Bathroom style statements

John Brooks of Lecico discusses changing bathroom design trends, and the impact that tV and other influences have had on consumers’ demands.

At the end of a busy day, many people are keen to get home, kick off their shoes and relax with their loved ones. For some, that means watching a lot of ‘property porn,’ namely all of the programmes relating to buying or renovating houses. The UK simply can’t get enough of them.

Presenters like Kevin McCloud and Alistair Appleton are virtually constant TV companions for many viewers. In fact, it was Martin Roberts, the normally cheerful presenter of Homes under the Hammer that provided the spark for this article, when in a recent edition he dismissively mentioned that a property had the “ubiquitous white toilet suite.” This led to thoughts around how the bathroom has changed over the decades, and indeed where it might be in five to 10 years from now.

Readers of Housebuilder & Developer don’t need to be told which is the most important/influential room in a new or renovated house, but after the kitchen, probably few would argue that the bathroom isn’t the second most important room for potential buyers. However, sad as it is to admit, despite all of the effort that gets put into product design and functionality within the bathroom, sanitaryware isn’t necessarily the most important aspect for the buying public!

In truth, the colour and style of the tiles, flooring, lighting, furniture, bathing/showering and brassware will all come before choosing the “ubiquitous white suite” (perhaps that’s true of the housebuilder buyers too?).

Like the kitchen, a bathroom has become more than it used to be – no longer just “the lav,” the modern bathroom has become a design statement that adds genuine value to a home, and can be a make or break point for a house sale. In recent research carried out on behalf of the BMA (Bathroom Manufacturers Association), the bathroom was seen as a place for peace, tranquillity and escape, with most users enjoying quality time in the bathroom. For those that chose to have a bath, they would spend over 30 minutes soaking using the time to read books, listen to music, watch TV programmes, and even have a quiet drink! Crucial aspects for people was the need for clever space creation with the essential parts of the bathroom (i.e. the loo), taking as little space as possible, optimising the storage space with furniture, and giving the overall appearance of a beautifully designed space – even in a small bathroom.

The bathroom sector is fortunate in the range of exhibitions available to gain inspiration for product designs and potential future influences. Cersaie in Bologna, Italy, is one European favourite, which although relatively small compared to ISH, does provide some very worthwhile style trends.

A number of those exhibitors have presented coloured options for their sanitaryware, mostly matte versions of fatigue army colours and a few bright red and black alternatives, but over the last four years these have been niche and starting to fade in numbers suggesting that colour will not be a mass-market trend of the near future. For those readers that grew up in the 70s, your childhood bathroom might have been a terrible pale pink colour, a classic avocado suite, or perhaps a ‘sophisticated’ pale blue. It is amazing how stock managers and factory production teams coped with colour variations across multiple SKUs in those times, but however this was achieved, most of us won’t be keen to see these make a return to mass-market manufacture!

One growing trend from such exhibitions – that manufacturers seem to be following suit with – is the move towards ‘thin lipped’ designs in basins. This started with countertop bowls, but then rolled into the standard bathroom basin design giving them a sharper, smarter more modern appearance. It is great to see this trend pick up pace, and shows how one part of the industry often feeds into another aspect, thereby influencing future trends.

A former MD once said that if you wanted to know what future trends would be in the home, simply take a walk down the lighting aisle in B&Q for design cues in shapes and colours. Looking at how chrome lighting gave way to copper and black a couple of years ago and comparing that to the new product finishes we are seeing in taps and showers, you can see he had a point. Certainly bathroom furniture styling is influenced by what has already happened in kitchens a few years earlier. With early adoption, then comes mass market acceptability, so what seems edgy and bold in kitchen design this year will probably make its way into our bathrooms in 2022.

Interestingly, similar is true between the commercial sanitaryware world and the consumer world, with each market feeding the other with new ideas. It was the Doc M of the Building Regulations that gave inspiration and rise to the comfort height WC in the retail bathroom market, and it would be unlikely that you would find any manufacturer now that doesn’t supply a range of options promoting ease of use for the taller user.

Similarly, over the last two or three years we saw the rimless WCs that had previously only ever been of interest in the medical care market slide across into the retail world, promoting the benefits of greater hygiene and easier cleaning.

The simple truth is that the public don’t want to buy WCs or basins; they buy the dream of their new bathroom experience, delivered as a complete package of products working in harmony, at a value for money price. White sanitaryware allows consumers and designers to make their colour statements using the furniture, the tiles, the flooring and the brassware.

While there’s always a role for highend, niche and stretching designs and colour, they are niche for a reason, and most of us work in a mass-market world where general market acceptance, affordability and mainstream design is what keeps the bathroom industry moving. So apologies to Martin Roberts, but white is ubiquitous for a good reason – it’s what people want.

John Brooks is head of product and supply chain for Lecico