Following government’s proposed relaxation of planning regulations for the minimum size of homes; we look at the small bathroom market
A proposed conversion of a former office block in North London, into hundreds of tiny studio flats, has recently hit the national headlines. Taking advantage of the government’s relaxation of planning regulations for the minimum size of homes, the smallest proposed apartment will measure just 16sqm, rather than the minimum 37sqm for a one-bed flat, which is 40% smaller than a Travelodge room reports The Guardian. Although this suggested development may appear to be a scapegoat, it is just one of the many examples of ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain. Researchers from Cambridge University have already found the average UK new build home is already the smallest by floor area across Europe. Marketing and brands director for Geberit Raffaela De Vittorio adds: “According to research by the Royal Institute of British Architects, the average size of a new built, three bedroom home in the UK is 88.9sqm, nearly 10sqm smaller than those built in 2003.”
It’s unsurprising, then, there is a growing need for space-saving products for the home, including bathrooms. Product manager of ceramics at Ideal Standard, Mike Smelt comments: “The market for space-saving bathroom suites continues to surge upwards in terms of growth and demand is predominately driven by the residential specification sector. In the last 12 months, in particular, it is noticeable that architects in particular are predominately looking for smarter, smaller space-saving options, which is in line with the so-called ‘shrinkification’ trend that continues to be rife in all aspects of UK life.” He continues: “Space-saving bathroom products used to be fairly niche, but in the last five years or so, the shrinking sizes of new homes being built in the UK have changed all this.” Commercial director of distributor Q4 Bathrooms Paul Jacobs puts some figures to the growth of bathroom products for small areas, commenting: “Over the last two years we’ve seen a raise from 10% to 15% of our space-saving suite sales.”
However the requirement for space-saving bathrooms is not restricted to the new build market. With consumers looking to add value, by increasing the bathing facilities in a home, the footprint is diminishing. Head of group marketing at Pura Bathrooms Group Stuart Newbury comments: “We have seen steady growth over the past two years in the demand for and specification of sanitaryware, brassware and furniture that is suitable for small spaces. We believe this is driven by homeowners deciding to stay and improve their homes by upgrading existing bathrooms and repurposing spaces like under stair cupboards, airing cupboards and even extending into box-sized bedrooms, creating ensuites and additional bathrooms in their home.” And sales director of Sanipex UK Richard Nicholls agrees: “While the footprint of UK homes is getting smaller, the amount of bathrooms per household is increasing with ensuites and cloakrooms being added as an investment opportunity, without extending the floor space. The potential for growth in the space-saving market is therefore very high, and is a shift that is certain to continue.”
Of course, to ensure a bathroom interior is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, designers and specifiers will carefully consider how to maximise space. That just stands to common sense. However, Stuart Newbury of Pura Bathrooms Group points out: “Great planning and design are really critical when designing for small spaces – but without the right combination of products for designers to choose from – no amount of juggling and re-jigging products will make a small bathroom look proportionally right.” But it is particularly important as clients want to include more in their bathroom, from showers to furniture. Sales director of Sanipex UK Richard Nicholls warns: “Consumers want a luxurious, spa-like retreat and won’t be put off by the lack of space available, so it is up to manufacturers and retailers to provide them with the solutions.” And of course, there are more products than ever, which allow designers and specifiers to be creative with spatial planning. Whether its shortened baths, bath replacement showers, short projection sanitaryware or slimline furniture, there are a variety of products which use the minimal amount of space for the maximum bathing experience. Ideal Standard created the Concept Space range, which was specifically designed for small bathrooms, whereas Paul Jacobs of Q4 Bathrooms states: “Just under half of our stock could be used in a smaller bathroom.” However, managing director of Duravit Martin Carroll point out his company “offers bathroom ceramics and furniture in compact versions of almost every Duravit range.”
While designers and specifiers may automatically rule out a bath, in favour of a shower, for small spaces, there are shortened models which could be used in smaller rooms. Head of marketing at Bette Sven Resinghoff states small bathrooms have been a key area of focus for years, adding: “We have over 20 baths specifically designed for small spaces, including those that have part of the bath surround cut away on the angle, so that they can be used where door openings would normally prevent the use of a bath with good lying area.” And his view on bath tubs for the smaller room are echoed by marketing director at Victoria + Albert Baths Jonathan Carter who states a compact 1500 model is still one of the company’s best-selling designs. He adds: “In 2017, we are introducing a new 1500mm tub – the Vetrella.” And he continues, commenting: “Three of our five recently launched freestanding baths are under 1700mm.”
Sanitaryware has also been modified with shorter projections to shave off valuable centimetres of floor space for small or awkward spaces. Marketing manager for Roper Rhodes Helen Shaw comments: “Short projection models continue to perform well for the UK market where smaller bathrooms prevail. Short projection WCs, particularly back-to-wall options with a concealed cistern are particularly popular.” And Martin Carroll of Duravit agrees, commenting: “Our P3 Comforts range is particularly popular and includes a compact wall-mounted toilet with a shorter projection of 485mm compared to the standard 450mm.” And manufacturers keep adding to their sanitaryware range. Frontline Bathrooms now offers a corner basin and corner WC as part of its Valore suite and Ideal Standard has extended its Concept Space range with a WC which is smaller in size and is shaped to fit into a tight and probably a previous unsuitable corner.
While for basins, slim-depth sanitaryware and now with slimlines to feature a greater bowl space for the same footprint are top of the list for small bathroom specification, particularly as vanities for storage. Helen Shaw continues: “We recently extended our popular Note sanitaryware range with a slim-depth semi-countertop basins, which has been designed for use with slim-depth furniture. Similarly our new Cover sanitaryware range also includes a slim-depth, semi-countertop option.”
And manufacturers have even looked at how best to capitalise on the storage within the vanity furniture. Mike Smelt of Ideal Standard explains how its furniture has been developed to meet the demands of a small space. He comments: “Ideal Standard has introduced an L-shaped door on its basin units, which reduced the projection on the door swing when open and includes ‘on the door’ internal storage to absolutely maximise space utilisation.”
But while there are plenty of products available to the marketplace, there has been recent criticism the industry, from consumer magazines through to awards, solely focus on large, attention-grabbing projects. Ultimately, it has been suggested the industry ignores the plight of designers and specifiers working in small spaces. So is the industry doing enough, collaboratively, to promote the smaller bathroom? Paul Jacobs replies: “I think the honest answer is no. When organisations or magazines promote bathroom products, they are usually set in large spaces with freestanding baths and a separate shower. Realistically, the European-style open bathroom isn’t achievable in most British homes but using these styles shows the potential of the products while they’re elegantly placed across a room – something that you can’t do with a smaller space. No matter what the industry, all organisations will market their products in the best possible light.” While Jonathan Carter of Victoria + Albert Bathrooms counters there is an increasing awareness of smaller bathroom product designs, he also believes “more needs to be done to emphasize that beautifully-designed bathrooms can be small too – it’s not just the huge, luxury homes that can include good design.” He continues: “We often note comments on design websites where homeowners are frustrated at the lack of inspiration for smaller spaces.”
Certainly, the industry is resolute that the market for space-saving bathroom products isn’t going to diminish in the short-term future. It will continue to be buoyed by restricted space newbuild housing and the continuing requirements for multiple bathrooms in the home. As Stuart Newbury predicts: “Our crystal ball tells us that the trend for smaller bathrooms will continue for the next couple of years – at least. It will be for as long as homeowners want more bathrooms in their homes and developers and housebuilders try to squeeze more bathrooms into their projects.” And with more emphasis on restricted space bathrooms, it may just see a greater focus on inspirational small bathroom projects across the industry.