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Wed 15 Oct 2008 06:22 PM

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Functional fashion

Designers and manufacturers discuss the latest trends that are driving the success of today’s bathroom culture.

Designers and manufacturers discuss the latest trends that are driving the success of today’s bathroom culture.

Over recent years the bathroom has developed away from being a simple, functional room, and shifted towards being a place of retreat, where people can indulge themselves away from the stresses of everyday life.

Current trends in the bathroom are becoming increasingly diverse, with bathers seeking basins made of solid stone, free-standing tubs for a minimalist approach, or water-saving solutions. Whatever the combination, there is no shortage of variety.

“Bathroom design has been changing since the beginning of the century. It’s no longer about simple cleaning: rituals now play a major role in the design of bathrooms, as well as in the design of products. As the result of years of occupation with the topics of cleansing and space, where the individual stands at the centre of the architectonic design, we have developed the concept of Ritual Architecture through our Elemental Spa collection,” said Andreas Dornbracht, CEO of Aloys F. Dornbracht.

“It is based on the fact, that the individual becomes the ‘inhabitant’ and is no longer merely the ‘user’ of the bathroom. The bathroom thus, achieves a new function as a living space, in which we can consciously discover all our senses, with qualities that extend far beyond the satisfaction of a purely physical need, namely washing. These needs are reflected in the architecture, the design and materials of our bathrooms,” he added.

Home spa

It is also no surprise that with the dedicated spa-goers in the region, particularly in Dubai, that it has become increasingly popular to take the same calming, bathing rituals and incorporate them into the bathrooms of a number of residential and commercial developments.

“The bathroom is now all about ‘de-stressing’. At Kohler, we think of the ‘home spa’ as a place to relax, refresh, rejuvenate, and retreat. The trend began in the mid-’80s with the physical fitness and health craze, as well as the cocooning trend. In the ’90s, we saw this trend surge and evolve into an interest in yoga and day spas. Now, the trend has moved into the home, where consumers can get the benefits of a day spa in their own private retreat,” said Helga Feghali, marketing manager, Kohler Middle East.

“A home spa is about getting a break from the pace of our lives. With cell phones, voice mail and e-mail, we’re always multi-tasking — we can always be reached. But if you add a Kohler whirlpool to your home, you can close the door on the world and turn off the ringer,” she added.In light of this, Kohler introduced its latest product in its bath and basin collection, the Fountainhead VibrAcoustic bath.

“This product uses Kohler’s unique VibrAcoustics - a technology-based sound therapy defined as hearing crystal clear music under water and feeling sound vibrations through the body. This unprecedented bath has been specifically engineered to ease tension and stress at the touch of a button,” said Feghali.

“The four VibrAcoustic experiences consist of compositions of water, music, vibrations and lighting in order to encourage the bather’s breathing rate to align with the beats or chord structures. This encourages the bather to relax physically because the mind is able to shift into a focus on internal, physical feelings,” she added.

In addition, the Elemental Spa from Dornbracht adopts a similar approach.

“Our latest product development is the Elemental Spa, where water stands in the centre of attention. The origin of this architecture lies in water taps that have the appearance of natural springs. The bathroom therefore, becomes a sanctuary for the soul. Physicality and the experience of water are definitely at the heart of this bathroom,” said Dornbracht.

“The material mix is another novelty: cubes made of silky-matt Corian, a mineral-based material, are used for the fittings in Elemental Spa combined with chrome-plated high quality brass – the first time this has ever been done. For the same bathroom we put transient materials such as corten, copper or olive wood in a new context: water leaves traces on all of them,” he added. Functionality versus fashion

Despite the obvious relaxation value, in the sanitary ware business it is always a challenge for designers to strike a balance between function and fashion, state-of-the-art technology and streamlined design. A bathroom is now a fashion accessory, and often one of the unique selling points available in a development, especially here in the Middle East.

