Green Bathroom, Bathroom Interior and Easy Bathroom – those are the titles of the most important developments taking place in bathroom design right now. They describe the trends “Back to Nature”, “Away from the Wall” and “As Simple as it Gets”, which have been compiled and described in beautiful, visionary images by one of the sanitary industry’s most influential umbrella organisations, the German Sanitary Industry Association (Vereinigung Deutsche Sanitärwirtschaft e.V., VDS), in collaboration with trend researchers. On the occasion of the ISH in Frankfurt, the world’s leading fair for the entire sanitation, heating and air-conditioning sector, Jens J. Wischmann, managing director of the VDS, explains the revolutionary ideas behind the pictures and headings of the new “Pop up my Bathroom” campaign.
You already launched a “Pop up the Bathroom” campaign to coincide with the ISH 2009 and illustrate the trends you’re observing in the design and perception of the bathroom. Will you be picking up where you left off last time or propagating something totally new?
No, we’ll definitely be elaborating on the same story. What we started with Pop up the Bathroom in 2009 motivated us to pick up exactly where we left off. The trends continue to be valid, although of course in modified form. There are global trends that remain unchanged. Then there’s a certain amount of adjustment in the form of different colours, different materials, different themes that are coming slightly more to the fore. In our opinion, the trends from Pop up the Bathroom are just as valid as they were two years ago, but we wanted to pursue the same principle without saying the same thing all over again. We identified three lines of development in the bathroom segment as particularly important, not only from the sanitary sector’s perspective but because we believe they are socially relevant too as far as the bathroom is concerned.
So what do these three trends look like?
Well, to start with there’s the Green Bathroom theme. In the past, we focused very strongly on the issue of saving water. Now we’d like to enlarge on this term. It’s about getting back to nature, about natural materials, and more than anything else it’s about sustainable bathroom design. When we talk about saving water in future, then always whilst taking local circumstances into account, which vary from one place to another. In my opinion it’s more correct to talk about handling water responsibly, because at the end of the day it’s not just about saving costs. Depending on the surroundings and heating system, I can still use a rain-shower system or enjoy my daily bath with a clear conscience and no loss of comfort.
If we leave the sophisticated technology and sustainable design that you credit this trend with aside for a moment – what else might a “Green Bathroom” involve?
If you take a broader view of the Green Bathroom principle, you realise that the bathroom is in fact the room where we have our most direct encounters with the elements, that is to say with warmth, water and air. And in terms of the materials, of course, a Green Bathroom should be designed in such a way that you really can talk about sustainability, because that’s something else I take naturalness to mean. But if you ask people what they’d like their bathroom to be like, a lot of them will say they’d like access to the outdoors, or would at least like to bring the outside air and natural elements inside. And everybody enjoys some fresh air after a sauna. Ventilation and a fresh air supply in the bathroom are an important issue; in the Green Bathroom, it’s interpreted by opening the bathroom up to the outdoors. In the same way that the kitchen, as a housekeeping room, should ideally open up to the outside, the bathroom can also establish a connection between indoors and out – even if less for practical reasons than because of a need to experience nature. Architecturally speaking, that’s going to be a very exciting assignment, particularly where new buildings are concerned: the bathroom as a way of creating access to and a link with the outdoor world.
Is that one of the reasons you modified the motto? From ‘Pop up the Bathroom’ the first time round to ‘Pop up my Bathroom’ this year?
Yes. We want to open up the bathroom. That’s the whole point of this pop-up thing. And with the ‘my’ we’re emphasising that the individualisation trend is intensifying. It’s not the off-the-peg bathroom that we want to ‘pop up’, but an individual bathroom that meets users’ needs and is a perfect fit with the owner of the house or the person who uses the bathroom.
Let’s talk about the second trend: Bathroom Interior. How should we envisage it?
The fact that the bathroom is no longer merely a wet room but a room for living in is already being publicised in a variety of ways. But it took a while for the sector to realise that this development effectively makes the bathroom part of the interior. Today’s technology makes it possible to arrange the various elements much more freely. Whether I use wall-mounted elements, a block formation or a walk-in shower, or even integrate a sauna: I am almost completely free – even though not entirely without constraints – but very nearly completely free to choose which room I want to designate as the bathroom. And I’m also free to arrange the elements as I like. That’s revolutionary, and that’s what we wanted our installation to express.
Who is this tableau meant to appeal to?
The freedom to plan intelligently, how to handle and take advantage of this freedom, that’s the challenge – not just for the product designers but for the people who build the bathroom too. We want to point out just how much is already possible in terms of bathroom planning. But we also want to give people in our sector a really strong incentive to take this theme on board and see themselves as bathroom designers who build a room – rather than just arranging products along the wall –, who gear the design of the room towards the user and the rules of interior design. That also means that cosiness and modern technologies are reflected in the bathroom too, of course. And because people’s personal circumstances are changing – in terms of things like family constellations, the disappearance of the separation between private life and work, the need for regeneration – the basic architectural parameters are changing too. Modern usage behaviour will lead to a further change in the relevance of the bathroom.
