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Just Relax:Bathroom Design

By Lesley Parker | Friday | 09/05/2003

People are looking for relaxation and rejuvenation from today's high-tech bathroom.

Bathrooms used to be the smallest and the most functional rooms in the house. Today bathrooms are getting bigger, and increasingly treated as sanctuaries from the rigors of modern life.

"Bathrooms are not just about being clean," says Lachlan Macfarlane, managing director of bathware supplier Argent Australia. "It's a whole-of-life concept."

Housing Industry Association bathroom designer of the year, Mimmi Freebody, says today's upmarket bathroom mimics the dayspa experience, as people seek pampering amid their hectic schedules."We are taking better care of ourselves, but we are not going out to the salons - we are looking for, in a bathroom, what a day spa gives you," she says.The growing importance of the bathroom is reflected in the entry of renowned designers into this field, says Simon Duggan, retail marketing manager of retailer Reece.

International architect/designers Philippe Starck and Norman Foster are among those to have produced bathroom ranges, while Australian-born designer Marc Newson is to launch his collection later this year.

The big unwind

The development of the bathroom as a relaxation centre has meant a move towards deep, luxurious soaker baths; multi-jet showerheads in ever-larger shower spaces; vanities that resemble lounge or bedroom furniture; and the inclusion of accessories such as bar fridges and coffee makers in ensuites, as well as entertainment such as TV and piped music.

Tricia Williams, marketing manager for bathware group Kohler, says that as well as relaxation, people are looking for rejuvenation. "At the other end of the scale you've got people using the bathroom as a wellness centre, but wellness in terms of renewal - they want  to work the body. So you've got hydrotherapy happening in the bath using jets, you have massage showers - you have quite full-on bodywork happening in the bathroom."

In baths, Reece's new Mizu soaker bath and Kohler's sök 'overflowing' bath illustrate the relaxation theme.

The Mizu is an adaptation of a traditional Japanese bath and is aimed at bathrooms with less space because while it is deep, it is not very long.

The sök is not a whirlpool or spa bath, but an immersion bath with jets that produce tiny, gentle, effervescent bubbles. Water continuously overflows on all sides into a second tub, before being recirculated.

"We've discovered that water flowing out is relaxing, and water being pumped in is rejuvenating," says Williams.

By way of contrast, the 'river bath' - which Kohler is looking at bringing into Australia from the US later this year - is akin to sitting in a river rapid. "The water runs down the bath, flowing over your body," says Williams. "You can control it, from being a gentle flow to quite a violent rush." Kohler is also looking at overseas developments such as chromatherapy, which uses lights to colour the water with the aim of altering mood, and aromatherapy, where baths are equipped with dispensers for aromatics such as lavender.

New take on showers

Showers are also receiving a makeover. They now come in towers, on bars, in multiple heads, with massage functions, built for two, and even as steam cabinets.

"Showers are no longer showers - they are about bathing," says Mimmi Freebody, of Canberra-based M Design.

"We're doing things like body showers that massage, we are doing big overhead showers, and often we are putting two or three different showerheads in the one shower."

Freebody likes Hansgrohe's Aktiva showerhead, which she says provides both a good massage and good general cover.

In overhead or 'rain' showers, she recommends the 200mm wide Skol from the Clear Solutions Group, of which M Design is a member.

Argent's Macfarlane says people are no longer interested in spa baths they might use twice a year, preferring to spend the money on a really good shower. "People are putting the same sort of effort into the shower that they used to put into the bath," he says.

Grohe's Freehander double-headed shower, which won a design prize at the prestigious ISH Trade Fair in Frankfurt in 2001 combines the deluge-type shower with normal and economy modes. "The hot trend has been deluge showerheads coming out of the ceiling - you just stand under them and drown," says Macfarlane. "But while they are a romantic concept, they use tonnes of water, your hair gets wet and there's no adjustability.

"With the Freehander, you decide whether you want to have a quick shower using an economy mode - and it's triple-A rated in that mode - or you turn it on to full flow."

Macfarlane also strongly recommends a thermostatic mixing valve for the shower. Thermostats are set to personal preference for temperature and maintain that temperature - even if someone turns on a tap elsewhere.

"It also saves water, because when you turn it on it only lets cold water through once the hot water is hot enough," he says. "It doesn't waste all that water while the shower temperature is being adjusted."

Macfarlane predicts water conservation will become even more important.

Australian inventor-designer Stephen McCabe has come up with a patented low flow showerhead design that he says can provide good shower at a flow of just 4.9 litres of water per minute - compared with as much as 25 litres for some standard fittings.

McCabe says a low-flow shower should still give you good coverage. "If it doesn't, then you'll be in there for longer anyway," he says. "People shouldn't think about the fact they are saving water, because they are having such a good shower."

Tap, tap, tap

Water and energy concerns are also reflected in tap ware. Dorf-Clark's Atlantic Mixer range incorporates the Eco-Click system. Turning with twelve light clicks gives more precise flow control.

Eco-Temp, used in the Atlantic Mixer and Venus ranges, allows users to set taps at the temperature they prefer. A click will increase hot water flow. Equally, in the Atlantic range, it allows users to set a preferred water flow rate for single-lever taps which can be exceeded by placing greater than usual pressure on the spring-loader lever.

But, because of their more frequent use, basins - not showers - probably offer the greatest opportunities for energy and water use, says Dorf-Clark's national marketing manager, Warwick Krigstein.

Glass innovation

Peter Condon, of Brisbane-based Euroglass, says smart technology in glass is leading several design trends in the bathroom.

One is a move towards sliding, or frameless and floating, glass panels. A number of European companies now provide the hardware needed to achieve this, he says.

"It involves a couple of clamps on the top of each piece of glass. The glass hangs out of a pelmet integrated into the ceiling or a bulkhead. That allows us to slide the glass internally into a cavity in the wall or beside it.

"What that's allowing is the all-in-one bedroom and ensuite. If you want to close the ensuite off, you slide the glass out; if you want it to be open, the glass can slide away to create more-or-less one room."

Another development is self-cleaning glass. Condon acknowledges that glass will never be totally self-cleaning, but says new products are being promoted as reducing cleaning by 85 to 90 per cent. These use a process which produces super smooth glass.

Condon says another trend is towards acidetched glass, rather than sand-blasted glass - which suffers from a tendency to pick up finger marks and oil marks. The new acid-etching products don't open up the pores of the glass so much, he says.

Vanity Fair

Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes in bathrooms is in vanities - now known as 'bathroom furniture'.

"The furniture in the bathroom is now of the quality you would see in the formal lounge," says Macfarlane of Argent.

Mimmi Freebody has tapped into the current penchant for freestanding furniture with a range of modular cabinets designed for Clear Solutions. Her Bathroom Furniture Solutions range can be mounted on the wall or on legs and 'float' 300mm off the floor, giving the illusion of space and making cleaning easier.

Cass Brothers' managing director John Phillips says all its vanities are now custommade; the customer chooses a basin and then a piece of furniture is built around it.

In accessories, bathroom designers say that towel rails are experiencing a strong resurgence as a result of improved designs that fit in with the minimalist trend. Market leader Hydrotherm, for instance, offers rails that not only warm towels but dry clothes and heat rooms.

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