With the introduction of an extensive wellness range including baths, Villeroy & Boch is one company that has launched products with new functional solutions, as well as technical and aesthetic refinements.Product ranges which illustrate these latest trends are the Aveo and the Squaro. “The Aveo features the natural form of an egg with a free-standing, spacious and comfortable bath, in order to offer protection, shelter, and relaxation. Performing one’s ablutions in the morning or, unwinding in the bath in the evening provides the active, modern and design-conscious person with an environment that is in line with his or her lifestyle and style of furnishing,” he added.

“In addition, the focal point of Squaro is a new walk-in shower solution with pedestal and two integrated glass elements, that, depending on the level of comfort required and room layout, offers individual applications for both the shower and bath,” said Thorsten Bies, Regional Manager Villeroy & Boch Middle East.

Fashionable basin design is also an option available from the Villeroy & Boch, in its Memento New Glory collection.

“Requirements and trends from beyond central Europe now attract bigger attention, our Memento New Glory range of high-quality, modern washbasins is a great example of this. Their minimalist rectangular form, inspired by Bauhaus design, offers a contemporary neo-baroque décor, which is firmly rooted in the tradition of floral motifs, places the design-oriented washbasin in a new stylistic context,” continued Bies.

Some manufacturers and designers however, figure the functional approach is far more important than the look of a bath or basin.

“Longevity is an important fact to consider, when it comes to the design of bathroom products. They have to be timeless, not fashionably designed and the same applies for the materials used for the products on the walls, floors and ceiling of a bathroom,” said Dornbracht.

“The focus should be on the durability, rather than on a fashionable material. Very special materials such as those used in our Elemental Spa collection help to develop an aesthetically pleasing value; however, today’s consumer pays more attention to products with an authentic sustainability concept.” he added.

At Roca, they also believe that functionality out-bids fashion.

“Roca is definitely going for functionality: that means designs which really fit the needs of the people, not just design for the sake of design. This functionality is always linked to a responsible consumption of water and energy, without lowering the comfort level,” said Victor Schoone, Roca Group representative office, regional manager, Middle East.“In other words, always trying to increase the quality of life of the users, and lowering the impact on the environment. We’ve gone from square shapes, to organic shapes, now we’re basically facing functional formats, which allow the user to comfortably use the product,” he added.

Eco friendly

An awareness of the value of water as a resource is also increasing significantly within bath and basin design.

“This means that although people wish to experience the pleasure of bathing, they are concerned with sustainable use of water. In this respect, lower water consumption alone is not enough; instead, the decisive factor is how efficiently we use water. Viewed from this aspect, the Hansgrohe AirPower and EcoSmart technologies form an absolute dream team,” said Lina Varytimidou, marketing manager, Hansgrohe.

“EcoSmart product features technical innovations that ensure excellent performance as well as an eco-friendly impact. Bottom line: Hansgrohe proves that you don’t have to sacrifice an intense bath or stylish designs just to be more environmentally conscious,” she added.

In light of these eco-friendly measures, some companies offer designs to fit the needs of clients in different parts of the world, Kohler’s cast iron bath and high-gloss acrylic baths, for example.

“Cast iron baths are excellent for retaining heat. This reduces the need for users to top up their bath with hot water. However, this feature is more popular in markets such as the UK, Russia and the United States. More popular in the Middle East is Kohler’s high-gloss acrylic baths, which come in a wide array of shapes, sizes and colours, offering endless possibilities for bathroom design. These baths are also reinforced with fibreglass to avoid chipping,” said Felgahi.

New technologies, innovative materials and new design therefore, mark a new era for bath and basin manufacturers, and designers.

While the trend towards a bigger bathroom will continue since it has become more of a living and a recreational area, the popularity of wellness products, such as whirlpools, spacious, simple, yet comfortable baths are still very much in need, as are fully functional, water-saving, and attractive basins.

As a result, the modern bathroom is a room for relaxation, and a place where technical innovations in materials and eco-friendly solutions play just as important a role as the aesthetic design itself.

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