The bathroom, a wet room: sleek, white, washable? That’s all in the past. Today, the bathroom is a living space that almost as a matter of course opens onto the living room and bedroom. German manufacturer Bette is presenting a suitable product for such a homely bath-world at this year’s ISH 2017: a standalone tub with a matching floor-mounted washstand. Together they form the “BetteLux Oval Couture” series designed by Potsdam’s Dominik Tesseraux. The special touch: both objects are upholstered and covered with fabric on the outside, meaning they feel more like a sofa than the usual hard surfaces of bathroom furniture. Last year, the series took the floor as a prototype, and now the washstand and tub have gone into regular production. They are available in four color combinations. In conversation with Jasmin Jouhar Dominik Tesseraux explains the effect of fabrics, his long-standing collaboration with Bette and the value of training as a cabinetmaker.
Jasmin Jouhar: Last year, your design for a bathtub with an upholstered textile frame was still a prototype and now it has gone into production as “BetteLux Oval Couture”. Is such an unconventional product not a bit of a risk?
Dominik Tesseraux: Unconventional, sure, but I don’t think it is a risk. Because companies not only seek with new products to expand their portfolios. They also seek to advance a brand. “BetteLux Oval Couture” is one of those products that are crucial to brand development. The starting point here: a fitted bath tub, which, for specific target groups, we then transformed via “Highline” and “Silhouette” through to “Couture”. The reason: The molding die to make a tub is relatively expensive. So it makes a lot of sense to be able to use the tool as much as possible. We combine this approach with the wish to do something for the brand, to give Bette the opportunity to develop further as an architectural brand.
So the new strategy for the line is to consider the bathroom as a whole and produce appropriate products?
Dominik Tesseraux: It has long been noticeable in the industry that the specialists are dying out while the all-rounders are flourishing and new ones arising. This concentration has benefits for consumer, plumbers and planners, as they can get everything from a single source. Bette desires to offer not just individual fitted products as the company has grown in confidence. With its pronounced design focus it has in recent years repeatedly set standards in the fields of baths and showers. So it seemed obvious to set out to design almost the entire bathroom, but that also meant changing the strategy for the line. At the last ISH in 2015 “BetteLux Shape” marked the beginning of this approach. This fitted product was suspended in a tubular steel frame and in this way Bette offers matching washstands and accessories, meaning a line ranging from the tub to the other fittings.
The idea of fitting a tub into an upholstered textile frame is definitely new. What inspired you?
Dominik Tesseraux: In recent years, we heard much talk of bathrooms melding with living rooms. This has come true precisely in the higher-end segment and in more discerning interiors. And that is without doubt a core Bette market. For this project, initially there were several ideas, but it was the use of textile that won out because the combination with enameled steel was so appealing, homely and mutable.
What is so mutable about textiles?
Dominik Tesseraux: Textiles can develop quite different qualities depending on the weave and colors. Coarse wovens convey a sense of texture and tactility even from a distance. Fine weaves seem more restrained and elegant thanks to their homogeneity. Meaning the product can change its face, as in the fashion world, from woolen pullover to evening dress. The interplay of textile and enameled steel then becomes all the more exciting as Bette offers a very wide spectrum of colors and textures.
Bette collaborated with Bielefelder Werkstätten and textile maker Jab Anstoetz for the prototype of the textile tub. What were the toughest things to solve along the way?
Dominik Tesseraux: In a tub you don’t just use water to wash with, which then comes into direct contact with the bath products. There’s also a lot of condensation. Meaning you have to make sure a product is impervious to damage by invasive moisture. The development effort therefore focused on a product that is duly back-ventilated, and that the materials could all withstand moisture.
What fabrics will you use?
Dominik Tesseraux: Only outdoor fabrics. Of necessity, even if initially it somewhat restricted us in terms of color, patterns and textures. Jab Anstoetz’s portfolio proved to offer a great range, from the very refined to the quite spectacular.
Will the colors be as powerful and Poppish as with last year’s prototype?
Dominik Tesseraux: We will return to the prototype’s color tones, among other things as the product was very often communicated with them and thus a certain sense of recognition has been created. The other colors will tend to be more neutral and less earthy, as that sits well with current trends in architecture, for example wooden floor boards or fair-faced concrete walls.
Bathroom colors: What would you recommend?
Dominik Tesseraux: That’s a very personal decision. One should also remember that a bath is pretty expensive and therefore tends to be fitted for quite a long time. In my opinion, the permanent fixtures should therefore be somewhat restrained. Although we are bidding farewell to pure white or boring anthracite, the colors are getting warmer overall. Nevertheless, a certain neutrality is needed. For me, the large bar products (meaning the washstand, furniture, the tub, the shower) comprise the stage that you can set using accessories. And then things can get colorful.
What does that imply for Bette? To date, white is the predominant color for enamel steel products.
Dominik Tesseraux: Bette is able to make its products in any number of colors. The textile tub will be conveying this message at the ISH, as we have of course also chosen the fabrics in terms of the possible enamel colors. The textile apron and the enameled steel product harmonize superbly thanks to the change in texture.
What will we see next in the bathroom?
Dominik Tesseraux: I think the two clear currents today, namely brand and price, will prevail ever more strongly in the market in years to come. Brand-name manufacturers will therefore find it ever harder to come up with unique arguments for their products. Providers of premium products will have to share a very small portion of the market and I feel sure that this will lead to product development processes being rethought. For example, it is quite nonsensical to make bathroom furniture out of plywood or MDF.
Another aspect that will affect the bathroom is that of demographic change and the resulting changes in everyday life. Products that help must not longer be stigmatizing in design. They will most certainly more strongly shape the face of bathrooms for future generations than is the case today.
You have been working with Bette for about seven years and have designed a whole range of products. What shape does the collaboration take practically speaking?
Dominik Tesseraux: We don’t have a classic client/designer relationship. Usually the client sends the designer a briefing, the latter then makes two or three proposals, one gets chosen, and then elaborated on. Things at Bette started out very differently: In a small competition with other studios we analyzed the existing portfolio and made four proposals how Bette could go forward. All have since been put into practice. Whenever novelties are ready for the ISH we suggest to Bette what the next steps could be for the line or as regards brand development. That’s not really common and shows how much trust Bette has in our work.
What’s so special about Bette that you’ve worked with them for so long?
Dominik Tesseraux: Bette is a very open-minded and progressive company. The executives really enjoy developing new products and hardly shy away from any obstacles along the way. As a designer it’s often a bit like being in seventh heaven. I know few corporations where collaboration is such fun.