Sanitation, heating, and plumbing are generally pretty serious matters, and as the son of a sanitation engineer and specialist planner I know what I’m talking about. All the same, on the first day of the trade fair shortly before 9 a.m. standing in the dense throng before the hall doors, which are still locked, I find the strangest of thoughts popping into my head, dazed as it is by all the ad slogans around. You think: If the talk is constantly of the bathroom as a themed world of experience, why then don’t they issue us with a bikini or shorts at the door? The guy next to me in a swimming ring, the lady over there with a bathing cap – then the visitors could jump into all the tubs, showers, saunas and waterfalls, and simply enjoy splashing from one booth to the next. No? Not a good idea? Might end like in a medieval bathhouse? Sure, of course the idea doesn’t work, if only because of the insurance. OK, fine, it was just something that popped into my head.
So let’s remain matter of fact: The ISH – summarized in trade-fair-speak as “The world’s leading trade fair for The Bathroom Experience, Building, Energy, Air-conditioning Technology, Renewable Energies” not only sends water flowing, streaming, trickling, raining, burbling, swirling and crashing through media images. The water is captured in round, square, thick, thin, deep and shallow basins and tubs. And anything that gets in the way is simply washed away, rimless by the flat or full flush. After all, the manufacturers assembled here on the grounds of the Frankfurt trade fair (and this year there are more than 2,400 of them from all over the world) are here to display not any old things, but the latest, the newest additions the industry has to offer. Since in the absence of bathing gear everything remains staid until evening, we choose as our companion another, world-famous observer of water, one above all suspicion: Leonardo da Vinci. And what we first and foremost want to share with him (he presented his thoughts on water in a variety of codices) is: observation. It is no coincidence that water is woven in many ways into the history of its domestication and cultural use.
Da Vinci says: “Remember, when you speak of water to first recount the experience and then your considerations.”
Even if trade-fairs are usually very trivial events where products and innovations are praised to the heavens, on occasion they can morph into one of those famous crystal balls through which one apparently gets a glance of the future.
Da Vinci says: “A drop is something that does not detach itself from the rest of the mass of water unless the force of its weight is greater than the force of cohesion bonding it with the rest of the water.”
Today, water is not only a precious good, but needs to be perfectly staged in personal comfort zones. So it flows, and rushes, and burbles, rains and splashes and swirls in the basins, showers and tubs. Nowhere else can you see this better than at the ISH. Water has long since ceased to flow from simple faucets into just as simple basins. The focus today is on control and the right mix of the elements of air and water. Each mixer now has its own particular jet. And there are specialists who develop it and make sure it is still sparing with the precious wet medium. We learn that the word with the marvelous ring to it – “Perlator” –not just runs so sweetly off the tongue, but is also a patented brand of the Neoperl group, which manufactures the water jet controls (also referred to as mixer nozzles or aerators) that are basically to be found in all mixer outlets on washstands and bathtubs and which perform a number of tasks. They produce a soft, non-splashing stream, define its shape, reduce water and energy costs, and meet the various norms, regulations and laws. This time, Neoperl’s novelty is an “Aerator”, another great word, its “Spray ITR” (= In The Rain) which boasts silicon burls from which individual drops descend in a soft stream, and the “Shorty” aerator line, which is a mere 11,7 mm deep and no longer juts out from the head of the respective mixer.
II. Basins and tubs
Da Vinci says: “Water splashes further upwards from a bucket than from a large basin. The reason is that the water if hit by one thing, cannot flee from one ripple to another and expand as it can in a large basin.”
We live in an age of diversity. It’s hard to have a sense of the big picture since there are so many different possibilities. And this of course applies to bathrooms and their fittings. Yet, in a world of body-shaping and fitness wristlets there are still a few mutually reinforcing trends and megatrends to be discerned:
(1) Wellness still crops up as a buzzword for enhanced comfort and – to the extent one can afford it – for expansive, high-grade bathing worlds that are cutting edge in terms of technology and aesthetics.
(2) As regards shapes, colors and improved materials, the general trend for diversification persists (color is increasingly an issue). For mixers, copper and brass have now joined chrome in our bathrooms (not that they ever really left). And bathroom ceramics now feature filigree basins and standalone, sculpturally-shaped tubs.
(3) Nudged by the needs of an aging society, under the heading of “multi-generation bathrooms” design-oriented programs presently take their cue from or are supplemented by medical-technical, practical and user-friendly aspects. Rimless WCs that use little water are now more or less the standard; slowly but surely washlets and shower-WCs are making inroads into the German and European market, or at least there are hardly any manufacturers left who do not offer corresponding models or retrofit kits.
In a nutshell: Wellness – hygiene – health are the elements from which the physical experience of contemporary bathrooms is formed.
Needless to say, in the ISH’s bathroom segment there is just about everything the heart could desire. Ranging from “Heritage” collections for incorrigible nostalgics who like to be enthroned on wood and pull a chain to flush business away, through more or less modern manorial styles, to app-controlled water games and a tornado flush that fully lives up to its name. Less profane is the take on the past among makers such as Victoria + Albert, as the name already indicates. Although I must admit that each time I gazed at the high-grade tubs, perfect for a champagne dip for two, I invariably thought of Jean Paul Marat – and his bath ended, as we know from Jacques-Louis David’s painting of 1793, in a not so lively vein. The variety of lion’s paw feet for the decidedly traditional tubs is truly impressive, so if you happen to own a small castle or English country home, there’s something for you here no doubt.
