We want to have it even better in our bathrooms in future. And we want the ultimate in technical convenience too. But without any complicated gimmicks, if you please, so that everyone can use it and we can all live barrier-free lives. It should be natural too, of course - and ecologically compatible. An exciting task for the industry, its designers and architects.
Green Bathroom: the link between the indoor and outdoor worlds
Whatever the bathroom of the future looks like, sustainability will be one of the defining motives for its technical, qualitative and aesthetic make-up. Up until now, however, sanitaryware manufacturers have largely focused on the aspect of saving water. Under the heading "Green Bathroom", this approach is now set to extend to other areas as well. It's all about getting back to nature, about natural materials - and above all about sustainable bathroom design. When the Green Bathroom principle is interpreted in a broader sense, the bathroom quickly reveals itself as the space that provides the setting for people's most direct encounters with the elements: namely with warmth, water and air. In terms of materials too, a Green Bathroom should of course be designed in such a way that it truly deserves the epithet "sustainable".
When it comes to usage, other aspects are uppermost: asked about their ideal bathroom of the future, people often say they would like to have access to the outdoors or at least bring air and natural elements inside. Air and light are important themes which, in the Green Bathroom, are interpreted as opening the bathroom up towards the outdoors. Architecturally speaking, this represents a fascinating task, especially in new builds: the bathroom as access and as a link between the indoor and outdoor worlds.
Bathrooms that make life easier for young and old
Another key, consumer-driven aspect is user-friendliness in the sense of a multigenerational or cross-generational bathroom. These days nobody wants to end up in a retirement home. People would much rather have a smart new bathroom with a wellness tub, a comfy bench and a big, modern walk-in shower (which is, by the way, the most ingenious invention of all for the young, the old and people with high design standards), and there are even those who dream of a vanity table complete with big mirror. More and more people are coming to realise that it is their bathroom that will eventually decide whether or not they can live a self-determined life well into old age. What people will be looking for in future is therefore a bathroom that can satisfy the needs of all different kinds of users - Universal Design is the keyword here. An "Easy Bathroom" based on the idea of a multigenerational bathroom is simple, practical and timelessly attractive, a room for everybody, from toddlers all the way to seniors. Disabilities, whatever their nature, should not be the prime concern when planning a bathroom. Instead, the ultimate goal is to omit anything that would discriminate against certain individuals. It is the art of reduction that makes the difference. A market with a future.
The digital bathroom: a private spa as if by magic
In the bathroom, design is entering into an ever stronger symbiosis with technology and digital elements. The main argument for digitising the bathroom is enhanced convenience. LED technology has already shown us just how much of an impact modern technical equipment can have on the aesthetic quality of the bathroom too, not to mention sensory qualities and safety aspects. But even multimedia entertainment is now taking up residence in the former wet room - which isn't actually that wet at all any more.
Whenever water and electricity are meant to come together in the bathroom, however, the DIN standards often raise objections. It's just too dangerous to have openly accessible power connections in Safety Zone 1, i.e. in the immediate vicinity of open water sources. As a result, recessed speakers in the ceiling and a whirlpool bath equipped with underwater floodlights were for a long time the only form of luxury possible in the digitised bathroom. But then, with the advent of low voltage technology (12V), the "water and electricity" relationship started to progress. In this respect, we are at the beginning of a dynamic development that will lead to the all-embracing digitisation of the bathroom. Nowadays, electronically controlled fittings that ensure the right water temperature at the push of a button and storable bespoke programmes in the shower are more than just wishful thinking. Technology is taking up residence in the bathroom so as to make life easier for its users. At the same time, the emotional staging of water and light also plays a very important role. But it has to be simple - after all, real life is hard enough.
The future of the bathroom lies in playing with the space
The future of the bathroom lies in playing with the space. At the same time, it is no longer so much about stylistic categories such as "Country Bathroom", "Urban Style" or "Retro Chic" but about designing different layout concepts. The crucial question that home builders and bathroom planners must ask themselves is no longer how to equip the room but how to interpret the space and zone the functions. It won’t just be the interior designers who adopt new approaches but the industry as well, for the challenge will not so much be to come up with classic bathroom items as to develop spaces – spaces that are allocated a very definite function and endowed with an individually designable utility value. Not just the shower but the wash basin or toilet will become a space within a space – as stand-alones, in an ensemble of several combined furnishing elements or as a deliberate sequence of stages in daily routines and ritual relaxation time. What used to be a bathroom – i.e. a modestly sized, clearly defined and enclosed room in which a certain number of functional fixtures were installed according to the simple concept "once around the wall" – is turning into a designed spatial sequence of interlinked or more distinctly separate spatial units. For the bathroom user no longer wants a functional box that ergonomically satisfies his basic needs in the smallest possible space, he wants a room for diverse activities in an intimate setting: a room with different zones that can be used for hygiene, pleasurable grooming, fitness, styling or mental and physical regeneration.
The idea of adding the bathroom onto the bedroom as a semi-open space and making the transitions permeable is thus being joined by the approach of turning the bathroom itself into a space in its own right - a space dedicated to relaxation. "The bathroom of the future will increasingly evolve from an isolated functional area into living space," says designer Roberto Palomba in explanation of his vision of the bathroom. As head of Palomba Serafini, the studio he runs together with his wife, he has been developing concepts and designs for renowned sanitaryware companies for many years. Accordingly, Palomba's prediction sounds extremely promising: "The bathroom will become a room full of colour, full of innovative materials and forms, of soft and sensuous objects, a place where you can experience emotions. A totally emotional space rather than a room crammed full of equipment and furniture."
More space for furniture and more furniture for the space
There is another fundamental furnishing trend that is having a considerable impact on the bathroom's evolution into living space. Furniture is increasingly being assigned the role of differentiating between zones and functions. It's no different in the bathroom. That is why modern bathroom design will favour products with precisely this architectural quality; they can be used to generate a special atmosphere or partition off intimate areas. In addition to extensive and modularly structured product ranges which – thanks to their vast array of cabinet elements, finishes, measurements and fitting variants that include freestanding, wall, ceiling or deck-mounted models – can be combined to create space-structuring arrangements, there are also some striking product concepts that venture to step away from the wall all by themselves and create their own space.
But what are the basic prerequisites that need to be fulfilled if the bathroom is really to be redesigned as a "proper" room? Bathrooms are in fact already becoming a lot cosier. All of a sudden, they are starting to feature carpets or a nice armchair for reading a book in the evening. But as is so often the case, this confronts us with the classic problem of the chicken and the egg. Meeting bathroom users' modern needs calls for a bigger space than the average 7.8 m² that are available. Many architects have already realised this and are equipping new build homes with bigger bathrooms. Merging the bedroom and bathroom areas is also becoming increasingly common. But even so, for the next 10 to 20 years, housing associations, building contractors and architects will still be called upon to make the bathroom more spacious. At the end of the day, it is the users who are demanding bigger bathrooms, simply because their lifestyle habits have changed. One thing is certain: in future, the bathroom will play an even more important role in the canon of the home.