By Christopher Sell
Bathroom design is at the cutting edge of the region’s interiors sector. As homeowners and investors seek to develop spaces specific to the individual, sanitaryware and ceramics firms are capitalising on the demand for new ideas. Christopher Sell reports on the players in this high-level game.
In a city that has its fair share of homogenous residential developments, it is unsurprising that people are keen to stand apart from the crowd. This, coupled with rising disposable incomes and a willingness to keep ahead, has seen the bath and sanitaryware sector in the UAE continue to grow. Unsurprisingly therefore, one of the region’s leading producers is increasing production capacity yet again to cater for local and export markets.
Based in Ras Al Khaimah, RAK Ceramics is one of the world’s largest tile and sanitaryware manufacturers.
The company’s daily production of sanitaryware is around 7,000 pieces. Last year it opened its ninth factory in the emirate, adding 35,000m2 of daily production capacity of ceramic tiles to its output, making it the world’s largest single ceramic products plant.
Not content with just the nine, RAK’s 10th plant is being built. “Our latest plant is under construction and will increase our daily capacity by a further 35,000m2,” says Christopher Sunil, senior sales manager, RAK Ceramics.
According to Sunil, Dubai accounts for around 80% of the company’s market. “Current projects we’re supplying include the Arabian Ranches, the Burj Dubai and the towers being built by Nasa Multiplex for Emaar.
“Jumeirah Beach Residence is also another big project for us,” he adds. “All the towers there are using solely RAK Ceramics’ tiles for sanitaryware.”
And at the Big 5 last October, demand for bathrooms and sanitaryware continued to enjoy strong growth with the demand for quality products and innovative systems higher than ever. Industry leaders such as Franke, Geberit and Grohe showcased their most creative designs. “We will be looking to further enhance our market share through the launch of our latest products,” says Alexander Halabi, gulf regional manager, Grohe. “We have a number of exciting new products, and are confident that these will have a positive impact in the Middle East market, which we expect to continue growing at a very fast pace for at least the next 10 years.”
A number of new products have been released by the company recently including the digital Grohtherm wireless shower, which can be tailored to suit individual preferences of temperature and flow. It also features a remote control for more flexible use. The Rainshower handshower offers a range of spray patterns for gentle, vigorous or tranquil spray. Grohe also features the new Essence faucet, with a chrome finish produced using the company’s StarLight technology, which enhances its minimalist shape and pure design.
And this is raising some diverse interest from the global stage. Brazil’s investment in the Middle East construction industry was US $128 million (AED470 million) in the first half of 2006, a 4.4% increase, reflecting the growing demand for Brazilian products in Gulf countries, including ceramics and bathroom accessories.
And it is not just the manufacturers who are delivering new products – the latest design and technology in state-of-the-art ceramics and bathrooms will be showcased in Dubai at the region’s only design-led kitchen and bathroom exhibition, ISH kitchen+bath 2007.
The event, which runs from 13-15 May, will showcase the newest designs, concepts and products on the market aimed at improving peoples’ lifestyle, with key industry names such as Poggenpohl, Nolte and Siematic. The show provides a platform for exhibitors to source new buyers and increase their visibility in the booming Dubai market place and the wider Middle East.
Themes at ISH kithen+bath are expected to show how the boundaries of design have been pushed forward in terms of art, fashion and graphic design. Hand-crafted baths, basins, integrated vanity tops and flower bases will all be exhibited in styles ranging from sleep and minimalist modernity, to grand indulgence and even sheer fantasy, with the focus being on key requirements such as quality, durability and brand.
This seems to be the way bathrooms are heading in the future, with the emphasis on them being an integral part of contemporary living and not simply a functional space to wash. Unsurprisingly therefore, recent years have seen many designers team up with bathroom manufacturers. According to Christian and Michael Sieger, designers for Duravit, architectural borders such as doors and walls will dissolve and the space will open up to create an area that offers more than simply washing needs.
“Bathroom furnishings no longer provide a sufficient answer to the deep-seated longing to bring individual design to the private sphere of the home. Any response to the demand for interior design today must take a much more holistic approach. Nowadays we tend to demand much more of the bathroom than the purely functional aspects of washing and body care,” he says.
And numerous hotels within the emirate are seemingly torn between which way to go in their designs. Leonard Lee, senior designer at Singapore-based design firm, Wilson & Associates, used the same thinking in the Kempinski Hotel at Mall of the Emirates. “We decided on implementing different sections in the bathroom, there is a separate cubicle for the toilet that is apart from the sinks and bath; this is something that the major hotel groups are cottoning on to. However, on the other hand, it is becoming increasingly popular for hotels to integrate the bathroom into the master bedroom by using frosted walls, shuttered screens and in larger suites we are even witnessing large, claw-foot baths or spaces located in the bedroom itself.”
A new product on the market is ideal for bridging the gap between providing segregation in an open-plan space. Switchlite is a device that allows the user to frost glass at a turn of a switch, providing total privacy for the person inside the bathroom or shower stall when in use, yet remaining transparent at all other times.
Such technology is advantageous in a region that is characterised by high disposable incomes leading to a ready-made market for manufacturers of these high-end products. “In terms of who we supply to, high net-worth individuals are a significant target for us in the region,” says Jennifer Reid, regional marketing manager, Jacuzzi Middle East. According to Reid, another factor that is helping to drive demand in the region is the refurbishment market.
“This is beginning to appear already – we had expected it to be three years before we started seeing this, but the people who are buying properties are already starting to look at personalising their bathrooms. A lot of villas here are very homogenous and once people own a property, they want to put their stamp on it. So once they’ve done the decorating, they then turn their attention to kitchens and bathrooms,” she says.
With the GCC’s current appetite for all manner of construction materials, the residential and commercial market has seen an exponential growth in bathroom products and materials. Hence, while local firms are upping their manufacturing capacity to meet demand, it is no surprise to hear that firms from Turkey to Germany are all looking for a slice of the action. And there can be no doubt that once here, firms will not have to look too hard for business.