After studying architecture in her native city of Cologne and doing a postgraduate course in historic building conservation, Andrea Wirges-Klein worked for various prestigious architectural practices – including that of Gottfried Böhm – before setting up her own business in Bonn under the name Wirges-Klein Architekten. Since she also takes on interior design assignments, furniture designs and lighting concepts, she sees planning the bathrooms as an integral part of the overall design concept.
What status does the bathroom have today, and what will it be like in future?
A good day starts in an attractive bathroom that makes you feel good. There’s more to it than having a wash and cleaning your teeth. Warmth, pleasant lighting, scents, colours and water inspire both the body and the senses. Appealing furniture, wood, textiles and fluffy carpets – basically, materials that were frowned upon in a bathroom context for a long time – are now turning it into a proper room with its own character, a room for relaxation, fitness and grooming. That’s why the strict segregation between the bathroom, bedroom and living space is gradually being abandoned. The way the architecture is developing is also a clear indication that the bathroom has evolved from a wet room to a feel-good zone: bathrooms are getting bigger and often feature a flowing transition to other areas. Even private saunas can be integrated without any problems. And we can expect multimedia, the Internet, radio, audio players and flatscreens to become increasingly common in the bathroom too. Networked technologies are opening up new possibilities. Bathing and showering are turning into a relaxing experience. I also think that bathrooms will become increasingly user-friendly, they’ll have fewer barriers and automation will provide more possibilities for personalisation and greater convenience – programmable fittings are a good example of that.
What do you understand by holistic bathroom design?
It’s a question of taking the user’s wants and needs into account wherever possible. To do that, I have to get to know my client; we go to bathroom and tile showrooms together and gradually get closer to his idea of a perfect bathroom. Choosing the sanitaryware, materials, colours and lighting concept calls for experience and sensitivity. Finally, I also try to make sure the bathroom doesn’t clash with the design concept for the rest of the building. On the contrary: wherever possible, the bathroom is integrated into the overall planning of the rooms. Turning the design into reality calls for practice-oriented planning, far-sighted technical implementation and expert site supervision. There are lots of different specialist areas to be coordinated: carcass work, sanitary, heating and electrical installations, tiling and so on. That’s why we draw up detailed plans that take all the different tradespeople involved into account.
A bathroom has to be geared towards its users’ needs. How do you find out about those needs? After all, some of them are pretty intimate.
Well, our clients don’t actually have to reveal any intimate secrets. But it is very important to get to know them properly, to talk to them and establish trust. It’s a question of finding out about their usual bathroom routines and questioning those routines – a lot of them can be optimised. We use plans of the existing bathroom and sample layouts. Apart from the client’s wish list and budget, his family planning and the way he envisages his life unfolding also play a crucial role. On our joint visits to the showrooms operated by wholesalers and specialist companies from the sanitation, heating and air-conditioning sector, we can test, touch and combine the products we see. Thanks to my experience, I can advise and guide my client through the process and help him make the necessary decisions.
When you’re planning a bathroom, how important is it to take the house’s surroundings into account – things like its location, trees, the garden and so on?
That’s a question that might seem ridiculous to start with, but the truth is that we sometimes plan bathrooms with big areas of glass and access to a garden or terrace. If there’s a sauna in the bathroom, for instance, that makes it convenient to pop out for some fresh air or a bracing outdoor shower. We want to be close to nature without forfeiting intimacy. In a case like that, screening can be provided by free-standing wall sections in natural stone or exposed concrete, plants or other design elements. In that respect, you can certainly say that the architect coordinates the bathroom design with the design of the building’s surroundings.
The modern bathroom has evolved from a functional room into an emotional one. As an architect, what possibilities do you have for promoting this emotionality?
Modern bathrooms no longer have to be completely tiled. It’s often enough just to tile the splash zone. Instead, wood and textiles are becoming increasingly common in the bathroom. Attractive bathroom furniture and innovative sanitaryware are replacing the boring furnishings of the past. Seating makes grooming easier and tempts you to linger, the floor can be covered with bathroom carpets. A colour and lighting concept creates a feel-good atmosphere. Innovative new materials like coloured architectural glass, safety glass with embedded plants, textiles etc. or imitation natural stone open up plenty of creative scope.
What sanitaryware do you think individuates the appearance of a bathroom and why?
For a long time it was individual items like the bathtub, shower, basin and toilet that shaped the appearance of a bathroom, even if only on account of their bulky presence. The same items dominated the style of the design as well: rounded or angular, understated or playful. Today there are sunken bathtubs, level-access showers, wash basins that can be placed in and on furniture and surfaces. At the end of the day, it’s a question of staging the sanitaryware according to the way it’s used in and with the room. A skilful arrangement of the products creates a sense of spaciousness, creates zones, generates a sense of openness or intimacy and optimises movement sequences. The sanitaryware becomes a part of the whole, like an instrument in an orchestra.
What do you particularly enjoy about your own bathroom?
The challenge! My bathroom was retroactively integrated into the floor plan of an Art Nouveau building that dates back to 1900. Although the size of the room doesn’t leave me with much leeway, there are various things that could be optimised. That’s what I call a challenge! It’s going to be a while before I have time to enjoy it.