The Hottest New Home Amenity? ‘It’s Brutal.’ | Kanebridge News
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The Hottest New Home Amenity? ‘It’s Brutal.’

Homeowners are spending tens of thousands of dollars to outfit their properties with cold plunges

Fri, Jun 2, 2023 8:34amGrey Clock 8 min

Most mornings after Stephen Garten wakes up at his home in Austin, Texas, he goes into his backyard and starts pacing, preparing himself for what’s next. “It’s brutal,” says Garten, 37, the founder and CEO of social impact company Charity Charge. “It’s a real challenge every day.”

He’s talking about lowering himself into a 66-inch-long and 24-inch-wide stainless steel tub clad in customised zebrawood and submerging himself up to his neck in water that he sets at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, with water circulating at 1,400 gallons a minute. “It’s like being in a river,” he says of the flow rate produced by this particular vessel, a Blue Cube cold plunge.

It’s an experience that Garten typically tolerates for less than two minutes at a time, once or twice a day. And it comes at a price of $19,000. Blue Cube, based in Redmond, Ore., makes cold plunge units that cost between around $18,000 and $29,000.

“Cold plunging has made a profound difference in my life,” Garten says. He says it has brought him health benefits including stress management.

Previously the domain of athletes, bathing in cold water or ice has become a mainstream wellness trend across the U.S. The practice goes by many terms, like cold plunging, ice bathing and cold-immersion therapy. Water temperature below 59 degrees Fahrenheit is generally considered cold immersion. People who swear by it say they have experienced wide-ranging health benefits, like reduced anxiety, alleviated joint and muscle pain and boosted energy and focus.

But while many people are experimenting with do-it-yourself methods—like taking cold showers or filling kiddie pools, horse troughs and unplugged chest freezers with cold water or ice—some enthusiasts have levelled-up their at-home cold plunging setups with sophisticated receptacles priced at tens of thousands of dollars and up.

Developers, meanwhile, are adding cold plunges to amenity-rich luxury complexes like 53 West 53 in New York and Cipriani Residences Miami, betting that cold immersion is here to stay.

“Ice bathing seems like a trend, but people have been doing this for thousands of years,” says Jonathan Coon, co-founder of Austin Capital Partners, which is the developer of Four Seasons Private Residences Lake Austin, 20 minutes from downtown Austin, slated to open in 2026.

Stephen Garten and Katie Snyder’s Austin home. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The couple in their house’s kitchen and main living room. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
They turned a downstairs room into a spare bedroom and family room. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In addition to 188 residential units starting at $4.1 million, the Lake Austin property on 145 acres will have 76,000 square feet of indoor wellness and sports facilities, including a 12,000-square-foot orangery, 82-foot swimming pool, sauna, steam room and, of course, cold and hot thermal baths.

Amenities covering 100,000 square feet is a key reason that Onyx W.D. Johnson and Cristian Santangelo bought a $2.2 million two-bedroom, 1,123-square-foot apartment in New York’s One Manhattan Square, an 80-story building located on the Lower East Side. Facilities include a spa with a tranquility garden, 75-foot saltwater swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room and hammam with a cold plunge set between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The couple moved into the apartment in May 2021.

Johnson and Santangelo quivered at the idea of cold plunging until they started seeing other people dipping and discussing the health benefits. “We decided to give it a try,” Johnson says.

Cristian Santangelo and Onyx W.D. Johnson cold plunge in their building’s wellness area. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Now cold plunging is part of their wellness regimen. Johnson, 50, who runs a management consulting firm, uses the hot pool, steam room and sauna, and then cold plunges for 45 seconds to a minute. He says this routine speeds up his training recovery time, helps him think clearer and improves his alertness and mood. Santangelo, 45, who is a management consultant, says the ritual helps him calm down and fight anxiety and stress.

Diamond Spas & Pools, based in Frederick, Colo., is a custom manufacturer of luxury pools, spas and soaking tubs for homeowners globally. The company added cold plunges to its portfolio in 2015 and saw one or two orders annually until 2019, when it experienced a sales surge. “Our cold plunge projects have increased 10 times since then,” says Mitch Martinek, the company’s design manager.

Martinek attributes the uptick to several factors. Today’s homeowners want gym and spa amenities at home and on-demand, cold therapy health benefits are better known now, and there are lingering pandemic concerns over public wellness facilities.

Onyx W.D. Johnson and Cristian Santangelo’s two bedroom apartment in One Manhattan Square, in New York. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Cristian Santangelo, left, and Onyx W.D. Johnson at home. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The company’s cold plunges, which chill water to between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, are made from stainless steel or copper and can be camouflaged in tile, stone or wood. The pools can go indoors or outdoors, come in any size and can work with home automation systems. The average cold plunge costs about $45,000, with elaborate projects running closer to about $65,000.

