‘Quality of washroom’ isn’t the first thing most people look for in a hotel or restaurant review. But it can be the one thing that turns a potential 5-star write up into a lukewarm 3-star disappointment.
It’s not simply a matter of hygiene standards, which should be faultless as a matter of course in the hospitality industry. It’s a question of making sure the sense of style that gets so much care and attention in guest rooms, menu design, furniture and everything else extends to the washroom as well. Of course, most businesses can’t afford to rip out and refurbish their washroom three or four times a year in pursuit of seasonal trends. So while a certain amount of work with colours and accessories can help bring it into line with passing fashion, washroom designers really need to anticipate longer term patterns in product design, materials and lighting to stay ahead of the game.
So here, in no particular order, is our take on the ten most important influences on washroom design right now to help make sure your next project is squarely on trend – for the next few years at least.
1. Get back to nature
It’s hard to ignore the fact more and more natural elements are finding their way into washroom design. Things like indoor plants and dried flower displays, organic materials like sisal and untreated wood, or stones, pebbles and running water features. Making headway for a few years now, biophilic design, as it’s known, is based on a school of thought that says being surrounded by natural materials helps our overall wellbeing by reconnecting us with the natural world.
It’s easy to forget, after all, that we’ve spent 99% of our time on the planet living at one with nature. This means, according to biophilic theory, we’re still ‘hard wired’ to respond positively to the sights, sounds, smells and textures of the great outdoors. Its proponents point to research that shows getting closer to nature, even indoors, can reduce our levels of stress and bring down our blood pressure and heart rate, among other healthy benefits.
Whether that’s true or not, washroom designers have responded by incorporating all sorts of natural motifs into their plans to move the washroom away from being a hard, unyielding environment to one much more attuned to our more organic instincts. The message is clear: Hygienic doesn’t have to mean clinical, and in the room that’s used for the most natural bodily functions of all, nature is well and truly back.
2. Adopt a rounded approach
The fashion for basic shapes – curves, angles, ovals, squares - ebbs and flows in every field of design. From clothes and jewellery to cutlery, computers and cars, each gets its time in the spotlight. Washroom design is no different and for the last year or two, rounded forms have been on a steady rise while more severe square shapes have declined. It’s easy to spot in accessories like mirrors, where the trend is driving designers towards circles and ovals with deep, smoothly rounded frames as opposed the frameless rectangles or squares.
Porcelain fixtures, in their turn, have followed suit, with round freestanding wash basins almost a standard fixture in any washroom staking its claim as a stylish, contemporary design environment. Hard surfaces are, of course, a necessity in the washroom for reasons of durability and cleanliness. But the move towards rounded shapes allows designers to soften the feel of the space and introduce an impression of fluidity that is seen by some as friendlier and more welcoming.
Perhaps that’s true: Psychologists tell us angular shapes, maybe because of barely remembered encounters with sharp corners as small children, can be subconsciously threatening. Ovals and circles, on the other hand, are more associated with feminine, nurturing qualities. But whether it’s for deeply engrained Freudian reasons or simply because fashion has turned full circle, the rounded look for washrooms is in the spotlight once again.
3. Console yourself.
Oddly enough for an age that saw even the faintest hint of leg as shockingly daring, the console washstand is widely associated with Victorian bathroom design. Today, of course, the basic principle of two legs supporting the front edge of the basin while the rear edge is fixed firmly to the wall has been adapted to fit with any era or design trend. So whether it’s in a ‘Downton Abbey’ style boutique hotel or a city centre basement bar where distressed surfaces and unfinished wood are all part of the urban appeal, you’ll find a console washstand that fits right in.
Their rise in popularity when solid vanity units seemed to offer such a simple alternative for so long is perhaps down to the need create an impression of space in smaller washrooms. Swapping a bulky enclosed unit for the much sparser frame of a console instantly makes the washroom… well, roomier.
Granted, it’s not space that’s particularly usable and it does mean having to tile the back wall all the way to the floor – something that doesn’t have to be factored in when you choose a solid unit. Installing a console also means exposing the sink waste assembly, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing; with the wide choice of high gloss chrome units available today, even this piece of utilitarian plumbing can be turned into an attractive design feature.
