ONCE upon a time, the bathroom was, in prim and proper circles at least, referred to as “the water closet” or, more priggishly still, “the WC”. Over the years however, the area has come out of the closet in a big way. It is, says Lisa Millbacher of Cape Town bathroom design company, Bespoke Bathrooms, getting bigger, bolder but, in many ways, more basic by the day.
“The ratio of bathroom to bedroom has increased,” she says, “and, as it has grown larger, the bathroom has increasingly become considered a more important living space, which demands the same design attention and which is influenced by the same design trends as other areas of the home.”
The outcome is that homeowners and designers are paying more and more attention to detail in bathrooms. They are spending more time and money on the design and building of the spaces. They are scrutinising bathroom options more closely and incorporating elements that create a single or superbly synchronised look.
People want basins, mixers, mirrors, baths, showers, cabinets and all other elements to work together perfectly, says Millbacher. As a result, designers such as well-known Italian creator of beautiful bathrooms, Antonio Citterio, now produce bathroom furnishings to match their fittings. The function, form and aesthetics of bath ware have arguably never received so much attention.
Trends aside, bathrooms remain deeply personal spaces. Styles depend on individual tastes, which could be sleek and sophisticated, classic, contemporary, traditional and everything in between.
“Although bathrooms are integral parts of the home and often reflect styles used elsewhere in the house, they are spaces in which we once again immerse ourselves in water – as if returning to the womb. In other words, they are immensely personal spaces whose look and feel depends entirely on the client and what makes him or her feel good,” says Millbacher.
The simple, clean-cut look, with shower slabs for the floor, frameless glass and the use of large wall tiles with minimal grouting, is among the most popular design choices in bathrooms at present. A room full of the latest luxuries and all manner of complicated and lavish treatments is passé. Minimalism reigns and colours are simple with neutral shades of ivory, grey, white and brown dominating.
And, whereas granite was the top choice for bathroom surfaces for many years, nowadays ceramics, porcelain tiles and natural stone are selected for state-of-the-art bathrooms. The trend, it seems, is not for opulence or surfaces that appear astonishingly expensive: instead it focuses on understated materials of high quality that are durable, practical and natural looking.
“Even the resin composite materials for sanitary ware has a more natural look, matt finish and silky, smooth feel,” says Millbacher.Intelligent technology – such as shower systems that accommodate iPods, mirrors that incorporate speakers and LED (light-emitting diode) lights – are selected in place of dated ornate mixers, decorative tiling and endless rows of shelving. Specially designed wall panels conceal toilet cisterns to replace traditional floor standing fixtures, giving the old loo a classy new look. And, if you like the idea of watching television from the comfort of your bath, shower or toilet, you can even install a fog-free and water and heat resistant flat screen television set, which doubles as a mirror when not switched on.
High-tech trickery notwithstanding, the design of bathroom gadgetry is also increasingly eco-friendly. There is a growing range of stylish new mixers and shower roses that use systems to reduce water and energy consumption available. You can even order a toilet seat and lid made, by a company in Copenhagen, from recycled plastic water bottles.
Or – particularly if you have a teenager like mine whose daily shower lasts for two hours if unchecked – you might want to install a closed circuit shower that uses a reservoir and recycling pump to ensure that regardless of how long you stay in the shower, you only use five litres of water. Now, there is a (water) closet I would get into.
(This article was first published in the Life section of the Sunday Independent.)