Will usage behaviour really change just because I lay a carpet in the bathroom?
If you look at English books on bathrooms, carpets and reading material have been part of the picture for a long time now, whereas Germans still refrain from that kind of thing because, traditionally, we in Germany tend to go for bathroom furnishings that are reduced to the minimum in an almost clinical or Asiatic way. But yes, I do expect a change as a result of the fact that we now have bathroom products, bathroom layouts and bathroom floor plans that open up more possibilities and tempt the consumer to use the bathroom for longer periods at a time. On the other hand, I also believe it will increasingly assume the role of fitness and wellness room, with a bath, light therapy, wellness massage and similar features that provide a health-promoting and psychologically stabilising effect, so that I very deliberately decide: “Hey! I need this room.” But if the bathroom is going to be used for that kind of thing, it ought to be designed more attractively as well, because I don’t want to have to stand in front of the mirror the whole time, I want to be able to sit down as well. I want to be able to enjoy the room, to settle down for a cosy evening with pleasant lighting and listen to music without the sound being deadened. All these aspects play a role. If we use the bathroom more often and for longer periods, it will automatically result in expectations of a cosier, softer and more individual design.
And what’s the third trend about?
I was getting a little ahead of myself with what I just said about the bathroom broadening its role to become a fitness and wellness room, because of course there’s a certain amount of overlap. At the last ISH show we were already talking about an ‘Easy Bathroom’, because there’s a whole lot more to it than just barrier-free bathrooms. It’s about bathrooms that are easy to use, that provide comfort for the various generations at any age and are adaptable. We presented that in great detail at the last ISH, and it was also one of the trends I came across at manufacturers’ booths. As a consequence of demographic change, this will certainly be one of the decisive trends, not just in Germany and Europe but throughout the world. Unfortunately, there’s still a lack of intelligent solutions to some extent, and if they are available they’re not always user-appropriate or attractively designed enough to match the user profile. However, I think a great deal has been happening in this area since the last ISH. That’s why we were right to pick up on it again and draw attention to all the new developments in this field.
What’s so special about the Easy Bathroom?
Not much at first glance, actually – precisely because a comfort-friendly, easy-to-use bathroom isn’t a totally different type of bathroom. The artificial distinction between a barrier-free and a normal bathroom will disappear. In future we’ll be seeing a perfectly normal, smart bathroom that adapts to its users’ style and contains a host of hidden solutions – small, intelligent solutions that can be activated one step at a time.
Curved surfaces that I can’t hurt myself on, slip-resistant finishes, balance aids that don’t look like grab handles. Bathtubs that provide a place to sit and rest, height-adjustable washbasin units and toilets, a lighting concept that helps me get my bearings ... a whole lot of sophisticated little things, carefully designed with meaningful details to ensure that this room is easy to use, even and especially when certain limitations enter the equation. You’ll notice that I’m talking about limitations, not necessarily severe disabilities. Anybody who’s ever been ill or suffers from back problems will definitely appreciate this kind of little comfort function.
And why do you see the bathroom as a fitness centre for older people?
Demographic change doesn’t just mean that people are getting older, it means their working lives will be considerably longer and they’ll be living active lives for much longer as well. You can’t compare a 50-year-old or 60-year-old today with somebody of the same age 20 or 30 years ago. So this room is also gaining relevance in terms of how fit and attractive I can keep myself for society. What room could be better suited to that than the bathroom?
How could that manifest itself in concrete terms?
It has to be possible to generate this fitness and wellness aspect every single day. It starts with something as banal as more storage space for various make-up and fitness utensils. But new technical equipment will make its way into the bathroom as well. Why shouldn’t it be possible to start the day by doing fitness exercises from game console manufacturers in front of a screen or the make-up mirror? Or with very easy but very effective exercises to improve your balance – after all, balance problems are the biggest cause of accidents involving the elderly. I can certainly envisage the possibility of following health tips or exercises displayed on the mirror – there are already technical solutions for using a mirror as a TV screen. There are a whole range of potential developments, which is why I believe there’s a big future for the Easy Bathroom.
Why is the VDS taking this job on?
We believe concerning itself with these developments is the German sanitary industry’s definitive role. The VDS is a combination of manufacturers, dealers and tradesmen and thus includes anybody in Germany who’s involved with bathrooms. And in future it won’t just be about products, logistics and installation, but about the symbiosis between all three. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts! Even if that’s an often-quoted saying, it’s particularly appropriate in this case. I need innovative, competitive products that are well represented on the international markets. In that respect, the German industry has a strong tradition and a competitive advantage. We have to hang on to that and strengthen it, and that’s why, with a trend show like this, we need to fly a neutral, overarching flag. Our job as the representative of this triad is to concern ourselves with these trend themes and say what all three tiers of our sector can expect when it comes to tomorrow’s bathrooms.