One with everything: The Palomba Collection 2012 by Milan-based design duo Ludovica and Roberto Palomba takes a formal cue from nature
Switzerland and impeccable design are practically synonymous. Watches, trams, typography... The Swiss have long placed a great emphasis on the flawless functionality and aesthetic value of their material surroundings.
Bathroom and sanitary brand Laufen is no exception to this highly considered approach to design. At once international in profile, yet proud of its Swiss heritage (and of the fact that it's been in business since 1892), Laufen treads that impressive line between precision, forward-thinking manufacturing – aided in no small way by its state-of-the-art facilities near Basel – and the personality of a traditional Swiss brand.
Taking the waters: Both the bath and the 'Menhir' wash basin are free-standing, highly sculptural pieces that provide an arresting focal point within any bathroom space
Laufen may be masters in the production of quality ceramic products for over a century, but this certainly doesn't mean they're not innovators. A continuous drive to push the material performance of their products is matched by a desire to innovate in terms of design through form and appearance.
Enter Milan-based design duo Ludovica and Roberto Palomba.
Having successfully delivered a paradigm-shifting bathroom collection for Laufen in 2005, eponymously named 'Palomba', the two Milanese were commissioned once more by the manufacturer to build on the design language of existing product family. The result is Palomba Collection 2012, which bucks the trend for the super-rational by presenting a series of softer forms.
The one and only: The monolithic 'Menhir' free-standing wash basin marries, like the rest of the collection, organic curves with a healthy dose of the rational
Functioning on a visual level as almost a series of sculptures, the new pieces in the collection – which range from a dramatic, free-standing bath, through eight wash basins (some beautifully asymmetric) to a series of accessories – offer an unprecedented freedom of composition and combination, such is the strong physical presence of each and every piece.
Laufen's striking photo shoot of the products in the field – literally in a field in the Swiss Alps – is a clear nod to the role nature plays in informing the formal lexicon of the collection and requires little interpretation. Indeed, 'the inspiration comes from coastal inlets and cliffs,' say the designers, 'from observing the action of the sea against the rocks.'
Cleanliness is next to godliness: the new asymmetric and countertop basins from the extended Palomba range
But look closer and you'll see the true virtuosity of Ludovica and Roberto Palomba's designs. For they display something quite special: a highly considered tension between the two opposing formal drives of the organic, on the one hand, and the geometric on the other. It's as if nature itself has had its softening ways over time with what started out as rectilinear forms, wearing away at them with its elements. There's an irony here, of course: bathroom products that look like water itself has sculpted their forms.
As ever with Laufen, beauty is in the honed quality of the designs. The 1.8-metre-long bath displays an elegance and line that speaks of true formal consideration, while the wash-basin bowls possess the narrowest of rims, demonstrating Laufen's progressive use of ceramic materials.
Boxing clever: A modular storage system allows users to configure their storage according to their practical needs and aesthetic preferences
Perhaps the most striking piece within the new collection is the monolithic 'Menhir' wash basin, which, as a free-standing object, functions as compositional focal point within any bathroom setting. Meanwhile, the new WC seat with ultra-flat cover (which fits existing toilets) functions as a visual counterpoint to the curves of the bath and basins.
We are family: Ludovica and Roberto Palomba have created a suite of products with a consistent design language, meaning they can be combined and configured however the user wants
A modular system of open storage completes the new extended Palomba collection. Comprised of square and rectangular units and available in a range of colours, they can be configured – according to the user's needs or aesthetic preferences – both horizontally and vertically, to form bold, architectural-like schemes that combine a strong visual presence with generous storage.
Backstage: a short behind-the-scenes film of the Palomba Collection 2012 photo shoot on location at the Laufen Forum and at Lake Lugano, Switzerland
As design manufacturers continue, perhaps somewhat cynically, to look to fashion as a model for selling goods – evinced most clearly in the speed with which certain design brands launch new collections, in almost a seasonal, short-term-trend manner – it's heartening to see Laufen invest in the kind of design that eschews aesthetic obsolescence in favour of delivering a long-term family of high-quality products that embrace a confidence and consistent design language.
If sustainability is something we're all aiming for, this has got to be the right approach.
Ludovica and Roberto Palomba, designers of the Palomba Collection for Laufen