The bathroom. Arguably the most utilitarian room in the house. Most other spaces within the home may be defined by their primary function – the kitchen operating as a space for the preparation of food, the bedroom as one for sleeping – but this doesn't occlude the possibility, on a secondary level, of their use for other activities. How many times have you ended up socialising in the kitchen at parties? And we probably don't need to go into what goes on in the bedroom aside from sleeping.
A highly rational bath tap from Sieger Design's new 'Deque' collection range for German manufacturer Dornbracht
Yet the bathroom's raison-être as site within the domestic realm, and indeed that of the hotel, for performing one's ablutions and other lavatorial matters hasn't stopped a number of manufacturers from investing in a high level of design consideration and innovation that results in bathroom furnishings and fittings, which, exceeding their utility, form highly expressive objects with a strongly articulated aesthetic presence. Calling on the services of celebrated, internationally renowned product designers, a number of companies have in recent years produced collections that have upped the creative ante, placing the bathroom on a par with other spaces in terms of being an emphatically design-led environment. In a recent interview with Architonic, Ronan Bouroullec – one half of the respected French fraternal design duo the Bouroullec Brothers – told us how their studio had spent six years on their 'Axor Bouroullec' collection for German brand Axor. That's a lot of time in the bathroom.
Milan-based designer Matteo Thun was commissioned to design a new collection for Dornbracht, entitled 'Gentle'
With ISH Frankfurt – the number-one, international trade fair for 'the bathroom experience' (as the marketing blurb puts it) – about to open its doors to an eager public, we preview some of the leading players' new products. Each company, in their own way, has attempted to add more value to the design of the bathroom landscape, through products that heighten the sensory pleasure of the user, elevating the perfunctory need to wash oneself and, er, go to the toilet, to an altogether more memorable experience.
Villeroy & Boch's new 'MY NATURE' collection features optional nature-derived illustrative motifs on the surfaces of its washbasins
During this year's Dornbracht Conversations, the German manufacturer's annual design pow-wow for design opinion-makers, company CEO Andreas Dornbracht argued that 'the experience of the water is more important than the product', meaning that the materiality of what the company, as a producer of high-end bathroom fittings, makes isn't as important as what the products deliver in terms of their primary function. This may be the case for some users, but anyone who is going to invest in Dornbracht's, at times, almost sculptural products, is acknowledging their strong aesthetic presence, and, by extension, what they communicate about their owners. Two new collections – one by Italian architect and designer Matteo Thun, the other by Sieger Design – which build on the company's confident design language, testify to this. Thun's 'Gentle' range of fittings for wash basin, bidet, shower and bath, as the name would suggest, with their slightly rounded forms, provide a visually softer vocabulary of shapes than Michael Sieger's modernist-leaning 'Deque' bath fittings: here, reduced, rational forms, which embrace flatness to the point almost of the graphic, are bound to please geometric purists.
Vienna-based design studio EOOS have designed the 'OpenSpace' shower, whose large panels fold away to become a discreet wall panel when not in use
The graphic is also at play in Villeroy & Boch's new 'MY NATURE' collection, which introduces organically derived illustrative motifs (which, with their textured quality, have a tactile appeal beyond their visual one) to the surfaces of its washbasins, if desired by the customer. Such a reference to nature underpins what the collection as a whole is about: natural materials, soft tones and delicate lines. Fine ceramicware, produced in Mettlach, Germany, is married with chestnut wood, to produce a range of flexible bathroom furnishings that, at once, speak of contemporary urban spaces and of the great outdoors. A call of nature, if you will.
German-Russian architect Sergei Tchoban's 'Esplanade' collection for Duravit, which treads the fine line between luxury and restraint
'SensoWash Starck' by Philippe Starck for Duravit is the latest 'shower-toilet' to reach the market, promising ultimate posterior hygiene
Duravit's new collections address design for the bathroom on a number of levels – architectural form, technology and materials. Vienna-based design group EOOS's 'OpenSpace' shower, with its large-panel partition that folds away to become a discreet wall panel, is designed as a fully functional piece of bathroom furniture that operates also as an architectural intervention in the space in which it sits. The relationship between user and space changes depending on its positioning. No stranger to design for the bathroom environment, Philippe Starck has created what Duravit's marketing department describe as 'shower-toilet', a lavatory that takes posterior pampering to new heights. The slimline 'SensoWash Starck', with its heated seat and, more importantly, stainless-steel bidet arm that only becomes visible when the toilet seat is lifted, offers three types of wash: Rearwash, Comfortwash and Ladywash. We'll let you decide which is best for you.
Newly launched brand Bisazza Bagno is aiming high with its first collection: Jaime Hayon has designed a striking range of products that challenge the bathroom's usual object types
Finally, Duravit have commissioned German-Russian architect Sergei Tchoban to design a collection for the bathroom that treads the fine line between luxury and restraint. High-end materials, such as leather in the form of hand-sewn leather-loop handles, dark-wood panelling and high-quality white varnish, are married with traditional ceramic to create a sense of opulence, while eschewing any suggestion of bling. 'Esplanade', as the collection is called, is the antithesis of the gold-taps cliché.
