The freestyle bathroom for the whole family
by Heike Edelmann | Jan 29, 2015
Turbulent ISH: Again this year there will be a big variety of bathroom worlds. Photo © Messe Frankfurt Exhibition GmbH, Pietro Sutera

The bathroom has enjoyed ever more importance in recent decades. For a long time now it has been considered more than a dreary, functional wet room. Nowadays, there is a wide range of sanitary fixtures and furnishings for this once neglected place, allowing it to become somewhere appropriate for us to spend quality leisure time engaged in personal hygiene. However, alongside optimizing such hedonistic activities there are other trends that influence bathroom design. In an aging society with increasingly limited living space the bathroom can be one of the potential factors contributing to leading an independent and fulfilling life until well into old age. This is no easy task for architects and designers as they need to create the kind of room that will remain impressively functional and aesthetically attractive for many years to come, as well as being able to fulfill a whole host of different needs. And these needs are extremely diverse, particularly when there are several generations living under one roof. For example, whereas singles tend to use the bathroom as their own comfortable and private spa, for older people accessibility is of major importance, as are ergonomic features that foster mobility. On top of this one important consideration is for this room to offer plenty of storage space – as well as meeting the requirements of hygiene.
However, what has to date passed as “accessible” has not been particularly impressive in terms of design. Until now, it has too often been the case that aesthetic and functional considerations have represented opposing, seemingly irreconcilable interests.

Previewing the future at ISH

This year, ISH, the world’s leading trade fair for the bathroom experience, building, energy and air-conditioning technology in Frankfurt/Main, is using the opportunity to focus more strongly on the “bathroom for generations”. The program to accompany the fair will be including a product award, “Bathroom Comfort for Generations” sponsored by ZVSHK , Germany’s Central Association for Sanitary Installations, Heating and Air-Conditioning, “The Bathroom of the Future”, ZVSHK’s research project in cooperation with HfG, the University of Art and Design in Offenbach, the trend show and lecture forum “Pop up my Bathroom”, hosted by the German Sanitary Industry Association (VDS) which this year goes by the motto of “Freibad” (a pun on the German for open-air swimming bath and the kind of bathroom that is “open” to everyone): “Our objective should not simply be to make accessible bathrooms more beautiful and more functional, but also to turn them into ‘normal’ bathrooms,” explains VDS CEO Jens J. Wischmann.

Improvisation is the name of the game

Accordingly, the special show presents the ideal bathroom in four scenarios, viewed from four perspectives: that of children, singles, families and older people, with the term “Freibad” being used as a synonym for freedom, independence and joie de vivre. For families, for example, sanitary fixtures and fittings should, above all, offer scope for improvisation. This is particularly true when a bathroom is used not only by parents and children, but also by a member of the family who is older or who requires care. Here, walk-in showers, double washstands and height-adjustable toilets can make simultaneous use easier.

Scope for simultaneous use

Dividing a bathroom up into various zones for activities to be performed at the same time by, for instance, putting up room divider elements or shelving to separate bathing and dressing areas, contributes to a smoothly and harmoniously functioning “bathroom for generations”. Even when there is little space available this allows for a degree of privacy when people use the bathroom simultaneously. For children, the bathroom is a place where they can learn about water and hygiene in play. Splash guards on showers and bathtubs allow them to have fun without disturbing others. Additionally, a cozy bench with cushions in the corner and different storage space for every member of the family can give a bathroom a homelike feel. “Connect Freedom”, for example, is a complete range by manufacturer Ideal Standard, comprising not only accessible toilets but also elegant, wheelchair-adjustable washstands with continuous recessed grips and storage furniture with various different wood-effect finishes. The range includes tall cupboards with open and closed fronts and a wide selection of wall cupboards, side cupboards and floor units which can be used to liven up and structure a bathroom.

On the other hand, the main thing that older people tend to need is an accessible room. One particularly space-saving solution is “Hüppe Design elegance”, an accessible shower area with a swinging and folding door made of clear or partly matte glass. With an opening of up to 1,250 mm in width, it is wheelchair-accessible. After showering, both the door elements and the side pieces of these shower cabins, known as “U-cabins”, can be flapped outwards or inwards so that they are almost flush to the wall. This leaves the freely accessible area relatively large.

The washout toilet from the “Laufen pro” bathroom range is easy to clean and is almost sculptural in appearance. This Swiss wall-mounted lavatory features hidden mounting parts attached to a closed, jointless ceramic surface that not only requires little attention but is also aesthetically impressive.

Attractive purism

Nowadays, even internationally famous firms such as Matteo Thun & Partners are involved in the challenging task of making bathrooms both functional and cozy – with the aim being to transform them into a place where all occupants of the house enjoy spending time. For example, Thun has now designed “DuraStyle”, a collection that is both purist and elegant, for Duravit. The range’s rectangular wash hand basins and washstands boast generous storage space and a filigree edge which increases the available storage area. They can be used when sitting down and are even accessible to wheelchair users. By combining closed and open surfaces, the tall cupboards and under-the-sink units made of solid wood have a light, airy feel to them. One distinctive feature of the matching bathtubs is the striking upstand on the reverse edge of the tub destined to help users to get in and out of them. Additionally, bath accessories can be stored behind them. With its toilets, Matteo Thun continues with the range’s striking stylistic vocabulary. The “Duravit Rimless” model has extended seating space, allows for a raised sitting position and is easy to keep clean thanks to its open, easily accessible edge. The ceramics and the seat form an harmonious whole.

Visionary trailblazers

By no means all of the bathroom fittings that broach the subject of the “bathroom for generations” are based on the latest findings. With his “d-line”, a 1970s range of sanitary accessories and concealed modules, Danish architect and designer Knud Holscher demonstrated how to combine robustness and an elegant design for sanitary products in the bathroom. More recent ranges such as the accessible Ergo System by FSB follow on in the tradition of the adaptable bathroom.

When in 1922 painter Oskar Schlemmer started pondering the idea of an ideal house (in his case, a “symphony of modern materials”, as well as “transportable and folding”) he discovered that for him the bathroom had a central function. He wanted it to be a “focal point and a main attraction”, one of the principal places of recreation: “This is where I read, write and meditate – pamper my body and think of Greece!” Today, with suitable fixtures and fittings, this vision from days gone by could become reality. At least almost…

A penty of storage and little barriers: The bathroom collection “Connect Freedom” by Ideal Standard. Photo © Ideal Standard
What counts, is the area: level-access showers are ideal for wheelchair users. Photo © Hüppe Design
Simple and easy to clean: wall hung WCs with a ceramic surface without joints by Laufen. Photo © Laufen Bathrooms
Comforting atmosphere – with pure lines and storages of real wood coating, designed by Matteo Thun & Partners. Photo © Duravit
The art of compromising: Some need an area without barriers, others want a private spa. Photo © FSB, Grohe