Article from FOCUS Magazine – Winter 12 issue.
This winter we have been talking to some top bathroom retailers to ask them what are currently their best-selling lines, and, at the same time, to share a few bathroom tips with us. After all, the market is awash (if you’ll excuse the pun) with new products to make your bathroom more efficient, comfortable and even downright luxurious, so a little expertise on making a good choice is very welcome.
Bathroom fittings and plumbing are notoriously complicated and diverse. You need expert advice from an established bathroom specialist before purchasing so much as a tap. The respected bathroom business of C.P. Hart is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Charles Percival Hart, a South London builder, opened the first C.P. Hart in 1937, selling to builders and plumbers. With his two sons, he built the business to become a leading bathroom specialist, and his market widened to include householders. Nowadays, the company is renowned for its exciting showroom complex under the arches of Waterloo Station. Design Is high on the agenda, both for products on display, and as a specialist service for customers.
C.P. Hart opened its showroom in Guildford twelve years ago (Willway House, Woodbridge Road, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 1DX; 01483 469 430). Their building is distinctive – architect-designed and aluminium-clad – and C.P. Hart occupy the whole of the ground floor. Around 2,500 sq ft of showroom space makes it one of their largest branches. Here you will find a large range of classic, contemporary and cutting edge bathrooms, covering a myriad of styles, and catering for a variety of budgets. Indeed C.P. Hart Guildford has just updated their entire showroom, making it a particularly good place to explore current trends. Attention-grabbers include the fashionable Italian bathroom fittings of Gessi Goccia – a luxury brand supplied to exclusive homes, hotels, spas and yachts.
Spanish but London-based designer Jaime Hayon has (in typical fashion) created an idiosyncratic collection for Bisazza (Italian again), with black marble basins set into tubular supports in chrome or copper. Gorgeous glowing glass washbasins from the company Design Glass Bowls are hand-blown in Italy and created to sit on a counter top. They come in a wide variety of colours and sizes and some are embellished with cut glass, like a fine goblet.
Angela Ashford is the experienced showroom manager – welcoming, informative and very reassuring. She says: “Planning and implementing a new bathroom can feel challenging and even intimidating. But specialist knowledge and understanding at a good retailer will make the experience enjoyable and successful.” Angela says that top sellers right now are the company’s classic London ceramics matched with C.P. Hart brassware – “this can create that popular hotel ambience, oozing traditional values of luxury and quality.” On the other hand, customers who want a more contemporary look love German Duravit’s Starck 3 range, by the famous French designer Philippe Starck – “a perennial best-seller.” And consumers are becoming more adventurous again, says Angela cheerfully – not for her the ongoing gloomy talk of economic downturn. Indeed, “the recession be damned!” she exclaims. “Luxury is coming back. People are even sacrificing bedroom space for a grander bathroom. This idea seems no longer to be penalised by estate agents and the property market, who at last recognise the desirability of a stylish and luxurious bathroom.”
Many people are choosing free-standing baths as statement pieces – “and the new new Gessi Goccia range, directly inspired by the beauty of water itself, has attracted enormous interest.” Angela’s advice is upbeat and stylish. “Luxury bathrooms do not have to be garish – but the right style and finish can bring drama to a space. Black sanitaryware is on trend and adds an edge to a scheme. Consider a feature wall with iridescent mosaics, and a dressing table-esque vanity unit for your basin – this is part of a big movement towards ‘bathroom furniture’.” Cloakrooms, Angela adds, are popular spaces for a bit of bling – “gold leaf washbowls and striking mosaics are always a talking point with guests.” She points out that simply replacing brassware can instantly update an older bathroom – “consider Gessi’s Mimi collection, a modern twist on Art Deco, or C.P. Hart’s elegant Libero.”
Melinda Hill is senior designer at Ripples at 116 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW3 6HU (020 7373 3668; www.ripples.ltd.uk). She is visiting homes on a daily basis, creating rooms that work well and look beautiful for her clients. They are ordering bespoke floor-to-ceiling shower screens – “no chrome at all – using a single panel of glass makes the room more open and light, but also easier to clean.” And easy-clean shower/wet room trays are understandably popular – “low maintenance is what we all want.” As for shower heads, the trend is for fixed heads, which are mounted flush with the ceiling, or a canopy-type design, combined with a manoeuvrable “wand in a dock” for all-over washing – “body jets are out.”
Sanjay Parmar is the experienced hands-on owner of Ripples of Richmond at 12 Lichfield Terrace, Sheen Road, Richmond, TW9 1AS (020 3166 7008; www.ripples.ltd.uk). His talk is punctuated with pithy and practical bathrooms observations. He has noticed a preference for wall-hung sanitaryware, further supporting that low-maintenance trend. “Getting everything off the floor creates a feeling of space, and of course is much easier to clean.” In particular he recommends the Laufen Pro WC – “a simple minimalist neat design suitable for any bathroom, but especially small compact spaces. If a design has smooth, clean lines, the WC becomes more of a statement piece and not just a functional item.” His tip is to choose a WC pan where all of the fixings are concealed with no dust or dirt traps.
