Catwalk luxe

04 Apr, 17

We discover individualism is at the heart of luxury

Forget the kind of customer who wants a ‘designer’ bathroom at internet prices, there is a discerning market prepared to pay premium prices for their projects. And it’s not simply about form, it’s about picking the right quality of products for their home. Sales director of Perrin & Rowe, David Cole explains: “While looks alone have, in the past, been the sole criterion for a ‘wow’ factor, end-user perceptions and expectations have definitely matured and now it is the the sum of many attributes.” He continues: “The marketplace has become more aware of premium brands surpassing the substandard, mass produced items which seem to saturate the lower and middle markets.” Whether sold through a retail showroom or specified by property developers for luxury dwellings, niche but profitable high-end bathroom suite sales are blossoming. UK sales director of the Sanipex Group Richard Nicholls says: “There are signs of growth in this area, particularly as consumers continue to recognise the advantages of investing more of their budget in high quality products.”

Curating a bathroom

Consumers who are interested in premium bathroom projects are not sourcing standard three-piece suites, but are looking for individualism. UK manager of Ceramica Globo Tim Shaw explains: “Upper end consumers do not buy bathroom suites – they buy the individual pieces that work well together.” And country manager of Bette UK Samantha Wake agrees: “Customers are selecting the statement pieces first, rather than always looking for one co-ordinated look.”

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However, mass manufacturers have also fed off this trend, by creating pieces as part of a large collection, that can be combined in a variety of ways in order to create an individual look. Managing director of Duravit UK Martin Carroll states: “Within our comprehensive collections we have expanded our range of models, styles and finishes on offer. This allows customers to create individual solutions for their bathrooms but with the assurance that all the items will match, as they are designed to fit together.” In fact Leanne Martin of Sottini explains this was the rationale behind its recent rebrand: “The whole premise behind the Sottini brand was a deliberate move away from the traditional bathroom suite model. Sottini offers a collection of products that can be mixed and matched to create an infinite number of bathroom schemes. The collection incorporates a number of statement pieces, particularly basins and baths, and these are proving to be popular among bathroom retailers.”

Starting with statement

For designers and specifiers looking to capitalise on creating luxury or bathrooms with a luxury appearance, it depends on what items are required in the room as to the starting point. A consumer may begin with a freestanding bathtub or a basin. Richard Nicholls comments: “The trend for selecting statement pieces first is still evident at the top-end of the market. What that statement piece might be will depend on the overall aesthetic of the bathroom.” While Samantha Wake offers a little more explanation: “Where a built-in bath is going to be used, customers often choose the washbasin and the furniture first. However, there has been a huge increase in the popularity of freestanding baths and, where a freestanding bath is desired, this will usually be selected first as it will have a big impact on the available space and the style of the room.”

Refined slim lines

Arguably the one commonality between premium-priced projects is the move towards visual lightness. Slim, refined rims on basins, baths, through to rimless WCs offer a more sophisicated aesthetic, wether through material or through its manufacture. In fact, Ideal Standard recently introduced Concept Air, a slimline version of its Concept bathroom collection. Leanne Martin of Sottini comments: “Slim rims on sanitaryware is still a strong trend as people seek a lightness of touch in their bathroom scheme. This works particularly well as the higher end of the market and Sottini offers a selection of baths and basins with this thin aesthetic.” And her view is re-iterated by Martin Carroll at Duravit who says: “There has been an increasing trend towards slim designs, particularly with the development of new materials which combine outstanding performance with beautiful aesthetics allowing for narrower rims to basins and baths.” He continues, explaining how the fashion for slim rims are reflected in his company’s portfolio: “For example, the Cape Cod Collection, created by celebrated designer Philippe Starck features wash bowls made from DuraCeram material which provides a high grade porcelain finish and allows fine edges that measure only 5mm in thickness. In addition, the new Cape Code bath has been manufactured from a brand new material DuraSolid A and features stunningly thin bath rims, with soft organic forms and gentle integrated curves.”

Wall-hung leads

While rimless is the watchword for WC design, whether with or without integrated bidet function. Martin Carroll says: “Rimless designs have also extended to the toilet. We believe that rimless technology and also the SensoWash slim shower toilet seat will become engrained as ‘must-have’ items for mid to high-end bathrooms.” If the WC is offered in a wall-hung model, it also provides lightness in the bathroom by creating space, as Carroll continues: “Wall-hung toilets and basins are attractive for several reasons: they create a modern feel, maximise floor space and make the room feel larger and are also easier to clean. During 2015, we saw an increase in the use of wall-hung sanitaryware combined with furniture.”