A big-name collaboration: Armani and Roca are launching their dual-branded collection, which, as you would expect, is characterised by restrained elegance
The big design names continue with Jaime Hayon and Giorgio Armani. Hayon has created the aptly named Hayon Collection to launch Italian manufacturer Bisazza's aptly named new sub-brand, Bisazza Bagno. According to the Spanish designer, 'the collection is reminiscent of the glamour of the 1930s, with a Scandinavian touch and feminine forms.' Whatever your aesthetic interpretion is, one thing is clear: Hayon and Bisazza Bagno are setting out to challenge the idea of what bathroom furniture and fittings, as a set of familiar object types, should look and feel like. Meanwhile, Armani has collaborated with Spanish manufacturer Roca to create a dual-branded collection that, as you would expect, is elegant, yet restrained. Contemporary classic, in short.
Grohe's new Veris Digital tap and Rainshower Solo Digital shower bring its remarkable remote digital themostatic control to life
Among the new products that German brand Grohe will be showing at this year's ISH Frankfurt will be their Veris Digital tap and Rainshower Solo Digital shower, both of which bring remote digital themostatic control to life. Among other benefits, planning your perfect water temperature in advance and memory settings mean no more stepping into cold showers. Now, that's good to be good.
Devon & Devon's 'Serenade' console, with its shades of classicism and Deco, and its monoblock bathtub 'Diva' for luxuriant bathing
Devon & Devon will also be exhibiting at the fair. Two products to look out for are the 'Serenade' console, which marries different materials and different style references. Suggestive of the classical, with a touch of Deco, the fire-clay ceramic top sits on attenuated legs, which are available in either white or black ceramic or cast aluminium with an antique finish. 'Diva', meanwhile, is a quartz and resin monoblock bathtub, which, beyond its strong aesthetic presence, offers very good scratch resistance. This freestanding piece is, as it name suggests, a real statement.
The new 'Geberit AquaClean' shower-toilet, which features an optional 'design panel' that conceals unslightly water pipes that are required for its cleaning function
'Geberit AquaClean', the toilet with integrated shower function, offers excellent posterior cleaning. When installed, there is the option to combine it with a 'design panel' that sits above the unit, cleverly concealing the water pipes required for its cleaning function. This means there's no need to break into the wall itself, which makes the product particularly suitable for rental properties and smaller renovation projects. Take a closer look at it at ISH.
Perfect geometry in the bathroom: Vola's new 'Round Series' paper-towel dispenser and disposal receptacle, designed by Danish architectural practice Aarhus Arkitekterne
Also worth a closer inspection are Danish manufacturer Vola's new 'Round Series' paper-towel dispenser and disposal receptacle, both of which are an exercise in pleasing formal reduction. Designed by Aarhus Arkitekterne, with whom Vola have collaborated for a number of years, both products sit into the wall and feature a water- and fire-resistant front panel made of high-quality ABS plastic.
Established bathroom furniture manufacturer Alape will also be presenting its new products in Frankfurt: London-based architecture and design studio Lykouria Design have created 'Tangens', a resolutely geometric, yet formally friendly, wash basin, while 'Insert', designed by German studio Busalt Design, is a wash-stand ensemble, comprising a thin glass-steel basin, powder-coated metal base and optional integrated mirror, developed specifically for tight spaces.
Designed by German studio Busalt Design, 'Insert', manufactured by Alape, is a wash-stand ensemble devised specifically for tighter spaces
'Tangens', designed by London-based architecture and design studio Lykouria Design, is a resolutely geometric, yet formally friendly, wash basin
Israeli-born designer Arik Levy, who was guest of honour at this year's Stockholm Furniture Fair, and Barcelona-based Francesc Rifé were each invited by Spanish manufacturer Inbani to create a new collection. Levy's highly rational 'Structure' range plays, system-like, with volumes and voids, as soft-edged rectangular forms, comprising basins, storage units and so on, are housed within exposed metal frames, which, on the one hand, serve a structural purpose, while also delivering secondary functions, such as creating a sense of visual levity by elevating the various elements or functioning as towel rails. Meanwhile, Rifé has designed a box-like, modular bathroom system called 'Ka' that, with the differing heights of its constituent components, suggests the independence of each of the elements. The overall effect is a pleasingly dynamic and architectural one.
Arik Levy has created a collection for Inbani called 'Structure', which plays, system-like, with volumes and voids, as soft-edged rectangular forms, comprising basins, storage units and so on, are housed within exposed metal frames
Barcelona-based Francesc Rifé has designed 'Ka' for Inbani, a box-like, modular bathroom system whose various constituent components differ in height, creating a sense of dynamism and architecture
Last, but not least, VitrA Bad have developed two new collections – both designed by Aachen-based studio NOA Design – which you'll be able to get more acquainted with at the fair in Frankfurt. 'T4' displays, in terms of its form, the level of reduction you might expect from its pared-down and precise name, but not at the expense of literal and visual comfort: warm wood is held in a pleasing tension with the coolness of the range's ceramic components. Meanwhile, 'S20', also designed by NOA, is a flexible product range, with an emphasis on quality and aesthetic longevity. You can't say fairer than that.
'S20' (above), designed by Aachen-based NOA Design and manufactured by VitrA Bad, is a flexible product range with an emphasis on quality and aesthetic longevity, while 'T4', also by NOA Design, offers formal reduction
There'll be plenty more to see, of course, at ISH in terms of new designs and technological innovation for the bathroom, so why not come to Frankfurt? The fair runs from 15 to 19 March, 2011. What we've shown you here is a mere drop in the ocean. Or, rather, the bath tub.
Download your copy of the Architonic Guide to ISH Frankfurt 2011 here
ISH Frankfurt 2011 runs from 15 to 19 March.
Visit the Architonic Team at ISH Frankfurt 2011: we'd be delighted to see you at our Concept Space, located in Hall 3.1 Foyer 01 (on the way to Hall 4).