At Ripples of Reigate, Helen Head is senior designer with a wealth of product knowledge, and an instinctive feel for making a bathroom beautiful. She is recommending the Hansgrohe Metris brassware – such as basin mixers, deck mounted taps, thermostats, shower heads and so on (9-11 West Street, Reigate, Surrey, RH2 9BL; 01737 226450;www.ripples.ltd.uk). “The Metris range has a subtle design and timeless elegance. It fits any style of bathroom, contemporary or traditional, and ticks all the boxes. It’s affordable, and there are different heights for individual needs. Also, water volume is automatically controlled/ conserved, thanks to Ecosmart technology, which mixes water with air.” Helen’s tip concentrates on mirrors: “Size and proportion are important – try to make a mirror either the same size or smaller than the basin or vanity unit underneath it. Mirrors that are larger than the fittings below can appear top heavy – although of course you can add lights on either side.” Avoid harsh downlighters in bathrooms – side lighting is much kinder to the face, and better for applying make-up.”
Original Bathrooms in Richmond is famous for five generations of bathroom expertise (143-145 Kew Road, Richmond, TW9 2PN; 020 8940 7554; www.original-bathrooms.co.uk). The emphasis here is on quality and luxury, with arty window displays that are local talking-points. An unrivalled product selection and knowledge is backed by specialist design advice on anything from a loo lever to a complete en suite and/or wetroom. Andrew Shanahan, managing director, says traditional bathrooms are very much in vogue, though many clients are “mixing and matching traditional and contemporary in a refreshing way.” He and his customers are loving the British manufacturer Lefroy Brooks, who cater to this trend, offering an extensive range of sanitaryware and brassware. Director Christo Lefroy Brooks, it seems, is a bathroom fanatic who has researched taps of the last century and selected great classics from each decade. Particularly popular is La Chapelle, a 1910-inspired design with soft and curvy lines. Also in demand is Mackintosh, a 1930 range with squarer and more masculine lines.
Continuing the “made in Britain” theme – commercially a big plus-point these days – Andrew also recommends bespoke heated towel rails from Bard & Brazier, made by hand in Birmingham. Here brass tubes are bent by machine and shaped by hand with ball joints painstakingly soldered “by eye”. Apparently, it takes on average five to seven hours to make one towel rail. The same company can make washbasin stands with a beautiful marble top. Andrew also confirmed the trend to free-standing baths mentioned by several experts we talked to. “Towel warmers add that something special to a bathroom,” Andrew adds. “They can be run off your central heating, or connected to your electricity supply – or a combination of the two. This means that in summer you can have warm towels even when the central heating is off.” Another of Andrew’s tips is highly relevant for those many households in the South of England with hard water. He says: “To maintain a good flow and avoid lime-scale build-up, always flush the shower head with cold water after use.”
The Alternative Bathroom Company’s flagship showroom is in Fulham (105-107 Wandsworth Bridge Road, Fulham, London SW6 2TE; 020 3375 9002; www.alternativebathrooms.com) with 2,500 sq ft over two floors and more than 40 display settings – allowing people to compare products across ranges, price points etc. The company brings together a unique combination of own-label classic products and big international names such as Dornbracht, Mastellar and (again) Lefroy Brooks. The emphasis, they say, is on “affordable luxury and a friendly, personal shopping experience with the option of a complete bathroom design service.” So what are the most popular products here? Managing Director Colin Kirkpatrick says the best seller is the Alternative Bathroom Company’s own-label Options collection, such as the Remo sanitaryware and the Ikon mixer taps and showers. “They are stylish, good quality, affordable lines which we supply direct from stock.” The big-name best-sellers are the Bette baths and shower trays – “again, these are well designed, excellent quality and value, and available from stock.” Colin adds: “Mid-priced ranges with high design values such as Options and Bette always have a very broad appeal. We sell them to trendy young singles, to families and also to professionals such as interior designers and architects.” And his tip? “Create your perfect bathroom without breaking the bank – by cleverly mixing key pieces from big name brands with quality own-brand products, such as our Options collection.”
