The bathroom is colorful: marketing manager Sven Rensinghoff and managing director Thilo Pahl from Bette in front of the color samples.

Stylepark Bette
Bathing in moss green

Are bathrooms becoming ever more colorful? And what prompted Bette to launch a bathtub clad in fabric? Martina Metzner talked with Managing Director ​Thilo Pahl and Head of Marketing​ Sven Rensinghoff.

Bette has been making titanium steel bathtubs and shower trays since 1952, and of late has also included washstands in the range. The medium-sized company not only stands for high-precision quality products and high-grade custom products, but for several years now has been grabbing the eye with its standalone bathtubs that definitely make a strong design statement. Here, color is increasingly playing a role, as are (and this may come as a surprise in the bathroom context) fabrics, as becomes clear in the following conversation Martina Metzner had at the Bette company head office in Delbrück with Managing Director Thilo Pahl and Head of Marketing Sven Rensinghoff. A tour of the works offers insights into the manufacturing process, where high-tech is combined with expert craftsmanship.

A bathtub need not always be white, don’t you think?

Thilo Pahl: About 95 percent of the glazed titanium steel tubs we sell are white. Over the last 15 years, white more or less squeezed out many alternatives. About 30 years ago there was much more color in bathrooms: Moss green and Bali brown were the colors of the 1970s, gray and beige tones prevailed from the end of the 1980s until the mid-1990s. After the turn of the millennium the entire bathroom, be it the tub, the toilet or the washbasin, were increasingly white. Only bathroom furniture or tiles brought a little color to bathrooms. For this reason, we can now offer more than 500 colors: Many of them are sanitary colors of the past.

When did the issue of color become topical for Bette again?

Thilo Pahl: The first time we thought about color again was 13 years ago, when the trend started of introducing colored tiles to bathrooms. It was in 2007 that we then introduced our first shower tray that was flush with the floor, the “BetteFloor.” In order to adapt it to the tile colors, we then developed 22 matte colors of our own. And recently we have included warmer hues, too. The colors are clearly aligned to the tiles.

The tile determines the color: models of shower areas "BetteFloor".

Bette is regarded as a specialist for customized products. Have there been special highlights in this field?

Sven Rensinghoff: For a private client we once made a bathtub with a Mondrian print. Now that really was very extravagant! As an eye-catcher in a restaurant we once made a special violet washstand. Good hospitality outlets and hotels are increasingly focusing on bathroom design. People tend to be more courageous there than in private residences. Bathrooms in hotels are also re-outfitted far more frequently, namely about every eight years. In private homes, the average is every 23.5 years. Color is also something special for our enamellers, as they then apply the enamel by hand. Bette stands out for the fact that it can do this. Often we get involved specifically when old bathrooms need to be modernized, but not everything is to be changed. For example, if tiles are moss green and a new washstand is required that the manufacturers of bathroom ceramics are no longer able to make in color or only as a one-off. Although it bears mentioning that most of the colored products we produce are shower trays that are flush with the floor, followed by washstands and bathtubs. When it comes to standalone bathtubs, two-tone variants are a relatively strong seller, as is the “BetteLux Shape.”

BetteLux Shape” was quite a massive leap for the company, wasn’t it?

Sven Rensinghoff: BetteLux Shape” has been on the market for three years now. A massive success. The bicolor versions in black and white account for about 80 percent of unit sales. There was not so much demand for rosé even though the press loved it. We took our cue in that case from the furniture industry, for example from Vitra, where rosé really worked. But a bathtub is not some upholstery fabric you can change every two years. “BetteLux Shape” is a really crucial national and international brand ambassador for us that demonstrates what Bette stands for and what we can do.

How did “BetteLux Shape” come about, a line that you developed once again together with Tesseraux und Partner?

Sven Rensinghoff: Tesseraux und Partner developed the “BetteLux” bathtub for us. Dominik Tesseraux always says that “you take a piece of paper, place it on a frame, and then it simply falls into the shape and is completely harmonious.” And he later added: “And now we’ll put a frame round it.” “BetteLux Shape” shows what you can achieve with glazed titanium steel. It perfectly conveys the product, because it highlights its supple shape with the very thin walls and can be made with extreme precision. Thanks to “BetteLux Shape,” the fitted “BetteLux” bathtub, which was already available in the “Shape” version, became an even bigger success, because many people who are interested in the “BetteLux Shape” then opt for the fitted “BetteLux” bathtub after all.

Do you believe “BetteLux Oval Couture” will be equally successful? The tub with the textile valance and soft shapes heads in a completely different direction. Moreover, it is very unusual to introduce fabrics into the bathroom.

