Not just for beach bums, outdoor showers go high-end.
A PERFECT SUMMER DAY ON MARTHA’S VINEYARD STARTS OFF clean and cloudless and bright—and ends, more often than not, sandy and salty and sunburned. The remedy to beachy excesses is almost as much a part of summer as the beach itself. We speak, of course, of the outdoor shower.
HASTY SCRUB-DOWNS UNDER A COOL TRICKLE OF WATER FROM A showerhead screwed into the side of a house might seem more nostalgic than luxurious, but then, that’s only one view of an outdoor shower. Imagine, instead of one showerhead, several jets, including a rainhead whose stream is as gentle and natural as a rain forest. Imagine being barefoot on cedar boards surrounded by a beach-cobble terrace instead of washed-out, splintery boards. And imagine, instead of a four-walled, windowless stall, washing off in a private Eden screened by evergreens and surrounded by a butterfly garden, heady with the scents of flowers and herbs, while you gaze out over the ocean. That’s Mark Hutker’s outdoor shower.
Hutker, the principal of an architecture firm of the same name with offices in Vineyard Haven and Falmouth, has made outdoor showers a kind of signature on his projects and, in turn, has become known for them. He’s designed more than two dozen in the past two decades, and often jokes with his residential clients that the high-end showers are a “contractual obligation” for every home he works on.
This curious offshoot of his business shares the same basic principles as his custom-designed homes: a tendency to blend in naturally with the surrounding topography and a focus on serving the lifelong needs of those who live there. “One of the other things we’re known for is intimately relating the house and architecture to the nature of the site, so it feels as if the house has been there all along,” he says. “Most of our clients buy the property they buy because they love the land and the views. An outdoor shower is a perfect opportunity for taking advantage of that.”
Hutker’s knowledge comes from experience—he has had a home on the Vineyard for 20-plus years, and is familiar with the shore-driven patterns by which beachgoers live out their summer days. “Once you start using outdoor showers in the summer, you realize how fabulous they are,” he says. “There’s nothing like going out for an early-morning kayak or a run or a swim and coming back in the morning light and having a nice warm outdoor shower. Except maybe having a moonlit shower at midnight on Valentine’s Day in the snow.”
The showers he builds are indeed plumbed to be used year-round, and Hutker encourages it. He has even built showers that are controlled remotely, so you can start the warm water running before jumping in.
OFTEN, THE SHOWERS ARE NOT just isolated stalls but entire outdoor rooms of their own, well-integrated into the landscape. He has included cedar-surrounded hot tubs and sitting areas, gardens and birdbaths. “We have a current request to put in a soaking tub,” he says. In keeping with the movement toward an outdoor spa experience, Hutker has also been fielding requests for mirrors. “Men want to shave outside,” he says.
He can understand the attraction, which is particularly strong for clients who live and work in the city and for whom the Vineyard is a much-needed refuge. “They relish the release of enjoying an outdoor shower all summer long,” he says. “It’s like the antiurban experience. You feel alive and vigorous and connected to the place you are.”
The particulars of each shower are as distinctive as the people who use it. Hutker designed a more traditional shower for a family, setting it outside the house’s mudroom and connecting it to the trimwork via a cedar pergola. Its location, on the outer edge of a deck on a path to the beach, allows the entire family to use it daily. Cedar-board screening gives privacy without obscuring the views.
For a different client, he created an outdoor counterpart to the private master suite with a minimalist shower whose open design consists of three cedar panels supporting a triangular pergola. The cedar floorboards are set into a beach-cobble terrace made of stones that were harvested from the site, and an adjacent sitting area completes the experience. A third client enjoys what Hutker calls a “movement to a full spa experience” with a hot tub and shower stall amid carefully landscaped vegetation.
The key ingredients for all these showers are a sunny spot, usually on the east side, good drainage and ventilation to keep things dry and avoid rot, and materials that weather well, such as mahogany, cedar and teak. “We use wood that will turn kind of silvery-gray like driftwood on the beach,” says Hutker. “Over the years we want it to just weather into the landscape like it had been there a long time.”
And like the houses he builds, the showers are lasting monuments to summer. “The idea of a showerhead fastened to a wall has morphed into a whole experience of bathing,” he says. “We pulled the showerhead off the wall of the house and moved it into the landscape, and made it an object on its own.”