At Phoenix Design you’ve been dealing with the theme of bathrooms for more than two decades. What’s changed in that time?
Haug: A great deal has changed. Basically the purely technical side of things – in the past, the fittings actually still looked like technical devices. But more than anything else, the size and significance of the bathroom has changed and it’s taken on more relevance within the living space. And its function has changed too. Nowadays much more importance is attached to showering than it used to be, for instance.
So the shift in meaning has a lot to do with changing needs. What kind of expectations do we have of the bathroom today?
Haug: The bathroom always has something to do with hygiene and with the time you have available. That’s why showering has become more important: nowadays people shower every day so that they can set off for the office feeling clean and freshly washed. That wasn’t necessarily the case in the past.
Schönherr: You can certainly say that a complete paradigm shift has taken place. In the past the bathroom was just a wet room and sanitary products were described as technical sanitary goods. And it really was just a case of covering people’s hygiene needs. Today the bathroom is living space with an extended range of functions, it’s where you get ready for the day in the morning and want to wind down again in the evening and leave the stress behind you. And the amount of time spent in the bathroom has changed too. These days people spend 30 minutes or even a whole hour on something they used to do in 5 minutes.
But how can products like fittings contribute to that feeling? At the end of the day, a tap is just something the water comes out of.
Schönherr: But the real question is this: how does it come out? There are huge differences. The fitting is part of the most complex and most expensive room in the entire house. And there are big quality differences in terms of the function and aesthetics, which have also changed dramatically. On top of that, the way fittings are operated also plays a major role. Thermostats that give me exactly the temperature I’ve programmed have caught on more and more. On the other hand, the way the shower functions – i.e. the way the water comes out of the showerhead – is crucial too. Here the changes even include electronic operation that permits complete control of the functions of the individual outlets, things like the flow rate, changing water temperatures or switching between different kinds of jet and so on.
What impact does that have on your work as designers? Do you try these parameters out yourself or do you rely on studies?
Haug: We don’t have our own spray mode laboratory, so we can’t test new approaches ourselves. Sometimes we give our customers ideas as to what direction they might want to research in, sometimes the ideas come from our clients who have their own spray mode labs where they can try things out in detail. A lot of research is being done in this area and the results are astonishing. You might think it doesn’t really matter that much whether a shower uses ten or twelve litres of water. But if you see it in terms of the total number of showers and their increased duration, it makes a huge difference. If we manage to create an equally good showering sensation that uses two litres less water, it’s a fantastic triumph.
German companies in particular are attracting a lot of attention with their innovations and seem to be forcing each other into a kind of competition to see who can come up with the best new products. Surely we’ll run out of ideas eventually?
Schönherr: Besides form-related evolutions, a lot of developments result from bathroom users’ changing needs. If you take those new needs seriously, it inevitably leads to new approaches.
Does Germany have a location advantage?
Schönherr: Perhaps it’s a German characteristic to strive for things that are better and enduring and touch people’s hearts. If these three attributes come together, you end up with products that are valued and respected all over the world. Maybe other countries are a little more one-sided in their focus than we are. That’s why German products are internationally accepted and sought-after.
Does design help develop the export market?
Haug: At least in the high-end segment, German manufacturers with their quality products and sophisticated design are well-placed at international level. The foreign markets have realised that these products have a good and modern design, it’s as simple as that. Our understanding of design here in Germany enjoys international recognition. It’s certainly got something to do with our traditions as well – with Bauhaus, for instance, and the fact that we Germans started concerning ourselves with functional products very early on.
One last question: what do your own bathrooms look like?
Schönherr: My bathroom is full of products that we’ve made ourselves – and that includes everything from the fittings, shower, shower tray and shower screen all the way to the bathtub and toilet. So you could say I’ve got a self-designed bathroom.
Haug: I’m in the middle of building a house and my bathroom’s going to be extremely snug, with the same wooden floor we’re using for the entire storey. I don’t have a bathtub, but I do have a very, very big shower. That’s much more important to me. I shower once or twice a day, but I never actually take a bath. I’m also going to have a little sauna in it, and a balcony that I can access from the bathroom, plus a window that goes all the way up to the ceiling and is five metres wide. If a visitor steps into this bathroom, he won’t immediately realise where he is. It’s more like a living room with water.