4. Wall mounted.
Sometimes, visual trends and technical developments in product design coincide to create something that is a ‘no brainer’ for reasons of both looks and practicality. The wall-mounted or ‘floating’ WC is just such an example. If you’ve noticed more of them around, it’s not just because new materials and manufacturing techniques have made them easier to produce, or because of the sleek, minimal look they convey. It’s also because washroom designers and facilities managers know they’re much more hygienic.
With fewer nooks and crannies in the porcelain itself and no joint between the toilet and floor, germs finder it harder to get a grip. Ideal for fastidious guests, much quicker and easier for the cleaners and great for creating a cutting edge, hi-tech feel in the washroom. By the same token, wash basin vanity units are now starting to pick up their skirts, with a growing number of wall-mounted models available that add to the space age, and space saving, impression of weightlessness. Some even include integrated LED lighting for an extra dimension of ‘floatiness’ – although we’re not sure that’s something we’d welcome where the WC is concerned!
5 State your difference.
Inevitably, designers tend to focus most of their time and budget on the wall that forms focal point of the washroom – the sink, the taps, the mirrors, the tiling and the lighting, even the brand and fragrance of handwash. Because of that, surrounding wall spaces usually don’t get too much of a look-in; a predictable default spec of ‘me too’ finishes is often the result. But falling into line with the norm means that valuable tricks are being missed.
Statement walls are a proven design idea, and many interiors gain a wow factor from them, so why should the washroom be any different? Growing numbers of designers are now catching on, because they’ve realised that here’s an opportunity to add distinctive character and impact in an often overlooked space. The options are pretty well unlimited. Different tiles that complement or even contrast with the overall scheme; marble as art: mosaics; bold use of tiles in a different size, shade and texture… There’s a host of ways to disrupt the usually uniform flow of the washroom wall surface, and establish a real signature element that’s as pleasing to the eye as it is unexpected.
There are also strong practical arguments for creating a signature look. Statement walls can be achieved using wallpaper or paint, or even floor to ceiling prints – easy to organise, relatively cheap and just as easy to change as trends evolve. And here’s one further thought: why shouldn’t the washroom express individual brand personality like any other public space?
6. Back to black.
For what’s beginning to feel like a long time, grey has been the predominant shade of choice in many washrooms. Now, there’s a definite shift away to more use of black. While grey still remains a useful option in all its guises – and obviously as a partner to black – deep ebonies and obsidians are coming to the fore to add distinctive and sophisticated effects.
Of course, a lot of black in a small washroom is likely to be oppressive, unless you’ve got the luxury of high ceilings and plenty of space to play with. But even on a smaller scale, black is coming into its own for many contemporary designers as part of an accent palette and a go-to shade for key features like signature walls, light fittings, vanities, mirrors, furniture, doors and frame work. Matte finishes in black can deliver a softer, warmer kind of aesthetic, whereas gloss gives an opulent, high-end feel.
Clearly, black can be budget-friendly too – simply by painting woodwork or walls, the desired result is easily achieved. Going further, you have an incredible selection of marbles, composites, metal and ceramics to work with. And the tried and trusted – not to say timeless – combination of rich black and stark white can’t be ignored. From medieval cathedral floors to art deco schemes, the ultimate contrast combination has always worked to amazing effect.
7. Universal Design for the completely inclusive washroom
Factoring-in washroom access for disabled people is nowadays second nature to architects and designers. And of course, it’s enshrined in public space design standards by Doc M of the building regulations. Universal design extends the spirit of these kinds of regs to meet the needs of those with challenges which are not so obvious or legally defined – access issues that are often quite commonplace in the wider population but not necessarily covered by existing standards.
It takes into account things like being a small child, or being unusually tall. It considers how someone with a temporary cast might not be able to turn a tap or grab a paper towel. How about the needs of a growing elderly population? What can be done for those suffering from arthritis, joint pain or limited movement? Shouldn’t we be colour scheming to help the partially sighted, or texturing surfaces and avoiding protruding fixtures to assist blind people? There could be more room for carers in toilet cubicles. Hand rails can really help someone with balance or stability problems…
The list goes on and there’s a lot to consider, and that’s the point of universal design. This is a way of thinking that’s all about inclusivity, of seeing many perspectives and making washrooms work for everyone. One thing we all have in common is that we need to use the washroom, and it should be the aim of every washroom designer to make that routinely easy.
