Top Banner
Apr / May 2013
Water Works

Writer: Warren Singh-Bartlett

One of the best-known names in bathroom fixtures and furniture, Duravit and sister company, Hansgrohe are masters at finding ways to persuade us to linger longer.


If life were an Arthur Miller play, I might have been tempted to wonder if my invitation to Duravit’s Design Days in the sleepy southern German town of Hornberg late last January, wasn’t my Willy Loman moment.

Hosted by one of the most recognisable names in bathroom fixtures and furniture, the schedule revealed that we weren’t only going to visit Duravit but that we’d also be popping across to similarly sleepy Schiltach to visit the headquarters of Hansgrohe, the bathroom revolutionaries who first introduced the idea of design to the douche.

Stayed at a five-star/boutique hotel at any point in time in the last decade? Then you’ll already be familiar with Hansgrohe’s products (Rainshower™, anyone?) particularly those under its Axor brand, a high-end line that features bathroom furniture and fixtures designed by some of the biggest names in contemporary design – amongst them Phillippe Starck, Patricia Urquiola, Antonio Citterio and Jean-Marie Massaud.

So, the event was to be a day of getting to know loos, getting to know all about loos. From the looks of the crowd gathered that first morning at Duravit – many of whom had posed for Facebook photos in front of the gargantuan toilet bowl gracing the HQ’s façade – it was to be a potpourri of designers (as evinced by the snappy sports jackets) industry professionals, company sales reps (as evinced by the corporate chic), franchisees and, of course, media.

After a cracking introduction, a rousing (if initially mortifying) mixture of upper management speeches and a capella riffs about each bathroom line delivered by an extremely capable trio of human beatboxes, we were set free to poke around the sample stands.

There they were before us – Happy D.2, Karee, X-Large, Starck and Durastyle – each booth staffed by courteous and welcoming staff that all but invited us to take a bath. Though with more time, that might have been possible too. Apparently, there are six in-house test bathrooms available for public and presumably, prospective buyer use, upon appointment. My initial reservations (what does one say about bathroom fixtures in a lifestyle magazine?) were quickly swept away, as we were treated to the beguiling possibilities of bathing in the early 21st century.

It’s not news to say that in the Developed World anyway, the bathroom and the kitchen have become the new centres of contemporary home life and now serve purposes more elaborate than their utilitarian natures demand. Places to gather - well, the kitchen anyway and perhaps even the bathroom in more ‘open-minded’ households – places to relax, de-stress and unwind, the modern bathroom is as much about (p)leisure as it is about getting squeaky.

If the Axor models we were to see later in the day – including an extraordinary and rather sensual new mixer tap designed by Starck which wasn’t only ergonomic and oddly organic but which through the way it is operated, encourages a less wasteful use of hot water and a Massaud shower mixer that erased the line between tap and shelf – were more obviously design, even Duravit’s slightly more straightforward offerings were designed to capture the eye and the imagination.

Mirror cabinets with built-in speakers or with light ‘shelves’ that provided optimum illumination whilst almost seeming to disappear. Whirlpool tubs with built-in LED lighting that coloured the water vivid shades of rainbow. Showerheads that used less water, whilst still giving the sensation of a thorough soaking (our visit to Duravit’s über technical department a little later swiftly dispelled notions that propeller-heads could lack imagination), the lot neatly packaged, proportioned and aimed at different segments of the (aesthetically-oriented) bathroom market.

If there was a common thread, it was ergonomics - this and what Hansgrohe Deputy Chairman, Richard Grohe later called “a passion for water” – and more specifically, the ergonomic triumph of the button.

We learned why buttons are better than ring controls (too slippery when wet), indicator dials (too confusing), levers (too slippery when wet and confusing too). “Design has to be simple,” the DC continued, “and that makes it very, very complicated.”

Sensing, perhaps, that we needed further persuasion, he took us through the paces, first lathering his hands and attempting to turn knobs and then strapping on a variety of ‘un-enhancements’ designed to simulate the strength and dexterity of an elderly person, and attempting the same before replacing the rings and levers with a button, to show just how little prehensile dexterity was required to manipulate it. “You see,” exhorted the grandson of company founder, Hans, as he struggled out of his impediments and dried his hands, “one click does it all.”

Right Pane Banner1
your picks
Nassim Taleb, the controversial thinker who predicted the 2008 financial crisis hates bankers, academics and journalists. He also eats like a caveman and goes to bed each day at 8pm. Intrigued, we took the risk of meeting him.
Just as every iteration of the S-Class defines that decade’s saloon, the Range Rover is the benchmark against which all other SUVs are compared. Its latest, the fourth generation model, has made life harder for its rivals, once again.
Ladies, when it comes to staying in style with your clothes and accessories this spring, think colour, attitude and - naturally - confidence.
Right Pane Banner1