Health is wealth, and for London’s super-rich the watchword for 2024 is the luxury of a private sauna at home.
Interior design studio Black & Milk has noticed a significant increase in well-heeled clients seeking a bespoke spa experience that can be enjoyed without leaving the comfort of their homes.
Luxury interior trends may come and go, but for one Hampstead family the Russian banya was an important tradition they were keen to import.
The Hampstead banya, which was shortlisted for 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 wood paneled sauna, bucket shower and outdoor plunge pool.
“It’s an old tradition in Russian culture that means a lot to our people,” XXX told Homes & Property
“It was important to bring this tradition with us to London. It’s one of our favorite things to do with our older kids and friends.”
Like the sauna in Scandinavia, the cultural history of the banya in Russia stretches back centuries and transcends social class – although a home version is clearly a luxurious alternative to a communal bathhouse.
The basic concept is simple: warm yourself up in a wooden room heated 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 from bunches of leaves such as birch or eucalyptus are used to thwack the skin to promote circulation.
“It’s really beneficial for your mental health, and the extreme temperature change causes a crazy surge of blood not only to your body but also to your brain, which makes you feel really relaxed and calm,” explains XXXX .
To facilitate every part of the experience, the Banya back garden in the sauna room needed a lot of attention 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 an accelerating seven degrees Celsius.
Banya’s are inherently a social activity, so the Hampstead version also needed plenty of space for the family and their guests to relax together.
“Not only does it give you tons of health benefits, but it also gives you a chance to catch up on each other’s lives,” he explains.
“The designers have created a wonderfully comfortable garden room with a large table, sofa, rocking chair and log burner.”
There is space for a massage table if they hire a masseuse, and a sound system to play relaxing music.
Large glazed panels provide relaxing views of the leafy garden surrounding the bhanya, without having to contend with the cold pool.
Although Black & Milk tried to keep everything as traditional as possible, unfortunately the wood burning stove system for the sauna would not comply with Camden council’s clean air regulations.
Instead it runs on an electric system, which is switched on as needed, along with the smaller wood-burning stove for the relaxation area.
“We usually use Banya once a week. It’s a very long process that usually takes three to four hours,” says XXXX.
“It’s a luxury in our days to have so much time for yourself.”
Despite being on the same latitude as vast swaths of Scandinavia and parts of Russia, the UK doesn’t have its own sauna culture to deal with the long nights and bad weather.
And while the banya is a year-round activity, XXX admits it’s a balm against London’s dreary winter.
“We don’t associate Banya with the cold, but it’s a perfect escape from the poor rainy days,” says
“It feels even nicer when you see all that rain and wind outside and you’re snuggly cocooned in front of the log burner drinking hot herbal tea and chatting with your friends.”
For the average Hampstead resident, spending hours out of your week sweating, hitting branches and throwing yourself into a frigid pool might seem like an unusual form of self-care, but for XXXX it’s a basic part of their weekly routine.
“I don’t really think Banya is unusual, maybe he is in London,” says XXX.
“But for our family it’s a normal part of our lives.”