The Outdoor Shower

Inspiring ideas for your home, garden, and outdoor tropical lifestyle

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Rita Goldman | Photography by Jason Moore

“As humans, we are not as in touch with the natural world,
and there is something inside of us that longs for it.”
—Ethan Fierro

When was the last time you bathed out of doors, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, watching the wind dance in the trees, or the stars play hide-and-seek with the clouds?

amazing-jungle-showerWe’re not talking about those no-frills showers at Baldwin Beach or Kama‘ole I, where there’s no privacy for rinsing all the sand from inside your suit, and the cold water takes your breath away. No, the shower we have in mind is sequestered outside your home; it’s one that goes beyond the basics of privacy and comfort . . . to sweeping views, the sound of birds, the peace that comes from connecting with nature when you’re in your natural state.

What makes the perfect outdoor shower depends on a number of factors: your budget, your location, the climate, how close you are to neighbors (and whether they live a floor or more above you), even the personalities of the people who will use the shower—and how many will use it together.

We turned for advice to the fellow whose contemplative words appear on this page. Ethan Fierro wrote the book on the subject: The Outdoor Shower: Creative Design Ideas for Backyard Living, from the Functional to the Fantastic.

From Waste to Wonderful

When Lahaina Galleries artist Dario Campanile purchased a South Maui property, Ethan Fierro helped him transform wasted space into a focal point for entertaining. They cleared a weed-choked gully at the rear of the property, and built a series of decks that descend to a natural-looking water feature, complete with a small waterfall. Bamboo and other tall-growing plants have begun to screen the property from nearby homes, at the same time creating a tropical ambiance.

Shower runoff, called “greywater,” is channeled to irrigate the property’s bamboo, an environmentally friendly solution to South Maui’s dry climate.

In a corner under Campanile’s pole house, Fierro designed an outdoor shower with bamboo walls and swinging, saloon-style  doors. Roomy enough for two or three bathers, it’s sheltered both from the elements and from the view of guests enjoying the deck and waterfall areas a few steps away.

“The beauty of this design,” says Fierro. “is that it turned a gully and space under the house from undesirable to desirable.”

outdoor shower

Immersed in the Tropics

David and Renee Ward live in an elegant and expansive home overlooking the ocean in Kapalua. They, too, enjoy entertaining; two guest suites each provide opportunities for indoor/outdoor bathing.

The smaller suite features a steam room and shower with built-in benches and generous windows that take in an ocean view. From there, it was relatively easy and inexpensive to extend plumbing to the outdoor shower David Ward built himself (easy, too, for guests to move between steam room and outdoor shower.) A shoulder-high rock wall and tropical plantings provide privacy and aesthetics, and to give the shower a more natural look, David wrapped its metal pipes in bamboo. It’s also lighted at night.

“We built the shower to give our guests the experience of living in a tropical environment,” says Renee, herself an interior designer. “The notion of being out in nature and cleansing is very therapeutic.”

glass-block-outdoor-showerSheltered from Wind, Letting in the Light

The trade winds that sweep across Maui’s North Shore bring frequent rains and a lushness to the landscape. They also figured into the design of a glass-block shower by husband and wife Michael Honack and Wendy Grace, part-time residents whose property is part of Kahua Institute and Retreat, set on 15 acres in the Huelo countryside. The curving, free-form shower sits on a deck above a spectacular valley and ocean view.

“That shower expands on a theme Wendy and I developed at our home in Santa Cruz,” says Honack, a glass artist and owner of the California-based company Claritas Glass. “That first shower was done in stone and glass block, but given the site, and a pretty intense onshore trade wind, we decided to do a curvilinear all-glass shower to let the light in.”

The Medium is the Message

Kutira and Raphael Decostend own property elsewhere at Kahua Institute, and lead extended retreats that incorporate sustainable living into their teachings on consciousness. The outdoor shower is an extension of that training.

This being Huelo, the retreat is “off the grid”; the Decostends rely on water catchment, solar batteries for lights, and propane that heats water instantly, then shuts off when not in use.

“For me, it is being in the elements, the feeling of looking up to the stars and moon,” says Kutira. “Our mission is to help people understand that there is no separation between us and nature. We need to take care of everything.”

kapalua-outdoor-showerAdvice from the Expert

To ensure your delight with your outdoor shower (which translates into how much you’ll use it), you’ll need to consider your particular living situation. Here are a few of Ethan Fierro’s words of wisdom; for more, we recommend his comprehensive book The Outdoor Shower, produced by Storey Publishing.

Consider the user. The outdoor shower can be as simple as a pipe and showerhead affixed to an exterior wall or the trunk of a tree; or an elaborate affair with roof, flooring, benches and shelves, and doors to provide privacy. “If you plan to have a lot of different people use it, a more enclosed shower is better,” says Fierro. Rule of thumb? “Build your shower for the shyest person.”

Consider the view. You don’t have to give up privacy for a great view. The right materials, the right location, and a creative design can let you look out without becoming part of the scenery. (This is especially important to consider if your shower can be looked down on from higher floors.) Think windows in wood or stone shower walls, trellises and roof overhangs . . . you get the idea.

Cleanliness is next to. . . . Getting clean while communing with nature is wonderful on its own; sharing an outdoor shower with a friend notches up the experience. If you’re a gregarious bather, consider a second showerhead; nothing botches a romantic moment like fighting over who gets to stay in the warm stream of water on a chilly evening—or who most urgently needs to rinse the shampoo from his eyes.

Getting there and back. Unless your outdoor shower is close to the main house, consider the path between them. It should be a surface comfortable for bare feet, nonskid, and lighted for nighttime use. (Bare feet can get covered in grass cuttings after a mowing . . . not to mention nocturnal critters that you’d probably rather not step on.) Fierro also advises installing a low pipe or footbath to rinse feet before entering the shower, to prevent drains from getting clogged with grass or sand.

Don’t be a drip. Disposing of graywater—with its runoff of shampoo, soap, shaving cream, and who knows what else?—is a matter of some concern. Graywater can be directed toward landscape plants for irrigation, but should not be used to water gardens and other edible plants. A shower attached to an exterior wall can drain graywater back into the home’s sewer or septic system. Or consider a “dry well,” a pit dug several feet deep and filled with hard-packed gravel that lets graywater percolate slowly and filter into the ground.

Happy scrubbing!

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