There’s a window in my shower — and other hotel room design flaws


When Marc Burdiss stepped into the shower at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, he was shocked by the clear view of the bedroom through a glass window.

“Weird,” he thought to himself.

Burdiss, an emergency-preparedness consultant based in Flagstaff, Ariz., then let out a sigh of relief. When he made the reservations, he had thought of bringing his teenage kids. Giving them privacy would have required a “MacGyver-like workaround,” using duct tape and towels, he says. Burdiss had also thought of sharing the room with another couple. That wouldn’t have worked, either — for obvious reasons.

The Rio is hardly alone. Hotel design misfires are common, and they’re a great post-vacation-season conversation starter. (“You’ll never believe what I found in my hotel room.”) I recently checked into a hotel in Albuquerque that had just opened, and noticed that my 10-year-old daughter refused to use the bathroom.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her.

“They can see me in the shower,” she said.

Sure enough, although parts of the glass between the shower and bedroom were frosted, you could look through the clear areas and see everything. Her brothers and I had to promise to leave the hotel room to persuade her to take a shower.

While many of the design failures are concentrated in the bathroom — including fixtures that are difficult to operate, inadequate counter space and limited privacy — they happen everywhere. The reasons for these mishaps vary, but the solutions are all the same.

“Good design is essential,” says Greg Keffer, a partner at Rockwell Group, an architecture and design firm. “Every layer of the design, from large-scale architectural gestures to the artwork, furniture and finishes, supports the hotel’s larger narrative, giving the hotel depth and meaning well beyond just a beautiful space.”

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It doesn’t always work out that way, though. Several guest surveys have underscored the importance of thoughtful room design. One of the latest, conducted by Qualtrics, a research firm based in Provo, Utah, found that half of all hotel guests were upset by one design flaw — thin walls. Slightly more than 1 in 10 guests said their stay was so bad that they were “driven to tears.” Other pet peeves include insufficient outlets and bad lighting, both being key design elements.

This isn’t an abstract discussion. I checked into a full-service hotel in Reno, Nev., this summer and found a bathtub next to my bed. I’m serious. Why anyone would want a bathtub next to a bed is really beyond me.

For an explanation, I turned to Kristin Soo Hoo, a spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. She says that when the Rio was built in 1990, the original design team at Marnell Corrao Associates wanted to emphasize that it was the first all-suite hotel in Las Vegas with a variety of larger suites, which are appealing to couples.


“This design feature was added to the rooms to accentuate the romantic atmosphere of the resort, catering to the many couples and newlyweds on their honeymoon who enjoyed staying there at the time,” she says. That would explain the bathtub in my room, which, unlike the showers in Albuquerque, I had some trouble keeping my kids out of.

“Hotel design is the most critical element of success or failure,” says Tanya Spaulding, a principal at Shea Design, a design company in Minneapolis. Many designers try so hard to create unique “wow factor” designs that they forget the basics of functionality, she notes.

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“For example, very cool sinks with absolutely nowhere to put your toiletries,” she says. “Or horrible bathroom lighting either way too cold, blue and bright, or so dim that seeing your nose is a challenge.”

Bathrooms aren’t the only place where hotel designers disconnect from their customers. Power outlets are also a big concern.

“I don’t like hidden outlets,” says photographer Gary Arndt, whose work keeps him constantly on the road. “Outlets should be on the top of the desk, not near the floor. In some places, there are no outlets available anywhere and I have to unplug the TV or lamps to plug anything in.”

The best explanation I’ve heard for this is that most hotels just haven’t caught up with the needs of 21st-century travelers. Indeed, the hotel I just checked out of, an elegant golf resort on Oregon’s coast, has the setup Arndt described. The outlets are hidden behind a sofa. In fairness, there’s a lamp with a few power outlets next to the bed, but something tells me they’re not intended for my laptop.

Sometimes, hotels just don’t think things through, guests say.

“You want to hear stupid?” asks Shaun Eli, a comedian from Scarsdale, N.Y. “I was at a hotel in Gaithersburg, Maryland, recently where they happened to put me in a handicap-equipped room. It was on the second floor.”

Sure the hotel had elevators, but if there were a fire in the hotel, someone in a wheelchair would have trouble making it down a flight of stairs. The property complied with the letter of federal accessibility laws, if not the spirit.