One of the company’s more unique cold plunges had an acrylic bottom and was in a high-rise building. “It was on a deck with a fire pit below,” Martinek says. “The homeowner wanted to be able to look up through the cold plunge.”

John Thorbahn bought a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot single-family home in Hingham, Mass., south of Boston, in March 2020 for $1.6 million. He owns a cold plunge from Phoenix-based company Morozko Forge, founded in 2018. Morozko Forge’s entry-level unit costs $12,850; its upgraded version costs $19,900.

Morozko Forge’s ice baths make ice. While the stainless steel tub is filled with cold water, an ice slab starts building at the tank’s bottom. At about 1-inch thick, the ice detaches and floats to the water’s surface. The ice can be broken up with an implement like a rubber mallet if needed.

Thorbahn, 63, who is the managing director at consulting company NFP, ice bathes most days for two to three minutes at 33 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit. His wife, Jana Thorbahn, 59, ice bathes, too. “The older you get, the more you want to live longer,” says Thorbahn, whose home also has a gym, sauna, red light therapy room and hot tub. “You start investing in protocols to help you be healthy.”

While many cold plungers have developed their own ice bathing rituals, choosing everything from their preferred water temperatures to time limits, Dr. Susanna Søberg, a Danish Ph.D. metabolic scientist and founder of the Soeberg Institute, is one of the world’s experts on the health benefits of cold immersion, which she has been studying for nine years.

In 2021, Søberg published research on cold exposure and hot exposure, which is called “contrast therapy” if the cold and hot exposures are performed in succession. Studying Danish winter swimmers, Søberg identified that a short plunge in cold, moving water combined with sauna use shifts the body’s nervous system and creates physiological changes, like boosting metabolism, lowering inflammation and releasing neurotransmitters that improve cognitive performance and mental health. “You are activating your whole body system,” Søberg says.

In a field that hasn’t been widely studied by the medical community, Søberg has developed what she says is the only scientifically backed cold immersion protocol for reducing stress using contrast therapy and breathing: 11 total minutes of cold immersion combined with 57 total minutes of heat, across two to three days a week. The goal of her method is to expose the body to the smallest amount of healthy stress needed to reap health benefits. “Staying in cold water or heat longer may not be beneficial or necessary,” she says.

Søberg says cold immersion carries the rare risk of cold water shock that can cause confusion or fainting, but the risk increases if a person does hyperventilating breathwork before or during cold water immersion. She also says cold plunging might not be good for people with heart disease or high blood pressure. Søberg advocates for cold plunging with others, and practicing slow, nasal breathing in the water.

The backyard pool at Tobias and Christine Lawry’s 1963 Midcentury Modern house in Dana Point, Calif. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Their master bedroom opens up into their backyard. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Lawrys converted a bedroom into a wellness room that turns into an indoor-outdoor-fitness space. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Contrast therapy is why Sausalito, Calif.-based company Yardzen says most of its cold plunge projects involve saunas. Yardzen is an online landscape and home-exterior design company that works with homeowners across the U.S. The company’s co-founder and CEO Allison Messner says wellness yards—encompassing everything from cold plunges to saunas to meditation spaces to forest bathing—is one of Yardzen’s top 2023 trends.

“Peak luxury is having both a cold plunge and a sauna in your yard so you can experience cold and hot therapy,” Messner says.

Tobias Lawry, 51, and his wife, Christine Lawry, 50, live in a three-bedroom 1963 Midcentury Modern house in Dana Point, Calif. They purchased it in October 2018. Between July 2021 and October 2022, they worked with architect Chris Light, designer Frank Berry and builder Crawford Custom Homes to renovate their 3,000-square-foot house to honor its original period intention while modernising it. This included turning a bedroom into a wellness room, which opens into a backyard with a pool, sauna and Blue Cube cold plunge.

The Lawrys, who run an estate-management and concierge services company called LPM, keep their Blue Cube at 47 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically cold plunge in the evening and on weekend mornings.

Stephen Garten in Austin also has a tricked-out wellness yard: In addition to his Blue Cube, he has a barrel sauna from Almost Heaven Saunas, which are manufactured in West Virginia and start around $7,500. He also has a stock tank pool from Cowboy Pools, an Austin-based company that has pool packages starting around $2,000.

He was inspired to create a backyard oasis where he and his fiancée, Katie Snyder, can have friends over. “It’s wellness,” Garten says, “but it’s entertainment too.”


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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