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ISH 2019

In Conversation With: Patricia Urquiola on Laufen’s latest bathroom collection

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
In Conversation With: Patricia Urquiola on Laufen’s latest bathroom collection

As Hotel Designs continues its month putting Bathrooms under the spotlight, editor Hamish Kilburn sits down with designer Patricia Urquiola to understand more about her latest collection reveal with Laufen…

Patricia Urquiola is no stranger to Laufen, as the Spanish designer celebrated at ISH 2019 the launch of her third – yes third – generation of SaphirKeramik, and by doing so has created the new collection, Sonar.

Rediscovering the formal scope of the bathroom – and designed to be insurmountable in bathroom aesthetics – the expressive Sonar collection has already gone on to win an iF Design Award. The material, SaphirKeramik, was first used by the designer for Laufen in 2013 in novel washbasin designs that were simply not possible using conventional bathroom ceramics. Six years later, the material has been used in the brand’s Sonar collection and now offers even greater variety thanks to the addition of more washbasins, WCs, a bidet, a new bathtub and a suite of bathroom furniture.

I recently sat down with the designer in order to understand the context of Sonar as well as what she thinks the future holds for international bathroom design.

Hamish Kilburn: Why do you think more attention is being payed to the design of the bathroom within international hotel design?
Patricia Urquiola: I think that more attention is being payed to all aspects of hospitality and not just bathrooms. Hotel design is now all about an experience that one wants to transmit to the unknown user, and bathrooms are no exception. The design of the bathroom in a hotel project is very important, it is part of the whole room space, of the experience that a certain room can offer in terms of relax and wellbeing.

modern bathroom with colour and slick design

Image credit: Laufen

HK: What are your thoughts on color in the bathroom?
PU: My approach to colour, for bathrooms and every aspect of a project, is not absolute; it very much depends on the project. At times, color is central and it is therefore given a lot of importance and space, it becomes essential for forms to come to life. Other times, palettes are a lot more intimate with very little color and more attention to textures or materials. For example, the bathrooms at Room Mate Hotel Giulia in Milano are extremely colorful, they reflect the language that we used throughout the whole project.  On the other hand, for a recent project in Mumbai in which we featured the Sonar collection, the focus isn’t on color but rather on materials and textures: marble and wood contrast beautifully with the ceramic of the collection.

HK: How has SONAR evolved? What’s changed, in regards to bathroom technology, since the first generation of SONAR?
PU: Sonar is manufactured using a high-tech ceramic material called SaphirKeramik, a material developed by Laufen that allows for the ceramic to be very thin for an industrial product. When I started my collaboration with the brand it had already been used for previous collections, what I wanted to do was to really exploit the material’s characteristics: strong yet light, it has a glow to it and a certain amount of detail can be incorporated. I wanted to work with all these positive aspects of SaphirKeramik and experiment with three-dimensional surfaces, to try and add spatial volumes to it.

“I think that in 30 years’ time things will be very different, from the houses we will live in, the cars we will drive, the hotels we will stay in…” – Patricia Urquiola

HK: The inspiration for your latest collection was ‘soundwaves that spread in water’…Was this a lightbulb moment, and if so – when and where were you at the time?
PU: Usually inspiration comes to me in waves of moments, images, trips, people… it is hard to pinpoint it to a specific time. The strictness of architectural minimalism was definitely on my mind, a sense of lines, purity and geometry. But also water, its energy and its dynamic movement that never stops. The meeting point of these two ideas is the inspiration behind the Sonar collection, sort of a game between such contrasting shapes, between softness and severity. The lines etched on the exterior of the pieces fade on one end, disappearing back into the material, just like the waves in the ocean.

HK: In your eyes, what does the bathroom of the future (say 30 years from now) look like?
PU: That is very hard to imagine! I think that in 30 years’ time things will be very different, from the houses we will live in, the cars we will drive, the hotels we will stay in… we are moving towards a smarter future, things will be more specialised, personalised, mobile. Frameworks and systems will become more complex and we all will learn to navigate them. We are already seeing a very big change in materials, in how we make them and reuse them and this will also affect architectural projects, the way in which bathrooms will be designed and built will change radically. Spaces and functions are becoming hybrid, they are being redefined because our focus is shifting towards functionality.