Anyone looking for something special for contract worlds or their own villa definitely needs one of these washstand columns. They’re available as a one-piece barrel, with a deliberately offset, accented basin, as a tapering cone, or as a simple cube, in plain white, in color, with leather covers, etc., etc. They are made, among others, by Alape, Valdana and Villeroy & Boch, whose “Octagon” boasts an octagonal facetted inner basin made of “TitanCeram” combined with a column in copper, or real wood or stone veneer. Flamina calls the blocks “Monowash” – which presents Jasper Morrison’s “Bonola” (2013) – and proves that the columned variants can likewise be “molto elegante”. And if you want neither block nor barrel, you can simply go for furniture beneath the washstand – there’s an even greater variety now and the quality is on the whole great.
Incidentally, basins and bowls are getting more refined. Unlike those who rely on ceramic, Alape is able to create a filigree appearance from steel, only 3 mm thick. The Goslar-based company is presenting not only standalone column washstands from its “Unisono” and “Metaphor” series, but also new mounting systems that accentuate the edge of the basin. A design highlight with a functional side-effect: In one version, the edge of the basin unit protrudes 25 mm to allow a comfortable basin depth and minimizes the loss of storage space in the furniture below.
Arik Levy created “Emerso” for the Kaldewei Premium Collection, a masterful series combining bathtub and washstand – both with a sculptural look to them. The freestanding fully enameled tub has a mild upwards-sloping twisting rim, the washstand is the basin edge that is the inverse of the tub. The eye, Levy said in interview, wanders across the tub edge, which seems to flow from one shape to the other. If your hand or eye traces the shape, you get the feeling you are immersing yourself in it, as if getting into the tub. Yet, for all the refined design to the edge the tub nevertheless seems massive.
If you want a lighter, brighter, more summery touch, then go for “Cape Cod”, Philippe Starck’s new series for Duravit. Once you feel at home with the somewhat sober country-house look, the washstand and tub start to seem very refreshing, without dominating the setting.
In the guise of “P3 Comforts”, Phoenix Design has designed another bath series for Duravit that is as comfortable as it is functional, and which stands out for its relaxing touch. P3 Comforts succeeds by offering a precise and yet zestful raised “dry-zone” compared to the somewhat flat curve of the “wet-zone”. Here, took, the tub doesn’t need to catch the eye specially to be so stunning.
Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark
Konstantin Grcic (“Val”) and Toan Nguyen (“Ino”). While elsewhere, with a view to the Arab and Asian markets, decorative opulence rules the day, Laufen is consistently prioritizing reduction and superlative design. Above all, Grcic’s “Val” contains any number of novel ideas and elements.
III. The vortex
Da Vinci said of vortices: “And they don’t stand still. On the contrary, having once come into being, revolving and driven by the power of water to adopt the shape, they move in two ways: First, they revolve around themselves, second there is the course of the water, which swirls the vortex along until it eventually dissolves it.”
Makers often resort to eddies or vortices to emphasize the dynamism of water’s flow. Since as long ago as 2002, Toto has deployed a “Tornado Flush” that swirls round the toilet bowl. But it is the “Axor Starck V” mixer with its glass top-mounted maelstrom that first really visualizes the idea. When not in use, the water lies tranquil as if in a well. When it starts to flow, a funnel-like vortex arises, highlighting more than just one property of the water. Since the mixer’s upper section can be detached, it’ll be interesting to see how the system is advanced.
Da Vinci said: “The Ancients called Man a world in a microcosm, which is well said, as Man consists of earth, water, air and fire, which is why his body so resembles the earth.”
Today, there are countless systems and series of washbasins, tubs, nozzles, showers and mixers in all manner of conceivable shapes and colors. The trend to combine bedrooms and bathrooms to create worlds of relaxation and refreshment has ebbed somewhat, and with it the compulsion to present these at the fair. Which is not to say that such expanded living/bathrooms are any less inspiring. But they remain the exception rather than the norm.
What was clear at the fair: A premium manufacturer such as Dornbracht has consciously expanded its brand claim. The idea: “Culturing Life” combines aesthetics, health, intelligence and intimacy to foster a cultivation of individual needs and in the final instance improve the quality of life.
The name of the new mixer series is accordingly derived from “Culturing Life” and simply called “CL.1”. The mixer looks surprisingly light and refined, blending clear edges with soft contours, the body gracefully stretching upward and ending via a right angle in the outlet. Another accent is an option: handles available in two different surface textures. And Dornbracht also puts on its thinking cap to cup up with a new jet stream: At a consumption level of only 3-9 liters a minute, 40 individual soft jets sweetly wash your hands.
We’ve already mentioned the “Axor Starck V” mixer, but Axor has since last fall also served up a real delicacy with its “Citterio E” collection. As regards melding design, aesthetics, functions, tasteful materials and quality finishing, Citterio E certainly is at the forefront of achievements. Words such as high-grade or elegant hardly capture the mixer’s beauty and presence. Moreover, Hansgrohe has launched “Talis Select”, thus applying its popular Select technology to washstand mixers, but with the new “Axor Citterio Select” kitchen mixers also developed a mixer for sinks such as one always hoped would become available.
But Da Vinci also asks: “What is water? Of the four elements, water is the second heaviest and the second most inconstant. It knows no calm until it melds with its element, the ocean, where, no longer ruffled by the winds, it calms and lazes in that broad surface, equi-distance in all places from the center of the world.”