Health is wealth, and for London’s super rich the watchword for 2024 is the luxury of a private at-home sauna.
Interior design studio Black & Milk has noticed a significant uptick in their well-heeled clients requesting a bespoke spa experience that can be enjoyed without leaving the comfort of their home.
Luxury interior trends may come and go, but for one Hampstead family a traditional Russian banya was an important tradition they were keen to import.
The Hampstead banya, which was shortlisted for a 2023 Don’t Move, Improve! award, had a budget of just over £1 million.
Working with architects Cooke and Fawcett, Black & Milk designed a back garden studio that incorporated all the elements of a banya – including a timber-clad sauna, a bucket shower and an outdoor plunge pool.
“It’s very old tradition in Russian culture which means a lot to our family,” the client told Homes & Property
“It was important to bring this tradition with us to London. It’s one of our favourite things to do with our older kids and friends.”
Like the sauna in Scandinavia, the cultural history of the banya in Russia stretches back hundreds of years and transcends social class – although obviously an at-home version is a luxurious take on a communal bath house.
The basic concept is simple: heat yourself up in a wooden room warmed by a stove to induce sweating, then cool off between sweat sessions with an icy cold water plunge.
To stimulate the skin inside the sauna, whisks made of bunches of leaves such as birch or eucalyptus are used to thwack against the skin to promote circulation.
“It’s super beneficial for your mental health, and extreme change of temperatures gives crazy boost of blood not only to your body but also to the brain, making you feel really tranquil and calm,” explains the client.
To facilitate all parts of the experience, the back garden Banya needed enough height in the sauna room to facilitate the swinging of the sauna whisks.
A high pressure monsoon shower allows for an instant blast of cold water, while the outdoor plunge pool – accessed via a small step ladder – is kept at a bracing seven degrees Celsius.
Banya’s are an inherently social activity, so the Hampstead version also needed plenty of room for the family and their guests to relax together.
“Not only does it give you tonnes of health benefits, but also gives you an opportunity to catch up on each others lives,” explains the client.
“The designers created a super comfortable garden room with big table, sofa, rocking chair and wood burner.”
There is space for a massage table if they hire a masseuse, and a sound system to pump in relaxing music.
Large panels of glazing provide calming views of the leafy garden around the banya, without having to brave the chilly plunge pool.
While Black & Milk tried to keep everything as traditional as possible, unfortunately the wood-burning stove system for the sauna would not be compliant with Camden council’s clean air regulations.
Instead it runs on an electric system, which is switched on as needed, plus the smaller wood-burning stove for the relaxation area.
“Usually we use Banya once a week. It’s a very lengthy process which normally takes about three to four hours,” says the client.
“It’s a big luxury our days to find that much time for yourself.”
Despite being on the same latitudes as swathes of Scandinavia and parts of Russia, the UK doesn’t have its own sauna culture to deal with the long nights and inclement weather.
And while the banya is a year-round activity, Black & Milk’s client admits that it’s a balm against London’s dreary winters.
“We don’t associate Banya with cold, but it’s a perfect escape from the miserable rainy days,” says the client.
“It feels even nicer when you see all that rain and wind outside and you are snugly cocooned in front of the wood burner drinking the hot herbal tea and chatting with your friends.”
For the average Hampstead resident, taking hours out of your week to sweat, be beaten with branches and throw yourself into a frigid pool may be an unusual form of self-care, but for their family it’s a quintessential part of their weekly routine.
“I don’t actually consider having Banya unusual, maybe for London it is,” says the client.
“But for our family it’s quite an ordinary part of our life.”