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The designer shaping the future of water at GROHE

730 565 Hamish Kilburn
The designer shaping the future of water at GROHE

Post-ISH, Grohe’s Vice President of Design, Michael Seum, sits down with Hotel Designs to explain how its latest innovations are vastly reshaping the bathroom industry. Editor Hamish Kilburn writes…

If one were to imagine the bathroom industry as a quiet, glass-like lake, surrounded by tranquil surroundings, then ISH 2019 was a competition between creatives on who could make the greatest and loudest splash with just one throw.

While some manufacturers opted to hurl large rocks at the water, GROHE on the other hand decided to make its impact in numbers, by launching more than 500 new innovations and arguably creating the largest ripple effect, which has ultimately disrupted conventional bathroom designs as we know them today.

Ensuring that each product that launched skimmed across the surface, GROHE had a strategic throw to avoid it become submerged in the noise of the show. Its latest collections were designed around five mega trends, ‘new living spaces’, ‘consumers become creators’, ‘simplicity seekers – the search for simplicity’, ‘taking control’, and ‘intelligent life management’. The man leading the innovation of each product is Michael Seum, the Vice President of Design at GROHE, who describes his role simply as “connecting the creative horsepower design team to a business need.”

Image credit: Grohe/ISH 2019

Seum, who is the bridge between the innovators and the board at the company, knows more than anyone that the bathroom products of today will help to shape the way in which all buildings and hotels that are conceived in the future. “We identified big shifts in society, technology and the rise in rejecting single-use objects,” he explains. “We wanted to understand the mindset of consumers and concluded that we should be giving consumers the ability to take better control over the environment and one large framework was built around looking at the consumer, identifying a problem or strain and coming up with a solution.”

Once the solution has been established and visualised, Seum can unleash his weapon; his world-class team of in-house designers to create a new direction in bathroom design. “We honestly go through about 100 prototypes before the end user sees the result of a finished product ready for market,” Seum explains. “Within these, we explore different means of technology and this really in the power of design at GROHE. In a low fidelity way, we can sketch and build a product that can help to get the industry flowing in a certain way.”

QUICK-FIRE ROUND

Hamish Kilburn: I now have in my head that your house is full of prototypes… Am I correct?
Michael Seum: That’s funny. Unfortunately not, my house is actually very minimalist – think Nordic and simple.

HK: What is your biggest bugbear in design?
MS: lack of originality. In our sector in particular, things are copied a lot

HK: Should designers strive to put more colour in the bathroom?
MS: Absolutely!

HK: What is the number-one travel item you cannot travel without?
MS: Books, my headphones and my sketchbook

HK: What is your favourite trend at the moment?
MS: Lightweight furniture!

HK: Where’s next on your travel bucket list?
MS: Surfing in Portugal!

HK: In your opinion, what is the number-one tool for success in this industry?
MS: Learning and understanding the customer experience!

HK: Sustainability is a huge driving force in what you are doing. Is there a hotel that stands out in your mind as being built purely to be sustainable?
MS: Yes, actually. Zuri Zanzibar, which was designed by Jestico + Whiles, is really cool!

The bathroom industry is arguably the most congested sectors in interior design. Staying ahead in such a landscape takes true innovation and not being afraid to disrupt the current lay of the land – something that Seum does with ease. “Our products are not inspired by the bathroom industry,” he says. “Instead, I am more interested to look outside the boundaries of bathroom design and towards wider trends in, for example, lifestyle, fashion and lighting.

Image credit: Grohe

With bathroom manufacturers specifically, there has been a rise in the number of companies that are welcoming outside renowned designers and architects to inspire the look of new collections, but for Seum who is a former design consultant himself, the demand for this at GROHE is non-existent. “I’m not critiquing the designers when I say this, but I am yet to find a designer who has worked on a collection with a bathroom manufacturer that has done anything to conserve water and/or to eliminate single-use plastics,” he explains. “Therefore, its clear that these collaborations are aimed to purely add aesthetics to a product.”

The result of GROHE’s presence at ISH is that the company has defiantly launched products that are tailored to the needs of consumers as well as architects, interior designers and hotel investors. Creating intelligent water solutions to transform lives for the better, Seum and his team is succeeding in providing products that have the power to help designers build and create more intelligent and sustainable hotels around the world.

Main image credit: GROHE