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If you’ve stayed in a resort with a design flaw, you might be wondering whether there’s any way to avoid doing so again. It turns out there is.

Sticking with a hotel chain is one way to ensure that you won’t have a two-way mirror in your bathroom. I’m not making that up, by the way. Another Caesar’s resort in Las Vegas, the Cromwell, has two-way mirrors in its bathrooms. The resort is quite proud of what Soo Hoo calls an “edgy design feature that allows the guest inside the shower to become visible through the mirror by adjusting the lights.” Hotel chains, like fast food restaurants, have standard room designs with no surprises.

An additional way to prevent a design mishap is to research the property. For example, a quick online search would reveal the shower windows at the Rio and allow you to consider whether that’s a design feature you want — or not.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • finance_tony

    The see-through bathroom wall is just mind boggling to me. The fact that it’s spreading defies any explanation.

  • SirWIred

    I can sort of see why they might want to build a window in the shower, but agree they totally need to provide a means of blocking it well. (I stayed at a fancy hotel in India that had an electronic shade for that window.)

    I’ll add to the list:

    – Quit it with the gigantic pile of decorative pillows I’ll need to find a place to stash so I actually have a place to sleep.
    – Use power outlets that are heavy-duty and/or easy to replace. Stuff gets plugged and unplugged so much that custom-sized (and therefore impossible to replace) residential-grade outlets integrated into furniture are going to be useless in a couple years. Provide well-made power strips, or at least have well-placed heavy duty wall outlets. (I got sick of replacing worn-out outlets and light switches at home, so all I use is the “commercial” versions; they cost $2 instead of 59 cents; totally worth it.)

  • Alan Gore

    One if the most common hotel problems, right next to lack of accessible power outlets, is hard-to-find lighting controls. There should be obvious, and standard, ways of controlling any light in the room.

  • FQTVLR

    There are some hotels with open plan bathrooms–just a little glass around the shower and that is all the division there is. Makes that window into the bathroom look positively old-fashioned.

  • Kairho

    I’ve been in several IHG properties with the big picture window into the shower area … but they also had opaque shades which could be lowered/drawn.

  • y_p_w

    I stayed at an upscale hotel that had a specially programmed iPad Mini that could control all the temperature and lighting in the room. It was locked out of most standard functions but ran specialty applications. The lighting functions were very descriptive.

    On the same trip we had a bathroom with glass walls, but also had shutters that lowered or raised with buttons.

  • y_p_w

    Try public unisex bathrooms with walls of urinals.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I stayed in a resort in Cozumel once that had a jacuzzi right in the middle of the room! When you walked into the room, you come to the bed and dresser first…walk past them and you come to the jacuzzi, with marble surrounding it, which you had to walk past to get to the sitting room and balcony. But the jacuzzi couldn’t be used because it would spray water all over the place, making the marble wet, slippery and impassable, and soaking the carpet surrounding it. And even if you never turned on the jacuzzi, the marble around it was always slightly wet and slippery, making it dangerous to walk to the sitting room. And that thing took up almost half the space of the room! What a bad design.

  • Lindabator

    actually lots of resorts offer this – which is why I always recommend or discourage a resort based on the TYPE of travelers – and will gladly show pics to a client who “heard” this was a cool place, etc, but it will NOT work for them :)

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’ve been in rooms that had jacuzzis before…I’ve been on vacations in which having an in-room jacuzzi was quite lovely! Ski trips, when you can feel chilled to the bone when you get back to your room, or vacations when I’m doing a lot of cold-water scuba diving, for example. Sitting in a jacuzzi for a while feels wonderful, and it’s great to have one right there in your room so you can, ya know, forget the bathing suit. :)

    But this was very poorly designed. It was just too BIG, with only a narrow strip of wet, slippery marble surrounding it. It was on the same level as the bed, but the sitting room was down a step, and water would slosh onto the carpet below and soak it. BAD design!

  • Annie M

    Its supposed to be for “romance”. I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t think seeing someone on the bowl is romantic at all.
    Try going to resorts in Mexico or the islands – they frequently have a soaking tub with jets right in the room.

