knee-to-shoulder modesty panels made of sand-blasted glass.

“It’s wonderful taking a shower and feeling so open,” Renee says, adding that she loves the visual spaciousness. “We have a 360-degree view here. You want to block it all off?”

Privacy concerns are compounded for L.A.'s famous and fashionable. But when celebrity hair stylist and TV personality Sally Hershberger recently remodeled her Trousdale Canyon home, she installed glass walls along the entire length of the house, including the master bathroom, which looks out to a koi pond.

“There is nothing better than taking a shower outdoors. It’s an amazing feeling -- you feel the wind, the breeze,” Hershberger says, adding that a glassed-in space is the next best thing to a true alfresco experience.

Doesn’t she worry about gawkers?

“Jennifer Aniston is in the house below me. They can go look at her,” Hershberger says, chuckling. “And if they really want to look at me, then look. There are only two houses across the mountain, so it’s like -- whatever. I’m sure they would rather look at Playboy.”

Kim Coleman bristles slightly at the notion that the glass bathroom in the Palisades house she shares with husband Mark Cigolle may not only let them see out, but also let others see in. “The aspect of exposure is, to me, beside the point,” she says.

To reduce outsiders’ view from Pacific Coast Highway or Topanga State Park, the couple, both architects, installed a quarter-inch-thick honeycomb of polyethylene sandwiched between glass panels. The effect is to make the ocean visible from inside but to screen out the view from below. It’s a slightly different story up the arroyo, however, where one resident on the opposite ridge has a telescope. “It’s a long ways away and not a big deal,” Coleman says. “If we’re showering at night, we keep the lights low.”

In Vinny Lee’s book “Bathrooms: Creating the Perfect Bathing Experience,” to be released next month by publisher Jacqui Small, one glassed-in bath with a glorious view (see Page 1) doesn’t bother with curtains because there’s not one neighbor in sight. But those in more urban settings are looking for solutions.

One option: LCD privacy glass, panels with polarized crystals in the center. When power to the glass is turned on, the crystals line up and render the glass transparent. When the power is shut off, the crystals scatter and the glass turns opaque. The technology doesn’t come cheap -- the glass is about $300 per square foot installed.

Perhaps the most innovative blend of public-private bathing is in architect Thom Mayne’s 1,600-square-foot home in Santa Monica. The shower stall is positioned opposite the kitchen and adjacent to the dining/living area. It’s recessed, below the ground level, and is surrounded by sand-blasted glass that stops at about midcalf. From the kitchen or the dining area, one can see the wood-slated floor of the shower and the lower legs of anyone bathing.

“The room is purposefully pushing out into the space,” Mayne says. “There ain’t no bathroom. It’s just a wet room -- a room with water coming out of it. It’s an object in the space.

“I had a client once with a big site in Malibu on a mountain with a 270 view. The only thing he specifically wanted was a shower facing the ocean, off the bedroom, part indoors and part outdoors. His ritual every morning was to take a shower and walk out on the deck, hold his arms out and let the air go through his body and dry him off. This is a guy who was thinking about his own life.”