Early in season six of Selling Sunset, one of the brokers holds an open house for a $22 million oceanfront property, a monstrously sized cedar-shake house in Manhattan Beach. Sadly, the showing does nothing to sell the place (and the cast members in attendance get into a huge fight), but the house, with its four bedrooms and nine bathrooms, remains a perfect example of one of the show’s more quietly deranged elements: Every listing, without fail, has a nearly two-to-one bathroom-to-bedroom ratio. Many features of the ultra-high-end homes seem obvious in their appeal — saunas, kitchens swathed in marble, Barbra Streisand’s basement mall — but what is up with all the bathrooms?
Toilet inflation is endemic to the Los Angeles luxury market — Meghan and Harry’s Montecito home has nine bedrooms and 16 bathrooms, while the Spelling estate has 14 bedrooms for its 27 bathrooms — but a slightly more restrained form is common in New York City. In Manhattan, as a minimum luxury standard, new developments will have a one-to-one bedroom-to-bathroom ratio, plus an extra powder room, says Dan Parker, a managing director at Compass Development Marketing Group. The really top-tier penthouses, he adds, include double bathrooms off the primary suite. (It’s considered déclassé to plunk down two toilets within the sight lines of the bed, so you need to build what is essentially a bathroom-and-closet wing adjacent to the bedroom — but buyers love it.) Parker, who gets notes from the showings at new developments, says one from the Bellemont, a Naftali condo on the Upper East Side, read, “You had me at the double bathrooms.”
Americans have been wanting, and getting, more bathrooms for at least the past 50 years, says Alison K. Hoagland, an architectural historian who wrote The Bathroom: A Social History of Cleanliness and the Body. As early as 1964, focus groups had determined a second bathroom was indispensable. A decade later, 20 percent of Americans had two or more bathrooms. By 2013, the number had increased to 51 percent. In new construction, second bathrooms are now standard. “We love our bathrooms,” says Hoagland. “It’s about a lot more than cleanliness — it’s also about luxury and isolation. That’s where you go to get away from your family.”
“All of our houses have at least a one-to-one bedroom-to-bathroom ratio,” says Roger Seifter, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, a firm known for its work on the ultraluxury condos 15 Central Park West and 220 Central Park South. “Some of it is territorial; some of it is people have different habits. In these high-end houses, they don’t share closets, either.” The primary bedroom will typically have two bathrooms, and the guest suite may as well. It’s not uncommon, Seifter adds, for a bathroom to be off a dressing room, rather than directly off a bedroom, and to provide a pit stop — a half bathroom right off the bedroom — so people don’t have to go stumbling through their closet to get to a toilet in the middle of the night. And if there’s a gym, a pool, or any other place people will be getting sweaty, you’ll need a full bath off each of those. “The count just goes up,” he says. “We do have clients who, after the fact, total up the number of bathrooms and are like, ‘I can’t believe we did this.’”
Unsurprisingly, having so many bathrooms can raise some issues — and not just of the plumbing variety. Parker says that in apartments with four or five bedrooms, even with a one-to-one bed-to-bath ratio, hallways can end up feeling like, We’re just warehousing bathrooms. In which case, it’s necessary to change things up with different tile patterns and such, “so we’re not just creating the same secondary bathroom over and over.”
Some of the blame in cities falls on zoning codes that lead developers to build blocky buildings with lots of windowless interior space — what else are you going to do with all that space except fill it with bathrooms and closets? Conveniently, that dovetails with what buyers want anyway. People are influenced by what they see at the best hotels, says Seifter: “They visit and think that’s what they should have for their bathroom at home — the kind of amenities they find at an Aman or Four Seasons. Very spalike, with five or six fixtures and space for furniture, like a chair, so you feel like it’s not just a room to do your ablutions.” At bottom, it’s a flex. Why not have a bathroom for all occasions? As Seifter puts it, “It’s a matter of they can, so they do.”