  • AAGK

    This is not a design failure. It is an intentional aesthetic choice. I agree it does not work when sharing a room with children. Usually/always there is shade that you can lower on the other side . The assumption is that the guest does not want privacy. This is the perfect thing for folks to note on trip advisor.

  • AAGK

    this. Plus more user friendly climate control. In need to know if I am going to wake up sweating bc of some motion sensor in the middle of the night.

  • AAGK

    This is everything.

  • RightNow9435

    The M Resort Hotel at the far south end of the Vegas strip has see-thru Bathroom walls, tho at least they have a somewhat decent shade one could pull down.

  • Fishplate

    I just stayed at a hotel built in 1905 as a summer resort. They had extension cords from the outlet behind the bed, so you could plug something in. No cell data signal or WiFi in the rooms, but you could charge it up.

    That’s more than I get in a lot of “modern” hotels.

  • Patrica

    I think of all the time shares, hostels, condos, b & b’s we’ve stayed at…and all the “design” failures: some were just too strange and would have been such simple, logical fixes. One example: coat hooks placed at 5’9″. and yes, the second floor room for the handicapped, outlets at waist level but behind a countertop that’s 30″ deep,. BUT then I thought of the great ones too: In Princeville, the handicapped suite had outlets at wheelchair accessible level. EVERY part of the wheelchair accessible bathroomS had grab bars. Dishwasher was wheelchair accessible, as were sinks!!! I do post those “winners” and “failures” on trip advisor, it’s really important for my sister.

  • finance_tony

    Oh yea, I’ve been in those. At least I can avoid using the tub. Can’t avoid using the toilet!

  • mbgaskins

    I doubt anyone can see in those windows… even at dark. The windows at Mandalay Bay in Vegas allow lots of light in but one cannot see into the room from the exterior even at night with all the lights on in the room.

    It is quite erotic in a way to think you can be seen when in reality you cannot. This is what they were going for. It’s Vegas after all.

  • MarkKelling

    The issue is not people seeing in from the outside. The windows into the shower/bathroom being talked about are between the bathroom and the sleeping area in the room. Many are aligned in such a way that the window to the outside from the main room is at an angle that would not allow viewing into the bathroom even if the exterior window was clear glass.

    While I have no issues with it, many people desire some sort of privacy from being viewed by others in the room when they are doing whatever in the bathroom that these clear glass walls don’t provide.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Very common design across Asia but there is a blind so people can use to block the view if needed. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4f7221fc00341bdbcff9231cb3c2bde584a8c6e2a32b068bc062a9c6d8c96fc6.jpg

  • ctporter

    I was amazed to find that in both hotels I stayed at when in China a few years ago for work, they were quite nice hotels (think along the lines of a Waldorf Astoria). I have also stayed at various Casinos out in the middle of nowhere for conferences (cheap rates and they get folks to attend by having them at the casinos – lots of velvet and gold trim everywhere) where a hydro-massage tub is in the bedroom area. (those were the “deluxe” rooms) I always considered it a different strokes for different folks thing. As long as the bed is good and it is a non-smoking room I am fairly happy.

  • jsn55

    This is about the BEST bunch of obfuscation I’ve ever read about hotel room design: “Good design is essential,” says Greg Keffer, a partner at Rockwell Group, an architecture and design firm. “Every layer of the design, from large-scale architectural gestures to the artwork, furniture and finishes, supports the hotel’s larger narrative, giving the hotel depth and meaning well beyond just a beautiful space.”

    What does that MEAN? Nothing, that’s what. Designers and those who sign off on these things need to get a new attitude. Here’s a suggestion: “Good design is essential and is made up of catering to your customer’s needs.” “Larger narratives, hotel depth and meaning” What does THAT mean? Absolutely nothing., again. Hotel Management: just ask a few of your frequent guests for their opinions. It will be a lot less expensive than some goofy consultant who wants to give your hotel depth and meaning … and will earn you loyal guests who enjoy functional hotel rooms.

  • jsn55

    If I EVER experience a room with HVAC controlled by motion sensors, that will be a FREE room. I’m all for being cognizant of ecology, but the people who design rooms have to have working brains. Most hotel rooms are simple things: a place to sleep, clean up, relax, enjoy room service, do some work. We are NOT the slightest bit interested in how ‘edgy’ your hotel rooms are. Indulge your design mania in the public spaces, leave my room alone.

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