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‘Clean’ looks are taking over modern bath design

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal UClick

Today’s statement bath has less to do with its size or even a degree of luxury than it does with the shape and details of its fixtures. That goes for master baths, as well as powder rooms.

Architectural and organic forms are challenging manufacturers, as well as intriguing consumers. While much of it has to do with pushing the creative envelope for designers, it also points to evolving materials and technology that enable amazing shapes (such as sinuous curves and ellipses), finishes and surface embellishment like we haven’t seen before.

There still are remnants of the big 1980s, a reflection of massive bath footprints, but the whirlpools for two have given way to more en vogue air baths. Size doesn’t seem to be the point; it’s a desire to create a spa-like or feel-good vibe.

“The bath has become an incredibly important place for self-being,” says Pamela Jaccarino, vice president and editor-in-chief of Luxe Interiors and Design magazine. Jaccarino, who led a panel on the evolving bath from function to indulgence at the Miami debut of the Paris-based international furnishings show Maison & Objet, spoke of the ritual of bathing, luxury and simplicity, harmony and balancing, “but also how the bath makes you feel — bath design as an oasis.”

“Sensory appeal has emerged as a worldwide trend in bathrooms,” says Belinda Try, founder and executive director of an Australian bath wares company, apaiser, and also a member of the panel. She says her company’s ability to customize meets a growing trend for differentiation that has become a key focus for designers “as we shift from function to enjoyment.”

A huge catalyst for stylish, elegant or edgy design in baths is travel. Those who experience beautiful baths in luxury hotels soak in all the ambience of decor — including stone surfaces, wall treatments and lighting, and luxe amenities likes soaps, sea sponges and lush towels — and want a little slice of it at home.

At the center of the current bath talk is the freestanding tub. Much like liberating a sofa from a living room wall, the effect can be dramatic. Especially when the focal point itself delivers major style points.

At that May show, British designer Kelly Hoppen wowed with three new collections for apaiser. Elegant rounded shapes and silky smooth finishes are showstopping, but adding to sleek, sculptural curves is surprising dimensionality in origami-like folds, applied banding inspired by Obi sashes, and swirling relief with graceful lotus-petal motifs, all of which lend exceptional artistry from a company that prides itself on handcrafting.

Engineered stones and resins and other proprietary materials allow more flexibility. The apaiser tubs are crafted from up to 85 percent reclaimed marble, with resin and polymers, poured into molds and hand-sanded. “It’s sculpture in bath ware,” says Try.

In addition, metallic finishes are taking on new importance. They add luster and appeal to decor partly because of their reflectivity. Faucets may bring architectural gravitas in polished nickel, nickel, stainless steel, brass or black metal like “jewelry” for the bath. At the high end, there have been riffs on classical inspirations, such as fluted Greek columns and ionic caps, as in the Aphrodite faucet collection from Jorger Rohl. There’s also a new fondness for warm rose gold, as in the new Metamorphose faucet designed by Olivia Putman for the French company THG.

That jewelry can be an exclamation. A reinterpreted classic tub from Devon & Devon draws the eye to large ball feet that gleam in polished nickel. Less conventional from Maison Valentina is a modern rectangle that resembles a mirrored box and sports an irregular “fissure” that reveals a shiny gold crack inside. A black bathtub “basin” nestles within the form, much like a sink on a countertop.

All-metal sinks and tubs also are commanding attention. A tapering pedestal sink called Eden has a mottled surface, but crinkling almost feels like foil paper. A tub called Koi is suspended in a frame that looks like a wrapping with fish scales. The center of the “skirt” is cut away to reveal the belly of the tub. Both are by Maison Valentina.

While the freestanding shapes are garnering much attention, another strong trend continuing to gain traction is the European style of wall-mounted sinks and toilets, appreciated not only for clean lines, but for visual space-saving and easy-to-clean features.

Some designs appear more table-like than sink-like. This speaks to a shift in the way manufacturers are thinking about bathroom furniture, decor and lifestyle. Retailers like Restoration Hardware show etageres and storage pieces to match vanities. Manufacturers including Duravit and the Swiss-based Laufen showcase such pieces in their bath collections. Laufen’s bath furnishings collaboration with Kartell, which features the company’s ultrathin SaphirKeramik sinks, includes accessories like fluted mirrors and fittings designed by Ludovica and Roberto Palomba. Acrylic pieces are available in a range of colors, including orange. New floating vanities from Laufen in collaboration with the brand Alessi, mix wood veneer cabinets with striking white “fireclay” asymmetrical bowls.

Philippe Starck’s newest collection for Duravit was inspired by New England’s Cape Cod and has a beachy vibe with a relaxed elegance. Washbasins with modern slim rims sit atop real wood vanity tops with the appearance of driftwood (also a new material that is durable and soft to the touch). Designed like a sawhorse table, the chrome legs splay outward, and the cabinet seems to float beneath the sink; open shelves on the side are a bonus.

On the ambience side of bath design, colorful LED and OLED lighting has done much to enhance drama in showers (along with sound systems). LED lights also are edging mirrors, popping up in drawers and illuminating toilets, where they even do double duty as night lights.

With some handcrafted pieces, long lead times like 16 weeks are not unusual. Nor are substantial price tags — say, around $5,000 for a vanity and the $10,000-plus range for tubs. But consider that the superstar kitchen ranges these days may cost two to three times more. Unlike accessories and some furniture, replacing bath fixtures doesn’t happen that often.

That said, clean-lined classics are more dependable for longevity. Whether they make you feel better or uplift your mood is all up to you.


■Antoniolupi, 312-329-1550, antoniolupiusa.myshopify.com

■Apaiser USA, 206-650-6780, apaiser.com

■Devon & Devon USA, 718-649-5882, devon-devon.com

■Duravit, 212-686-0033, duravit.us

■Kohler, 800-456-4537, kohler.com

■Laufen North America, 866-696-2493, us.laufen.com

■Maison Valentina, 646-583-0849, maisonvalentina.net

■MTI, 800-783-8827, mtibaths.com

■Rohl Jorger, 800-777-9762, rohljorger.com

■Victoria & Albert, 800-421-7189, vandabaths.com/us/americas