The programmatic agenda for the new LifeSpa concept by Dornbracht relies on preventative healthcare and ensures a high-grade bathroom fit-out.

ISH 2017
Live healthily – and really live

The bathroom of tomorrow will also involve healthcare. At the ISH Thomas Wagner spoke with Andreas Dornbracht about the new concept of the LifeSpa and general trends in the bathroom experience.

Thomas Wagner: Preventative healthcare is now starting to be a major aspect of the bathroom. In what direction are things going?

Andreas Dornbracht: Starting as it did as a simple wet room, the bathroom has developed massively in recent years. Above all in aesthetic terms – it has become a living space outfitted with design items, materials of different qualities and new functional objects such as wall-mounted mixers and floor-level showers. Now we want to turn the bathroom into a health space where you can engage in preventative healthcare. The question here is: How to communicate the idea? Simply showcasing individual products will not suffice. So we decided to develop a programmatic agenda in the form of the “LifeSpa” concept that focuses on what the whole thing is really about: a healthy life. And we’ve launched this agenda here at the ISH. It seems to me that the time is ripe – economically speaking, too – because design is now well established as a field that can add value and because end consumers have long since been concerning themselves with health, with healthy sleep, healthy food, fitness. The challenge is now to get that message out to the end consumers.

You say that it no longer suffices to present new products and a real agenda is now needed. Are you going through what the carmakers have experienced? They have had to learn in recent years that they no longer just make cars but are mobility providers. Has the horizon expanded in a similar way in the sanitary industry? 

Andreas Dornbracht: To a certain degree, yes. And in the sanitary industry, in addition to the topic of health there’s that of digitalization, the Internet of Things, which is certainly exciting for the industry given its complexity, but also calls for more inputs and effort. Which is why it is especially important to develop a programmatic agenda that goes in two directions: to sensitize the end consumers, to tell them what bathrooms can do, what to expect, and that they can do a whole lot more than they do at present. And we must draw the attention of the intermediaries, the specialist retailers and architects, to the fact that these are interesting topics. There’s a lot more persuasion needed when it comes to the architects and specialist retailers than with end consumers. I believe the latter are already on board.

So you are busy contending with a variety of challenges?

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes, essentially things are getting more complex, intellectually speaking. And the weighting of the various issues has changed: The issue of design, good design quality, is now basically a standard, even if there are great differences. Meaning, something is shifting in the hierarchy.

On the one hand, the challenges are greater, on the other there are opportunities and new prospects. 

Andreas Dornbracht: Life has fundamentally become very complex, if only because of digitization. If we now say that concerning yourself with your health means precisely quite a bit more than just going to a gym three times a week and instead focusing on all the different aspects of a healthy life, then that is likewise pretty complex from the end consumers’ viewpoint. So we have to offer concepts and solutions in our segment that enable them to get moving. No doubt not everyone will do this, but perhaps there will be those who say: I’m especially interested in the topic of the bathroom and the topic of hydrotherapeutic applications. We have the right products for these people.

So you’re still out there trying to persuade people?

Andreas Dornbracht: The topic of health is not exactly an easy one for the person advising a client who wants to modernize a bathroom at home. The adviser needs to learn also to discuss the human metabolism, circulation and skin status, and not just about design and which type of marble is best. At this point, the complexity soars, which is why we as manufacturers have to succeed in creating new networks. We’ve already established them in the field of digitization and the Internet of Things. Today, we talk to Vodafone, we talk to IBM, we talk to insurers such as Allianz. But we’re still busy finding new networks in the healthcare segment.

What areas are you thinking of here?

Andreas Dornbracht: The focus must be on talking with a manufacturer of beds and with one that makes cooking appliances – as healthy sleep and healthy meal preparation are both key. But this is unknown territory for us, albeit a space that offers an immense opportunity, precisely for an owner-managed SME such as ours. Independent of the business case we can discuss visions and find approaches where we can offer not just the right products and services, but also the necessary knowledge for a better life. 

In the future, advisers will need to be able to talk to their clients about the metabolism, the circulation and skin quality – and not just about design.

That sounds very humanist in thrust? 

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes, but it isn’t altruistic.

Your approach focuses on the individual as a whole and is in that sense humanist, surely? 

Andreas Dorngracht: Exactly. But that means there are basically three levels to our communications on LifeSpa. The first is how to use water. Here we impart knowledge on how to use which items of equipment when. 

Meaning different water applications and forms of water delivery, from rain drops to Kneipp hoses.

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes. The second is how to specify. Here the emphasis is on providing advisers with information, for example, on how to plan a hydrotherapeutic application in a shower correctly. Third, it is a matter of architecture, of how to plan the layout for the various zones in order to achieve optimal LifeSpa and health functionalities using only a few square meters of space. Now that’s a challenge and here again guidance is needed, knowledge needs to be conveyed. 

It’s clear what your core competence is. Namely water and its applications. If other competences are now required, and knowledge is added from the networks you mention, what then will a bathroom look like in ten years’ time?

Andreas Dornbracht: Let’s start with the basics: The number of square meters available will not change much. But the bathroom will have more functions.

The bathroom will become an all-embracing fitness space and optimized in terms of air, fragrance, light and mood?

Andreas Dornbracht: The bathroom will become a holistic space and meet holistic standards. It will need to appeal to all the senses and accommodate as many functions as possible. The everyday rituals of body care, beauty, cleansing, not to mention relaxation and preventative healthcare will all now take place in a circumscribed space. The bathroom will still on average be only seven square meters in size. We’re talking here about bathrooms that are perhaps 10 or 12 square meters, not 50 or 60. It’s now up to us, the bathroom planners, to provide inspiration for the retailers and the architectural community, to prompt them to think of new layouts, footprints that enable different combinations and functions.

