Do Not Disturb


By Michael Matthews

June 3, 2004 -- There haven't been many great hoteliers in the world. Bill Marriott, Conrad Hilton, these men are and were purveyors of mass-produced boxes, not hoteliers. If it were my call, I'd put Cesar Ritz at the top of the very short list of great hotel impresarios. He brought us elevators and private bathrooms with huge tubs and rainforest showers.

And that is what this column is all about: bathrooms. Real bathrooms. Not those 30-square-foot things they call bathrooms in the Courtyards and their ilk.

My boss for about 14 years, Robert H. Burns, was arguably the 20th century's greatest hotelier. He founded what was the world's greatest hotel group, Regent International. He sold his company to Four Seasons in 1992, but his legacy lives on. (We haven't spoken in 12 years, but that's another story.) As a hotelier, he has my total respect.

Bob has a bathroom compulsion. His personal library is stocked not with biographies or thrillers, but with books on bathrooms. He was instrumental in the design of about 20 hotels. In each case, all of the guestrooms were designed around the bathroom.

His theory was simple: You spend, maybe, 10 hours a day in your guestroom. For about eight of those hours, you are in noddy-noddy land. You spend an hour watching TV, working on your computer or whatever. The remaining hour or more is spent in the bathroom. Half an hour when you get up and half an hour before noddy-noddy time. So you probably spend more awake time in your bathroom than in your sleeping area.

Bob's guiding principle was to build a bathroom that met the following criteria: First, a separate loo with its own door for privacy and an extractor for odors. Then, his-and-hers washbasins with great mirrors and lighting, both of the theatrical type--girls to apply their makeup and guys for a close shave. Then, a separate shower that totally soaks you--actually, Cesar Ritz did that in the Savoy in London in the 1800s. You also must have a tub in which you can totally immerse your body, including your knees, and that fills with water at your desired temperature within 60 seconds. Let me repeat that: fills in 60 seconds. (Admittedly, many a flooded bathroom has resulted!) And Bob's bathrooms had to have a multi-pipe system so that if your partner turns on the hot water, you don't die of hypothermia in the bath or shower. Cover the whole place in polished marble, stock it with fluffy towels and robes and you are guaranteed a happy guest.

Bob lived by his bathroom principles and started a trend that is, thankfully, being copied by better establishments around the world. Burns' first globally recognized luxury hotel, The Regent Hong Kong, opened in 1980. (It is an InterContinental now and a shadow of its former self, but the bathrooms remain great.) The Regent had all the aforementioned criteria for a great bathroom, including tubs that filled in 60 seconds--and flooded in 61 seconds if you were too engrossed in your E-mail or on the telephone.

I'm prejudiced as I was its first marketing director, but The Regent Hong Kong went on to become the greatest hotel in the world. It wasn't the incredible views of Hong Kong Harbour, the astounding attention to detail, the imaginative food and beverage offerings or even the inestimable service under the direction of general manager Rudi Greiner. The Regent Hong Kong was great because of the bathrooms. Over the years, I have heard more comments on the Regent's bathrooms than any other deserved compliment about the hotel. Each bathroom was 114 square feet of total sensual elegance and functionality.

Cesar Ritz may have created the great hotel bathroom, but Bob Burns perfected them. Bill Marriott, Baron Hilton, Barry Sternlicht of Starwood, please take a leaf from Bob Burns' book and give us decent bathrooms. And, while you're at it, how about a bar of soap that is truly a bar of soap and not a sliver of carbolic emulsion? How about gutsy bottles of shampoo and bath salts that work and don't leave you smelling as if you've just been in a cat house? Please add lots of fluffy towels and robes that are soft and sexy next to the skin and reach to the floor, not the middle of your calf.

Thanks, Bob. You were right. A bathroom, not a dog, is a man's best friend. Give me a call--we might even speak again.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.