© Sue Barr

For some people, the word Jacuzzi means a rejuvenating spa experience. For others, it can bring on a queasy feeling, conjuring steamy sex comedies, shag rugs and middle-aged men in undignified poses. Al Pacino’s Scarface held court in his, Austin Powers broke wind in one, and an appalled Seinfeld declined Kramer’s hot tub invitation on the grounds it was a “human bacteria frappé”.

Perhaps because of his playful, Pop Art-inspired designs, Piers Gough once described himself as a “B movie architect”. But the Jacuzzi he created for Cosmic House — the postmodern London home of the late architecture critic Charles Jencks — is worlds away from sleaze and bling. Here, in the genteel surrounds of Holland Park, soaking in a hot tub is a high-minded affair.

Gough took inspiration from a Baroque masterpiece — the dome of the San Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane church in Rome, its four fountains a fitting motif for a Jacuzzi. With trompe-l’oeil coffers representing the vault of heaven and jet sprays the primordial waters of creation, to sit in this opulent cavern of terrazzo and ceramic, immersed in a prism of glass, sunlight and garden greenery, would be pretty close to paradise.

Postmodernism and celestial ceilings were far from the thoughts of the Jacuzzi’s inventors. At the turn of the 20th century, seven impoverished brothers left northern Italy for California. The fratelli Jacuzzi launched a company producing aircraft propellers and agricultural water pumps. In 1956, when one of their children developed rheumatoid arthritis, they created a hydrotherapy pump that, when placed in an ordinary bathtub, helped relieve the pain.

Soon they were selling to hospitals and schools. In 1968, they produced the first self-contained whirlpool bath, tapping into a growing consumer interest in fitness and health. These unwitting pioneers of the wellness industry turned their brand into a household name synonymous with luxurious living.

After years in a wilderness of naff, has the Jacuzzi recovered some of its cachet? It seems there is barely a boutique hotel or glamping site without one. During the pandemic, their popularity soared: in one week in April 2020, UK sales of hot tubs on eBay increased by 1,000 per cent, as people resigned themselves to holidays at home.

While they splashed and frolicked, the Jacuzzi at Cosmic House lay empty and forlorn. There was just one glitch amid all the splendour, says Jencks’s daughter Lily, director of the museum, which was recently opened to the public. The water was always cold and it was pretty much unusable.


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