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Designing a Wellness Oasis

by Rona Berg

Award-winning interior designer Gwynne McCue is the visionary behind interior spaces that range from an urban brownstone triplex to a Manhattan pied-à-terre to a sprawling coastal home.

The founder of Gwynne McCue Interiors, a New York City-based boutique interior design firm based in downtown Chelsea, McCue’s passion for wellness consistently comes through in her design aesthetic, including this serene Japanese-inspired bathroom, intended to create a wellness oasis for the owner, a two-time cancer survivor.

“I have a penchant for Japanese design, and I love onsens,” says McCue. “The Japanese conserve energy by using hot springs. They don’t have a lot of wood, so they don’t build a lot of furniture. They use less energy in the home.”

McCue enlarged the existing steam shower and added a deep, Japanese-style Ofuro or soaking tub—with a waterfall tub filter, supportive shower seat, low-flow handheld and rain shower heads and cutouts that provide natural light and vitamin D. The Ofuro works well in a small bathroom, due to its compact footprint. Used in Japan for centuries, this type of tub is viewed as an indoor extension of bathing outdoors in the abundant hot springs all over the country. In Japanese bathing culture, the bath plays a significant role as a place to purify body and soul. On the tech side, a waterproof TV and speakers were built in, along with LED chromotherapy lights that change color. There is also an on-demand water heater to conserve energy.

But the pièce de résistance is the beautiful ceiling made with hand-painted cherry blossom-inspired tiles from Kibak Tile, a woman-owned studio in Oregon that specializes in custom work. “People are craving nature,” says McCue, “and this adds a meditative art inspiration.” River rock floors not only bring nature indoors, they encourage reflexology, and a Buddha sculpture, inset near the tub, evokes peace and tranquility.

A live edge elmwood countertop was reclaimed locally to update the separate toilet room. Live edge wood maintains the natural beauty of the forest by preserving the tree in its circumferential entirety with the outer edges of the trunk visible. Some cultures believe that the native spirit of the wood is kept alive when the tree edges remain untouched.

McCue was raised in a family with sustainable values, and that inspires every aspect of her work because, as she says, “There aren’t unlimited amounts of anything.” She sews and reuses textiles for her clients—upcycling and altering pillow shams. She has replaced a countertop with a reclaimed tree from a New York park, and thinks about how to reuse and refit materials, restuff sofas and work with vintage furniture. “There’s nothing more sustainable than what’s already here,” she says.

After she received a business degree, McCue worked in advertising, but says she was drawn to something more creative. Her design trajectory took her from Savannah, Georgia, to Oregon, Boston and now New York City. She worked at Chilewich, Jonas Upholstery, Nest Interiors and, in 2014, received a New York Design Award and won Apartment Therapy’s Big Reveal Makeover Contest in 2015.

McCue has a special affinity for working with individual clients and designing personal residences. “I often work with small spaces, bathrooms and textiles,” she says. “I pull out the best of the individual. Whether they like to entertain at home or take baths, I meet their needs. I’m really about exploring the senses, and that’s where this bathroom came from,” she continues. “It’s my passion to set up a home environment where people can recharge and be happy.”

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