Of course furniture has also influenced the choice of basin, but Samantha Wake of Bette says there is also a move towards monolith models too: “Freestanding monoliths are also popular, but the desire for stylish furniture that can provide important storage means that countertop and built-in washbasin are most popular.”

Influence of colour

Whether a basic or premium-priced bathroom suite, the reality remains white will be the dominant colour. However, there has been a recent influx of coloured ceramics. Marketing manager of VitrA UK, Margaret Talbot comments: “Basins are one of the most exciting areas for colour experimentation. We’ve seen how metallic, colour and reflective finishes have given a new lease of life to this focal point of the bathroom in recent times.” And freestanding bath launches at KBB Birmingham showcased bath claddings in metallics, and an influence of natural stone. Richard Nicholls comments: “Natural materials, such as stone and marble are a big trend at the premium end of the market and are ideal for introducing shades of grey and beige into the bathroom without ever being dull.” And Samantha Wake says she has noticed the influence of stone, adding: “Bette has been able to enamel its baths in a huge range of colours for many years and we are now seeing more demand for natural stone colours, to match those that customers are choosing for their flush-to-floor shower areas. We believe that colour will become more important in the bathroom, but will feature in a subtle way for most bathrooms.”

In fact, Margaret Talbot of VitrA says matt finishes will be the next trend, adding: “our Memoria range has just been extended and includes new basins in matt and gloss finishes in black, white and taupe.” She continues: “For many years there has been a growing demand for different shapes, finishes and materials and these will play a part in sanitaryware design over the next few years. I cannot ever see them outperforming white in terms of sales but collectively these new areas of design will be commercially significant.”

While premium-priced bathrooms may never be the bread and butter of sales, they do inspire fashions throughout the chain – offering catwalk looks – which can be translated into more affordable, high street sales. However, manufacturers working in the market believe premium sales will continue to perform strongly. As Samantha Wake concludes: “Customers are becoming more aware of the benefits of higher quality products and are not just looking for good design, but are expecting those products to look good for many years and be a joy to use.”

Expert View

Luxury means showering

Managing director of Lakes Bathrooms Robin Craddock says showering is essential for premium bathrooms.

Showering has come a long way from the ‘Psycho’ days of wrestling with limp shower curtains and clunky perplex enclosures. The wetroom and walk-in now create a feeling of relaxed spa living and we’ve come to take this facility for granted as a standard feature in the bathroom.

In a recent survey of 1,000 customers, aged between 18-70, conducted for us by OnePoll, we found that over half of those surveyed said that they shower daily (50%) and 62% said that they’d rather have a separate shower enclosure to an over-the-bath models. So there’s a clear majority in favour of showering and having a separate space for that, with almost a quarter (24%) saying that the style of the enclosure would be the biggest influencing factor in their selection process.

With showering having the edge in daily cleansing, it’s easy to argue that showering is an essential part of a premium bathroom and style plays a very important part in the choice of enclosure. Some of the most popular designs we sell are our Coastline walk-in styles. This perhaps illustrates the increasing trend for creating the boutique hotel feel in our own homes, with the focus on quality of materials to create an opulent and indulgent feel.

While style is an essential consideration, so too is space. Over half of those consumers polled said that the size of the enclosure was the most important feature of their choice. So designs that maximise on available space lend luxury to the bathroom experience. Where they layout allows, a larger footprint for showering is preferred, as we see from our premium sales, where our larger sliding doors are our best sellers – often replacing baths.

However, the feeling of space doesn’t have to come entirely from floor space; mirrored enclosures offer reflective magic that conjures light into smaller rooms. These fit the growing trend for form with function, by combining the practicality of mirroring with aesthetic impact and adding a point of style.

70% of our total Coastline sales are made up from walk-in designs, clearly demonstrating that the customer base for the premium collection feature the ease, style and freedom of minimalist screening. Finally, it’s fair to say that the concept of premium implies choice and having the option to bathe and to shower separately, yet in equal style, must surely be the ultimate statement of luxury.