No two bathrooms alike

Interior architects continually face the challenge of implementing the developer’s individual wishes and bringing these into harmony with their own ideas of functionality and aesthetics. Anders Bergman spoke to Susanne Brandherm of Brandherm + Krumrey Interior Architecture (B-K-I), the winner of the “Axor Inspiration Project” competition, about the differences between baths for your own home and those in property development, the need for mock-ups, suitable materials for bathrooms and wetrooms and bathroom fittings through the ages.

Anders Bergman: You design bathrooms and spa areas both for private individuals and hotels. How do the clients differ?

Susanne Brandherm: The basic difference is that private clients put a stronger emphasis on individual needs. And as a designer I need to have an intimate knowledge of those needs. Moreover, family considerations also influence planning. By contrast, in a hotel a large community of different target groups is addressed. That calls for an intensive study of the hotel’s overall concept. Is it, say, a business hotel or a sports hotel? Guest can have highly diverse demands and they all have to be analyzed. With hotels we are often working in existing buildings, where the available space may be very limited. In these cases it can be challenging installing contemporary bathrooms that meet current standards.

Do your clients approach you with very precise ideas of what they want?

Susanne Brandherm: Sometimes. If a client does have exact ideas, the thing is to combine them to form an ideal overall concept. Thanks to our creativity and experience, we can greatly elaborate on the ideas, say, by choosing the most suitable materials. If a client has vaguer ideas, we first need to clarify their individual wishes and needs and finally realize them through our input.

Bathroom in a private apartment in Cologne's Rheinauhafen, designed by B-K-I. Photo © Weisslicht, Philipp Brohl, Köln

Hotels have completely different settings. What special things do you need to consider when planning or realizing bathrooms?

Susanne Brandherm: Yes, that’s right. What’s most important is that we know and understand the target group and hotel concept. Then we can just as easily produce a suitable creative concept for a budget hotel as we can for a five-star hotel. At any rate, for us creativity means creating outstanding quality, something that really sets the bathroom apart. Technology, ease of cleaning and cost-efficiency are all important factors. If it is possible to build a mock-up, that is a great advantage. It is an ideal way of solving critical aspects such as cleaning times or finding suitable technology. Sometimes the chief housekeeper has considerable influence on such practical details.

What changes are we seeing in the materials used in bathrooms? At one time parquet was thought to be something that should be avoided.

Susanne Brandherm: Bathrooms are no longer necessarily closed rooms anymore. As a place for relaxation, the bathroom is moving ever closer to sleeping and living areas, while the overall layout of rooms is more fluid, with the various areas merging into one another. In effect, the bathroom becomes an integral part of a holistic wellness concept. This not only creates openness, but also means space can be better utilized: Thanks to corresponding spatial solutions certain areas can be changed, temporarily separated off. Often, to underline this sense of continuity the same materials are used in living spaces and bathrooms.

Are there still limits to the types of material used, or is it a case of anything clients want today goes?

Susanne Brandherm: The industry has seen major changes. Products and materials are being further developed, a trend driven not least of all by the increasing demands we planners make. Today, for example, it is no problem to lay parquet flooring in a bathroom, as it can be modified for such use. It has also been used in kitchens for some time. I always prefer using authentic materials, so wooden tiles would not be an alternative to parquet for me. Sustainability is an important aspect for us.

There is no clear border between bathroom and sleeping area in the rooms at the Ramada Hotel in Hamburg. Photo © B-K-I, Nicole Zimmermann

Furnishings and demands are changing, too …

Susanne Brandherm: Design that works well always starts with a good concept. A fundamental characteristic is the variations in the fittings. Planners are decisively involved in a project’s success; this applies equally to economic aspects and the feel-good factor. If we consider hotel bathrooms, demands have changed immensely in recent years. Most guests today expect a large floor-level shower cubicle with a rain-shower system. As an indispensable element, the bathtub is no longer considered a mark of quality, but is standard. The bathroom itself has become an important sign of quality. This also holds true for rental apartments, where an attractive bathroom makes for more attractive prospects.

Manufacturers in the bathroom area are trying to stimulate new client wishes as well as cater to current ones. As you see it, is anything still missing that would make bathrooms better?

Susanne Brandherm: The industry has achieved a very high level. Current standards are already high and are subject to continual development. You can see this with regard to bathroom fittings; take the visible water vortex (Axor Strack V) or the button-operated shower (Axor Select). There are hardly any limits to innovative developments. And digitalization will absolutely feature in developments in all areas. Lighting has also made huge advances. At the recent Light + Building 2016 trade fair exhibitors presented lighting scenarios and settings that can be operated without switches. However, this sort of thing should not be overdone.

Given that we already have so much technology, what might a future scenario look like?

Susanne Brandherm: Who knows, maybe we will no longer have bathrooms in the conventional sense? Maybe there will simply be living spaces that seem like one large oasis!

„In a hotel a large community of different target groups is addressed. That calls for an intensive study of the hotel’s overall concept.“, explains Brandherm regarding her concept at the Ramada Hotel in Hamburg. Photo © B-K-I, Nicole Zimmermann
Going to a dentist can be fun: The friendly bathroom of the dental practice for children with the name "Smile Stars" in Cologne. Photo © Weisslicht – Philipp Brohl, Köln
Bathing, sleeping, relaxing - in the “Apartment M.” in Cologne you have that in one generous one space. Photo © Weisslicht, Philipp Brohl, Köln
The private bathroom turns into a wellness oasis - like here in the Villa F + M in Cologne. Photo © Weisslicht, Philipp Brohl, Köln
For a captain's house B-K-I designed a bright bathroom. Photo © B-K-I, Nicole Mai

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In Portikus on the mini island in the River Main in downtown Frankfurt Philippe Grohe presented the prizes to the winning “Axor Inspiration Projects”.

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ReaAct – Breaking through the water

Das Büro Brandherm + Krumrey interior architecture gehört zu den drei Finalisten des „Axor Inspiration Project“-Wettbewerbs. Sara Bertsche hat mit Susanne Brandherm und Hannah Stüber über ihren Entwurf gesprochen.

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