Thilo Pahl: We presented “BetteLux Oval Couture” at the Salone del Mobile last year in the form of a design study, and then at this spring’s ISH as a finished product. The first tubs are just rolling out of the plant. It is a special theme and not a product for any old show. You first need to have a certain client base that is ready to pay 9,000 euros for a bathtub. And the fabric tub most certainly polarizes more than does “BetteLux Shape.”

Sven Rensinghoff: The tub also polarized internally. When the first prototypes were ready a lot of people said: Yes, nice. And then it starts to mold, so it won’t work. But we thought it was pretty exciting all the same and brought JAB Anstoetz on board. When they confirmed that there were fabrics that could be used without hesitation in bathroom (the textiles in question are outdoor fabrics that to the hand feel like a normal textile) we knew: Right, now we can go for it.

BetteLux Oval Couture” is not just courageous with its combination of materials; the range of colors is also extraordinary for a bathroom. It’s available in gray, cream, anthracite and moss green.

Thilo Pahl: A standalone tub quite simply makes a completely different statement in the bathroom, so there’s more potential for working with colors. We still take the most orders for the gray version, followed, surprisingly, by moss green.

Successful: "BetteLux Shape"
With Fabric: "BetteLux Oval Couture"

In recent years other rooms in the home, and above all the furniture, have become far more colorful. So where do you see color going in the bathroom?

Thilo Pahl: I think that quite a lot will happen with color in relation to the core products. I’m not so sure we’ll see an awful lot of color for the areas where water is involved. You don’t see limescale so quickly on white. I think toilets will still be white in 20 years’ time. And bathtubs, as we see from our own sales, don’t really offer that much potential for color. Meaning if people do opt for color, then it’s likely to be for showers, washstands or bathroom furniture.

Sven Rensinghoff: In principle, I believe that we’ll see more color in bathrooms than we do now. Among other things, through fabric. Using colored fabrics is less audacious. Which is also why we decided that “Couture” would not only be available in white.

The second novelty you presented at the last ISH was the “BetteLoft Ornament” tub, boasting facets, but only available in black and white. How so?

Thilo Pahl: It’s always a matter of what can be achieved with enamel. With “BetteLoft Ornament” we were just happy to create such a shape. So the emphasis was different.

First “BetteLux Shape” and now “BetteLux Oval Couture” and “BetteLoft Ornament” – is the role your products play in bathrooms currently changing? From restrained fitted bathtub to strong design icon?

Sven Rensinghoff: Things had already changed in 2009, which is when we started to make washstands, too. We’ve been very successful in using the same design for the tubs and the washstands. The shower trays are far more restrained and have to integrate into the architecture.

On the issue of how homely a bathroom can be, a matter of debate for years now, how do you see it? How far will the borders between the different parts of the home dissolve?

Thilo Pahl: We need to see whether clients will readily accept these trends or not. Are they courageous or will they want to play safe? The wellness trend has essentially been and gone. For us, design is key: How can we make things homelier? This is a topic that enables us to set ourselves apart from others.

And what is your contribution to the digital healthcare bath, expected to make it unnecessary to see a doctor?

Sven Rensinghoff: If you consider health in the bathroom, then a tub is a must. If you think of colds or aching limbs, then you can simply soak in the bath. That doesn’t work as well with a shower. As regards the melding of homeliness and the bathroom, it is definitely worth asking whether the trend does indeed exist. That’s for each and every one of us to decide. For me, personally, a lot of things are blending in the home, but I’m happy to be able to lock the door to my bathroom. And the digital bathroom is certainly interesting if you think of voice commands, for example, but is not necessarily what I want.

Thilo Pahl: In an age of far-reaching digitization, many people are happy to have a place to which they can retreat. For example, the bathroom. Close the door and switch off everyday life. To be honest there’s nothing more beautiful than soaking in the tub for 20 minutes. That’s holiday at home for you.

Is there not the risk that bathtubs will become a luxury in times when there is a shortage of living space? Smaller apartments often get configured simply with a shower.

Sven Rensinghoff: That tubs get left out also has something to do with demographics. An increasing number of people want to live in their own homes in old age, and a shower you can walk into is simply easier to handle when you’re older. That said, the status of the bathtub is on the up again, as young people in many cases simply insist on having one, be it in order to relax or because they have kids who like playing in the tub. Today, there’re far fewer people who say ‘I don’t need a tub’ than was the case only five years ago. And to be honest, a bathroom without a tub …

Thilo Pahl: … is only a shower room or a wash room.

Bathtub parade: Around half of the production consists of standard products.
Fine grinding: The welding seam is finished by hand.
Still raw: The enamel-flakes are rubbed by balls in drums.
Almost done: In a wet-on-wet process, the top and color layers follow after the base glaze.
Humpback whales in the warehouse: The deep-drawing process allows the boards of titanium-refined steel to flow slowly and precisely into the tank mold.
Great variety: Bette offers over 500 colors.
Precise craftsmanship: The colored enamel is sprayed by hand.