Have some proposals already been fleshed out in this regard?

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes, Sieger Design has developed a “Small Size Premium Spa” for Dornbracht that has a footprint of only six square meters. It is astonishing how many additional functions can be accommodated if you really think hard about the layout.

“We must break our concept down,” says Andreas Dornbracht, “into what reality calls for, namely the actual square meters available. We’re clear about this and these are steps we are taking.”

This “Small Size Premium Spa” is not available yet, is it?

Andreas Dornbracht: No, you can’t buy it as a finished product yet.

But would the condensed form of a LifeSpa not mark the decisive step toward being able to offer smaller bathrooms, too, for example in new-build dwellings?

Andreas Dornbracht: Of course. We must break our concept down into what reality calls for, namely the actual square meters available. We’re clear about this and these are steps we are taking. I recently traveled to Hong Kong and met an architect who managed to get all the functions you would associate with an apartment of 100 square meters inside an old-build flat with only 32 square meters. Using sliding walls, he can host a party for 20, enjoy the home entertainment system with eight others, or cook for lots of friends. It admittedly took years until he had optimized the layout and functions such that it all fitted into 32 square meters. That is exactly the task that we want to tackle and which we hope to inspire architects and interior designers to think about.

Meaning bath tubs will be standing in living rooms soon after all?

Andreas Dornbracht: That won’t be the case. The layouts will change, definitely with a view to optimizing the overall area. But the bathroom has its own climate zone and that will definitely continue to be the case.

Your LifeSpa concept has a different emphasis anyway.

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes. We need to think about its layout as a sleeping area or fitness room, or whatever. The question is how to incentivize planners to consider such issues. Our programmatic agenda is one such incentive.

And for you the most important incentive is preventative healthcare?

Andreas Dornbracht: Just today I was visited by one of Germany’s most renowned interior designers. He was really enthusiastic about how we are taking the issue of healthcare on board. He said that these were new themes and went through everything, from Bauhaus to Minimalism, and got the feeling something is now happening. Clients, he thinks, are no longer only interested in cool, geometrically perfect spatial constellations, but instead want warmth, a sensory experience, tactile environments and new functions.

Do tactile features and functions play a key role for mixer faucets, too? With Vaia you are launching a new mixer with a soft formal feel, new surface finishes and colors.

Andreas Dornbracht: That’s another instance of things getting warmer. Interior designers often now tell us that there’s demand for warmth and darker tones. High-gloss materials and bright tones tend to feel cold. Another topic is to use as few materials as possible, to design filigree fittings, not only with a view to sustainability, but also for aesthetic reasons. Then there are the slightly softer shapes, although we’re of course maintaining our design vocabulary. The shape of our fittings remains very clear, with precision workmanship and superb proportions. At our end, there are no experiments, just evolutionary steps.

You call this a “transitional style,” don’t you?

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes. Today, things are combined differently and no longer strictly chosen in line with a uniform style or design idea. There are no prevalent dogmas any longer that dictate how something has to look.

A design vocabulary that plugs an undogmatic Modernism in the design: Andreas Dornbracht talks to Thomas Wagner.

Is it fair to say that as regards the design vocabulary you prioritize an undogmatic Modernism? 

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes, that’s a very good way of putting it. At present, the interior architects are also abandoning any dogmatic uniformity. This means that interiors are becoming far more personal, perhaps even autobiographical. For example, some heirloom from your grandmother gets incorporated into a modern ambience. Interiors are no longer just slick, cool and perfect. This also applies to the bathroom, especially the premium end. Here, increasingly individuality counts. We wish to encourage interior architects, bathroom planners, and consumers to be more daring: Don’t just adhere to standards that manufacturers set at some point or which the market decides. Dare to combine a mixer in a dark tone on the washstand with chrome fittings in your shower. Why not? 

Meaning customizing and not off-the-shelf?

Andreas Dornbracht: Exactly. It doesn’t have to be a coherent style end to end. I believe we must encourage people to accept such variability. We can only distinguish ourselves from other manufacturers by precision and a focus on detail. Nurturing continuity does not mean always doing the same thing, but that you can see over time how a brand and product portfolio have developed and continue to develop.

Is the trend currently moving from the visual towards the sensitive or sensual?

Andreas Dornbracht: We should not forget that a product never exists in isolation. We have learned down through the years that it is not the individual product that counts, but how it all works in context. Which is why successful variability also means that our products with finish X or finish Y are placed in a particular context by the bathroom planner that more than satisfies the consumer or the guest using it in a hotel room.

And with the LifeSpa project you wish to create a context that consists above all of wellbeing and health, and essentially addresses the good and right life we all so definitely seek?

Andreas Dornbracht: That’s exactly our starting point. We say that the body, mind and soul must be in harmony. The real thing is quality of life and that includes health, of course. If I’m not happy then I’m actually not healthy. We are very clearly focusing on physical and mental wellbeing.

Is the Dornbracht brand therefore more closely bound up than ever with a culture of the right, the good, the pleasant, the happy life?

Andreas Dornbracht: Yes, basically it’s all about enhancing quality, specifically by advancing the quality of bathrooms by providing new functions and thus improving the quality of life. It’s a long path to achieve that and in a decade or so we’ll know whether we were successful or not.

Does this mean that just like I can cultivate a garden, I can cultivate myself?

Andreas Dornbracht: That’s exactly what we challenge people to do: Look after yourselves, your health and you can do that every day for two, three, four or five minutes while in the bathroom. And not just there, but in a particularly pleasant way there. Eating healthily does not mean forgoing enjoyment; it means eating consciously. And the same applies to using a bathroom. Take the time and use it well, that is what we want to encourage, as you only need a few minutes. 

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