8. Attainable sustainable
Climate change science points to the fact that water scarcity is set to be a major challenge for humanity, particularly in industrialised, highly populated areas. It’s already affecting some cities around the world, and it’s predicted that changing weather patterns will also impact the UK’s water supply.
UK water companies reckon there’ll be 50 - 80% less water in our rivers by 2040, particularly in the south and east of the country. At the same time population growth will add increasing demand for water supplies. Against this backdrop it’s obvious that sustainability in washroom design is not so much a design trend as a crucial strategy for all our futures. And the good news is there’s a lot we can do right now to dramatically cut water and energy consumption.
Back in the day, putting a brick in the cistern was a simple but effective way of reducing water used in flushing the loo. Now there’s rather more tech available to push that commonsense approach forward for the 21st century:
- Timed push button taps and electronic sensor taps that shut off automatically.
- Shower heads with low flow rates
- Tap aerators to reduce water flow to around 1.8 litres per minute.
- Waterless urinals reduce consumption by up to 90%.
- Vacuum flush WCs or dual flush systems to reduce flush volumes.
- Greywater systems that use waste water from bathing and washing to flush toilets.
- Cistern Volume Adjustment devices (CVAs) can be retrofitted to old loos.
- Low energy hand dryers and PIR controlled LED washroom lighting.
9. Vandals handled
What is it about washrooms? Or rather, what is it about washrooms that attracts destructive behaviour? We’ll need a psychologist to answer that one, but in the meantime there’s a lot that can be done in design terms to protect against even the most determined vandals.
Prison washrooms and public toilets are, of course, among the most common targets, but it’s surprising how many pub and restaurant washrooms get similar unwanted attention. One fabulously simple answer we’ve seen to the problem of graffiti is to install chalkboards or paint an area of washroom wall with blackboard paint – a kind of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em’ solution that’s cheap and easy to achieve. Alternatively, several manufacturers provide anti-graffiti paints which either repel most markings or make it easier to remove them.
Many washroom designs for sites prone to vandalism opt for stainless steel fittings instead of easily shattered porcelain. And if your design doesn’t suit the utilitarian, industrial look of stainless, there are many composites, which, while looking like porcelain, aren’t so easily smashed. Franke offer a composite granite option called MIRANIT in this category, which is extremely tough, vandal-resistant and available in a range of attractive formats. Other anti-vandal initiatives include CCTV, toughened glass or metallic mirrors, concealed pipework, recessed soap and water delivery systems… combining a range of specifically vandal proof measures in this way goes a long way to deterring that strangest of demographics: Those for who the comfort break involves a lot more breaking than comfort.
10. Keep it clean.
Number 10 in our list is actually the Number One consideration in washroom design – providing outstanding hygiene. Just from a business perspective this is a real priority, because a messy washroom stands out, particularly in a building that’s otherwise well presented, clean and stylish. Negative experiences tend to stick more in the mind, and get shared with friends, colleagues… and platforms like TripAdvisor.
Far more significantly, of course, poor washroom design can produce some seriously nasty features, such as E.coli, hepatitis, MRSA, streptococcus, staphylococcus – and these are just the tip of a particularly dangerous iceberg. A recent US study found traces of 77,000 different bacteria and viruses in just one standard washroom.
A key way to make life difficult for those bugs is to get smart with surfaces. Moulded composite products like Franke’s RONDAtop and QUADROtop are a great place to start. Their design incorporates an integrated seal in the mounting edge – no need to gap fill with silicon, so the joint is far tighter, with no inviting voids for bacteria to gather in. The Miranit material itself is a seamless poured resin, so again, there are no hiding places for bugs on or around the easy clean surface.
Germs are often transferred by hand contact, so go for touch-free electronic sensor taps and easily operated paper towel bins. Better still, hand dryers eliminate germ-friendly towel waste altogether, and if the dryer is touch-free that’s clearly even better.
With all the options of modern day science and design at our disposal, there really is no room – or excuse – for a washroom that’s less than spotlessly clean in this day and age.