Away from the wall!

Bathrooms have never been as big, as superbly equipped and as cosy as they are today. And never before have the expectations of bathroom design been so high. The bathroom sector is responding to these expectations with extensive collections that take some very different installation situations into account and cater to various taste preferences with a choice of finishes and décors. Accessories and atmospheric interiors are becoming increasingly important. Today interior designers can choose from an abundance of differently designed items and product lines, from level access shower trays and wallpaper-like tiles all the way to ceramic wash basin sculptures. But where is all this leading, and where is the development potential for bathroom design and sanitaryware? 

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“, “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 bathroom has become independent living space in its own right.

Like the kitchen and living room, the bathroom and sleeping area are today perceived as belonging together and are increasingly being implemented as interlinking spaces. And it isn’t just the “Homing” trend that is responsible for this development: hotel culture and its often original design solutions for cosy and comfortable arrangements has shaped people’s expectations of the private bathroom too. Today’s modern collections are geared towards the individual implementation of layout concepts. They can be used to subdivide the bathroom into various zones, perhaps into a shower-and-toilet area for hygiene and another area for relaxation. The latter might take the bathtub as its focal point and include a spacious, luxurious basin solution that provides the suitable design and climate for a harmonious connection with the sleeping area. The toilet is increasingly being separated off completely or at least visibly set apart from the rest of the room, perhaps by means of a radiator that doubles as a room divider, as proposed by Zehnder, or via a plumbing wall element that projects into the room. 


Yet other layout concepts take a minimalist fitting as their starting point and make the water the focal point of a sometimes pleasure-oriented, sometimes more contemplative design. In the latter category, the designs of the fitting collections from Dornbracht, Mem and Elemental Spa are already legendary. Other concepts take the open, flowing space as their design principle, without incorporating differentiated zones; today bathtubs and even showers can be positioned anywhere in the bedroom, as demonstrated by the prime examples of space-sculpting bathtubs from Kaldewei. 


But there’s more to it than dividing walls, sliding doors and diverse wood décors that link the bathroom design with the rest of the living areas. The change is more far-reaching than that and even extends to the concept and design of the products themselves. This evolutionary leap is most evident from the bathtub, which has developed from a purely “negative” form, i.e. a hollow body that required a (usually tiled) border and connection with the wall, into an independent, sculptural object that can be positioned anywhere in the room. To the same end, the shower has been reduced to such an extent that it can be implemented as a level-access space within a space and is becoming a purely architectural element.  

The tub and snug materials are turning the bathroom into living space

It all started with the bathtub. When pictures of Philippe Starck’s first bathroom collection began going round the world, people started regarding sanitaryware as furniture that requires a room for itself. Today the freestanding bathtub is at the centre of many layout concepts that interpret the bathroom as a fully-fledged room with different usage zones. At the same time, the sanitaryware is increasingly liberating itself from the wall, projecting into the space or being positioned centrally. This creates sightlines, interlinked areas and secluded zones. Showers are turning into room dividers, wall sections accommodate the fittings and wash basin and the toilet is doing a disappearing act, either vanishing from the bathroom entirely or at least retreating into a separable alcove. For the rest of the bathroom is now defined as living space and being furnished with relaxing furniture and cosy carpets. The extent, structure and “layouting” of the sanitaryware can be chosen according to individual needs. Standard repertoires are no longer compulsory. Layout concepts - especially if a bathroom planner tailors them to a specific person, family or institution – are rectifying the previous lack of scope for individualising the bathroom.  


When it comes to design there are two directions: Either the washstand, bathtub and shower are reduced to an architectural element that can be used to “build” spaces, or they become objects that themselves occupy a space – a courtyard around which the user moves. Kaldewei recently took the “away from the wall” principle to breathtaking extremes with its Piatto shower plate: With its theatrical curtain, the ensemble consisting of shower tray, magnetically attached splash guard and fitting stele (Dornbracht) lays claim to a show-stealing position that totally abolishes the boundary between the living space and bathroom.  


But bathroom design is not so much being afforded special status as re-enacting what is already happening to the interior design and product design in other areas of the home. For here too, the space is being interpreted more openly. This brings a sense of largesse even to smaller floor plans and the merger of the living areas in which both private and social life takes place – living, working, eating and cooking – is being echoed in an open-plan kitchen layout in which a central cooking island, combined with a dining area, is increasingly taking centre stage. Walls are being opened up or torn down and replaced with island arrangements, room dividers, sofa systems, cupboards and shelving.  

It’s no different in the bathroom.

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 allow the planner to generate an individual atmosphere and partition intimate areas off. Even radiators like Kermi’s Fedon model are turning into interior design items that can adapt to the colour scheme and even double as a lighting element. In addition to extensive and modularly structured product ranges which – by virtue of 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, such as the Edition Atelier mirror cabinet wall by Keuco. Duravit’s Mirrorwall is an eye-catcher in its own right and also forms its own space, seemingly created by opening the doors in front of and behind the washbasin – mainly due to visual effects. The rc 40 cabinet series by Burgbad, a modular system that permits a wide variety of layouts, has stepped into the realm of architectural structuring elements once and for all. With walk-in cupboards, washstands and consoles, rc 40 mediates between the architecture, furniture and sanitaryware. And with sauna concepts like Inipi (Duravit), even entire rooms that are traditionally housed in the basement can be integrated into the bathroom-cum-living-space.  


Originally design wanted to make the product world more human – with the aid of ergonomics. It tries to adapt our material surroundings to the human body. Today’s interior concepts for the bathroom seek more individual solutions – the floor plan is adapted to the habits and ideals of the specific user. As a result, professional bathroom planning is set to become increasingly important. The bathroom planner is becoming a director who stages the objects and specifies how the occupant moves around between them and how he can use the bathroom. The spatial quality of the bathroom is determined by two equally important parameters: firstly by the design of the atmosphere and the dramaturgical effect of the forms, colours, materials and lighting; secondly by the spatial structuring achieved by means of deliberately positioned sanitaryware. In order to ensure the required freedom of movement, a “courtyard”, or usage zone, is built around them by means of visual differentiation and/or structural elements.  


Today the paths between individual locations in the bathroom are being analysed as well. However, it is not primarily a question of efficiency but of the quality of the experience and the needs-based zoning of the increased space available. Grooming enjoys enhanced status in our lifestyle because it not only serves hygienic purposes but provides enjoyment and relaxation as well. As a valuable component of our culture, grooming is being differentiated into various sub-functions – such as washing, cleansing and refreshing, facial and beauty care, daily routines, switching off and relaxing, dressing and even fitness or socialising. 


Text: Claudia Wanninger