Materials and technology are changing the face of the bathroom. And with the expanded options, there's a creative challenge for product and interior designers to fashion rooms that can be spas, recharging spaces or simply mood elevators, with the same kind of inviting, even elegant, vibe of a five-star resort.
Today, there are plenty of trends, covering a range of styles, most with a modern edge. And just like kitchens, some of the best, most innovative designs are coming out of Europe.
First, materials are raising the bar. Stone and stone looks in porcelain or quartz are covering walls and floors. But stone also is prominent in sink design, especially in integrated models. Those all-in-one looks, also specified in quartz, concrete and solid-surface materials, resemble long kitchen troughs that are seamless, crisp and modern. There also are cantilevered versions that place surfaces on different levels, some even mixing media like wood or colored laminates.
Then, too, some manufacturers such as Italy's Antoniolupi have pushed the envelope with standout forms like Controverso, a marble block sink that seems to peel off layers, feeling ancient and contemporary at the same time. One part of the pedestal is linear, scored by a milling machine, while the front is rounded and irregular, layered with uneven edges, as if they have been torn away.
A more streamlined version of the pedestal is referred to as a totem basin or pillar, such as those by Artisan Ceramic. They're crafted from a single ceramic mold that prevents seams from forming, and their elongated tapering shapes create a minimal and elegant aesthetic.
Curves, of course, also break up linear spaces. Vessels disrupt the plane of a counter. Some of the newest vessel sinks sit on pedestals instead of conventional vanity cabinets. Piero Lissoni used Emperador black marble (also available in pink or jade onyx) to form a rectangular plinth, into which is nestled a brushed brass washbasin for dramatic effect.
A few years back, manufacturer Stone Forest paid homage to a memorable era with its Industrial Pedestal, incorporating imagery from the factory floor and utilizing cast-iron legs. Now drawing on the utilitarian forms, a cast-iron leg with fine-tuning gears supports a handcrafted basin in stone or metal for washing the hands and face.
The shapeliest of shapes, of course, have come in bathtub design. Architectural or sculptural, angular or curvy, asymmetrical or not, many of the designs are freestanding. They are a graceful centerpiece for a bath -- when there is space. And for floor plans that may not accommodate that much real estate, manufacturers have played with shape in front, creating an illusion, at least, of an untethered tub that can be tucked against a wall.
Meanwhile, vanities have lightened up. Washbasins are getting legs. Plus, floating vanities are gaining traction. It's most definitely a visual boost for smaller spaces, where conventional cabinets seem heavy and, in some cases, problematic when they're squished into small areas that don't allow much room for maintenance.
But with the slimming down, shortening or downsizing of vanities, storage is not being sacrificed. In fact, it's no longer an afterthought, with some manufacturers thoughtfully integrating it into drawers, sometimes with built-in electrical outlets and practical dividers for all of your toiletries.
And mirrors have taken on an added dimension -- lighting. The sparest are simple rectangles with integrated LED lighting. It's barely there, like a frosted frame all around or at corners, not at all like the too-bright theater lights from way back. Robern's new custom lighted mirrors feature dimmable and color-tuning capabilities, mirror defogging, USB charging ports and motion sensors.
Duravit's newest Luv collection, a handsome group with a bit of a Nordic accent, also features mirrors with integrated glare-free LED lighting, available in three widths (up to 63 inches) and a height of 47 inches. They feature integrated dimming and mirror heating for defogging. Also in its arsenal are mirrors that are backlit for ambient effects, with indirect lighting on all four sides. The wall-wash effect allows atmospheric illumination.
Wall-hung toilets, most popular overseas, are catching on here as well. And most who own them applaud the practicality -- especially for cleaning. And interest in freestanding bidets has waned because many manufacturers are putting the technology into the toilet seats. The most technologically adept dual-flush toilets start at around $5,000 and feature integrated bidets with self-cleaning wands, air dryers, deodorizing filters. Kohler's Numi also boasts ambient colored lighting, heated seat and foot warmers, hands-free opening and closing seat and cover, wireless Bluetooth music sync, storage for MP3 files and SD cards, and a plug-in for your device (a remote sells separately for between $400 and $500).
Kohler's Veil Intelligent dual-flush toilet includes heated seat, automatic deodorizing, stainless steel cleansing wand with adjustable sprays, LED night light and hands-free opening, closing and flushing. The most recent addition is a wall-hung version that conserves space and allows easy cleaning.
Matte finishes also are catching on in tub design, where the idea of soaking has all but supplanted whirlpools and even air tubs. Freestanding models are popular because they can be dramatic focal points. So manufacturers are paying special attention to architectural and sculptural shapes -- everything from round (Konstantin Grcic's addition to the Val collection at Laufen) to asymmetrical ovals to angular, like the innovative Askew at Kohler. A number of the solid surfaces used for fabrication can be polished to a silky-smooth finish.
Matte black, graphite and pewter looks are especially winning fans in faucets. Brass, rose gold and copper also offer warm options.
And there are no qualms about mixing metals -- some manufacturers are doing it for you, as in the teaming of matte black and gold, a really handsome pairing.
Beyond the realm of fixtures and faucets, some manufacturers have turned their attention to ambience. Years ago, Laufen teamed up with Kartell to develop fun sheer plastic tables and accessories in clear acrylic and even some colors. Lacava recently introduced a white stone stool in a classic shape that can suit a number of decorating styles. And Devon & Devon has even launched into the production of wallcoverings, with 32 themes from geometric, three-dimensional and optical to floral and animal subjects to dreamy landscapes -- perfect for feature walls behind those starring tubs.
The well-designed bath today is a finely choreographed mix. It can, indeed, be another decorated room in the house -- with its own personality, striking wallpaper, artwork and even furniture -- with amazing function incorporating all the technology available today in storage, lighting and bathing.
-- Antoniolupi, 312-329-1550, www.antoniolupi.it/en
-- Artisan Ceramics Ltd., www.artisanceramicsltd.co.uk
-- Boffi, 312-787-2323, www.boffi.com
-- Devon & Devon, 312-676-3755, www.devon-devon.com
-- DXV American Standard, 800-227-2734, www.dxv.com/en
-- Duravit, 212-686-0033, www.duravit.us
-- Effegibi, www.effegibi-perfect-wellness.com
-- Gessi, 714-808-0099, www.gessi.com
-- Hastings Tile & Bath, 212-674-9700, www.hastingstilebath.com
-- Kallista, 888-452-5547, www.kallista.com
-- Kohler, 800-456-4537, www.kohler.com
-- Laufen, 866-696-2493, www.us.laufen.com
-- Robern, 800-877-2376, www.robern.com
-- Stone Forest, 888-682-2987, https://stoneforest.com