A growing demand for luxury means that ideas of well-being and architectural form are starting to influence domestic bathroom design, but can UK consumers really afford the entry ticket? asks Trish Lorenz
Consumer attitudes to bathrooms have changed dramatically in the past five years. Gone are the days when the space was purely functional, a place for a quick wash, a room that needed to be clean and simple and where design was almost an afterthought. Today’s consumers see bathrooms as spa-like centres of relaxation and indulgence; as places to unwind, relax and get away from things. Individual expression is increasingly important, bigger is almost certainly better and more than one bathroom per household is becoming the norm. Some homeowners are even willing to sacrifice bedroom space to make room for a luxurious bathroom.
Bathroom furniture design is beginning to recognise this shift, with next month’s 100% Design featuring a number of exhibitors pushing boundaries and challenging conventional design norms. Perhaps the most interesting launch comes from Northern Ireland-based bathroom products manufacturer Us Together, which is showing its Ebb range and two new products, Loop and Line. The company decided in 2005 that it needed a more innovative approach to remain competitive. The result is a range of products that play with both scale and form – the six pieces in the range include a 2.2m-long standalone basin and various permutations of basin, bath and shower that combine in one sinuous piece, some longer than 4.5m.
‘We’re not trying to shoehorn this idea to make it fit into existing bathrooms,’ says Us Together director Geoff Clarke. ‘We were deliberately looking to design a product that had an architectural basis. We wanted to create something that would fit within modern homes and promote well-being; we didn’t want to design another red box with a shiny handle. There are lots of products out there and we’re not trying to replicate the status quo.’
The flowing shapes of the Us Together range are possible because the products are made from LG Hi-Macs. A non-porous material comprising 65 per cent acrylic and 35 per cent natural material, it has a stone-like feel but can be formed into almost any shape, enabling curvaceous and supple designs.
German bathroom company Alape is also taking an architectural approach to bathroom design and launches its ‘basinless washstand’ at 100% Design. Completely flat, the product has a concealed inlet and its outlet – a groove just a few millimetres wide – is virtually invisible, allowing water to flow across the flat surface. ‘Its function isn’t immediately obvious,’ says Alape design and product manager Jürgen Kloss. ‘It turns water back into a feature – a phenomenon to be seen and experienced, instead of merely disappearing down a drain.’
The product is made from ‘glassed’ steel, which enables the washstand to have a hollow interior. According to Kloss, the design shows that large-scale, geometrically-complicated products can now be realised, meaning basins need no longer be standard shapes.
Technology in the bathroom is another trend in evidence at the show, in particular with lighting elements. Eurobath will launch its Ethos showerhead at 100% Design. The showerhead incorporates 240 LEDs and engulfs users in a spectrum of coloured water. Operated by a wall-mounted control, users can choose to pause or rotate the colours, dependent on mood. Slightly more gimmicky are Philip Watts Design’s Gloo urinals, also launching at the show, which use fibre optics to enable them to glow in the dark.
Digital technology is also at the fore – it seems we no longer even want to turn on a tap. Jado’s Jean Nouvel-designed mixer tap is completely battery-driven, using buttons instead of mechanical handles or levers to provide an on/off function and regulate temperature and flow. Grohe, meanwhile, offers Grotherm Wireless, a shower that can be programmed and operated by remote control.
Even mainstream bathroom companies are getting in on the act. Ideal Standard will launch Tris, a shower room that includes tropical showering, steam, sauna, aromatherapy and hydro-massage facilities.
It will be interesting to see how successful these products are – innovation in the domestic bathroom sector is constrained in the UK by modest room sizes and budgets. Given the scale and price of the Ebb range – £35 000 for a full set – this seems a bigger issue for Us Together than for most manufacturers, but the company is confident, and is targetting the US and the Middle East, in addition to the UK.
It looks as though the future is not only bright but also very, very clean.