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The ultimate retreat: A Roman bath

By DW Hamilton

The last child has flown the coop, and the room that once was the proud repository of soccer trophies, a boom-box, and smelly gym uniforms stands empty.  It beckons, underutilized as a guestroom and screaming for a new purpose.  What will it be?  A home office?  A hobby den? Perhaps, but maybe it’s time to go deep into our subconscious and envision the ultimate timeless sybaritic retreat:  a Roman bath.

The inspiration for a Roman bath is truly grand, as bathing in ancient Rome was a communal activity, conducted for the most part in public facilities that resembled modern spas. There was a cultural side to the baths since the establishments at their peak even had libraries, lecture halls, colonnades, and promenades. But now, we mainly think of bathing as a very private activity
conducted exclusively in our home.  So, unless you’re Bill Gates, maybe you might want to skip the library and promenade as a feature of your master bath. But room for exercise or a chaise lounge?  Why not?

Before scoffing that this dream of a classically proportioned master bath centered on a huge soaking tub as just too grandiose for your empty nest, consider that after the kitchen, a bathroom remodel delivers one of the highest resale value returns of any home improvement investment. Current trends are toward larger, more luxurious master baths in new homes, and given the über high cost of any home on today’s real estate market, people are expecting more house with better features to help ease the pain of sticker shock.

According to Remodeling Online ( the average cost of an upscale bathroom addition is around $41,587 of which $33,747 or 81.1 percent of the initial investment could be realistically expected to be returned.  Generally, a project of this size with its zoning requirements will require a general contractor working with a plumber and a tiling or masonry subcontractor. Hot Rock Masonry can fabricate granite or marble countertops, or sink and tub surrounds to order, as well as install stone tiling in showers or bathrooms. To see what they can do, visit the Hot Rock Masonry Website at or call 360-376-5505 and talk to owner Steve Cohan.  It is something to think about if you are currently considering home renovation.

So, how do you plan and execute a Roman bath of one’s own?  The road to authenticity is research, research, research.  One aspect of classical design is that it withstands the test of time. Writers were still praising the ‘good taste’ of the Classical tradition into the 1880s. In this case, the Classical style is a broad category of architectural styles based on a common set of rules of symmetry, proportion and architectural detail modeled on the marvels of ancient Rome.

Proportion is the relationship of the size of two things. The first century A.D. Roman writer, architect and engineer Vitruvius said that the proportions of a building should correspond to those of a person, and laid down these precepts when describing a plan for a garden: “The length of a Basilica is twice the width, with a central nave. The width being divided into ninths, five are allocated to the nave, two to each of the porticoes. The length also divided into ninths, one for the alcove.” If, instead of saying “nave” we say bath, and reserve one alcove for a shower, and the other for the toilette. . .our little bathing temple starts to come into form.

Symmetry is one side of an object being the mirror of the other side, and this couple with a hierarchy
 achieved by graduating heights in equal intervals, puts the most important element (in this case the bathtub) front and center.

Architectural details
such as those available in ancient Rome give the authentic note regardless of being off-the-shelf reproductions.

A short glossary:

MOSAIC: A picture or decorative design made by setting small colored pieces, as of stone or tile, into a surface.

CORNICE: The molding at the top of the walls of a room, between the walls and ceiling.

FRIEZE: A plain or decorated horizontal part of an entablature between the architrave and cornice. A decorative horizontal band, as along the upper part of a wall in a room.

PILASTER: Rectangular pier attached to a wall for the purpose of strengthening the wall; also a decorative column attached to a wall.

PILLAR: A column used for supporting parts of a structure.

PEDIMENT: A triangular space formed in the middle of a gable; also used as a decoration above a door.

STATUARY:  Statues.  Look for reproductions of ancient Greek or Roman sculptures such as Apollo or Venus.

The ultimate bathing platform would be crowned with a vaulted roof, another Roman innovation. Before them, the Greeks built temples and other large buildings by supporting large flat roofs with many columns.   The Romans improved on the design, building curved roofs with a keystone dropped into the top of the vault. The downward thrust of the keystone pushed the sections outward, creating a pressure that held the entire roof together. The curved roof makes central columns unnecessary, freeing the interior space for the bathing area below.

Something incredibly calming happens to the viewer of a piece of Classical architecture that seems to take it to higher plane.  And who doesn’t want to be taken to a higher plane of consciousness while soaking in their bath?  More to the point, imagine how you will feel soaking in this amazing retreat, locked away blissfully away from anything resembling stress.

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