Founded by Peter and Cheryl Gurner in up-market Belgravia, Bathrooms International is a leading independent showroom and retailer, selecting, sourcing and supplying exclusive and exotic baths, sanitaryware, fittings and accessories from – and to – around the world. They have over thirty years experience and a global reputation, and are well worth a special trip to town(4 Pont Street, SW1X 9EL; 020 7838 7788; www.bathroomsint.com). So what is tickling the taste buds of their exclusive clientele? Cheryl Gurner confides:“Our Beluga lever taps are selling better than any other style. As they are classically modern rather than highly contemporary, they fit any style of bathrooms. People love the huge range of finishes – 20 in all, including matt, glossy and antiqued chrome, nickel, bronze and copper. It becomes so easy to give your bathroom a truly individual look.” Cheryl’s “tip” comes from a lifetime of bathroom expertise, and can well be the mantra for all bathroom shoppers. “Style your bathrooms with products that suit your own taste. Don’t be over influenced by current trends – if it isn’t what you are comfortable with, your bathroom will never be comfortable for you.”
Kaldewei is a German bathroom brand specialising in enamelled steel baths. Lois Paffett, their UK marketing manager, describes a new matt finish for their hitherto ultra glossy baths. “It has a subtle sheen and looks like the softest leather. This new finish is particularly effective in sweeping bath interiors, as the matt effect enhances the softness of the design.” Colours include lava black, oyster grey, sea-shell cream and arctic white. Also new from Kaldewei are electronic controls for its baths designed by Phoenix Design. The Comfort Select system has a digital, user-friendly operating panel to regulate water inlet and outflow, water temperature, and shower/bathing function. This fits virtually flush into the rim of the bath, so you can set a precise temperature even before running the water. Kaldewei is offering a floor level shower tray (for example the award-winning Conoflat) combined with a guaranteed leak-proof, ESR II install-ation frame. The company promise that this can be installed upstairs and into timber floors with complete peace of mind. Integrated leak-proof technology within the frame means that they cannot leak through the floor even if joints or seals are damaged over time. A shower that works well with good flow and pressure is an essential component of the bathroom. Digital showers are a big move forward. They control temperature and flow from a processor sited under the bath, or away from the room altogether in a loft or airing cupboard. This type of shower is very safe and simple, with push-button controls, intuitive LED displays, and remote control as an option.
Europe’s largest manufacturer of showers and specialists in waste technology, Hansgrohe has an un-surpassed reputation for quality and innovation in the bathroom sector. Focusing on the essence of things is what gave Philippe Starck the inspiration for the new Axor Starck Organic collection. Its unique, organic-minimalist design and harmonious lines are reminiscent of shapes we see in nature. The new bathroom collection combines unique design with a responsible way to handle water and boasts a stunning array of bathroom mixers and accessories. It was developed over a period of three years in collaboration between Axor, the designer brand of Hansgrohe SE, and Philippe Starck.
Developed by Hansgrohe and Phoenix Design the Raindance Select Handshower has an easy to hold handle and ‘Select’ – an ultra simple jet change function. Users can select their favourite jet type at the simple touch of a button from a choice of Soft RainAir, massaging Caresse-Air which is an innovative five finger whirling massage setting, or a refreshing mixed jet. In addition to the new Raindance Select Handshower, Hansgrohe launched the Raindance Select Showerpipes, a new shower system that combines overhead shower, hand shower and thermostat. Those who want to enjoy the flexible showering pleasure of a hand shower but without relinquishing the rain-like sensation of standing under a large overhead shower, should try a showerpipe. A showerpipe can be installed in front of the wall, so it is well suited for renovations, and the integrated thermostat allows users to safely manage the water temperature. High-quality finishes, soft curves, elegance and understated luxury all characterise this showerpipe range (01372 465 655; www.hansgrohe.co.uk).
The Water Monopoly (10-14 Lonsdale Road, London NW6 6RD; 020 7624 2636; www.thewatermonopoly.com) has, over the last 25 years, built an international reputation for creating beautiful bathrooms using original period fittings. The company has a new showroom in Queens Park, North London, with 5000 sq ft of space to showcase both one-off bathroom originals and reproductions inspired by them. “These days, customers plan to stay in their homes for longer lengths of time, and are therefore prepared to spend more on their bathrooms,” says Justin Homewood, founder and managing director. “So a bath that costs over £5,000 – like our new Hanley and Paris baths – is now widely accepted.” Also popular is their double marble basin on legs. And his tip? “Make sure that you go to see, feel, touch, and if necessary get into the bath, don’t just order it online.”
Laufen is an exclusive Swiss brand, with an increasingly high profile in the UK. Bathrooms are now very much inspired by hotels, says Dawood Palekar, marketing manager. “We are seeing sanitaryware chosen as statement pieces and larger than average wash basins. Also popular are whirlpool spa baths and open shelving for storage.” He added that there has been a marked move away from a geometric look with straight lines “towards more sculptural shapes, soft edges and elegant curves.” Laufen have a highly successful ongoing partnership with the celebrated Italian design duo Roberto and Ludovica Palomba. The 2012 Palomba Collection includes a bathtub and eight washbasins with co-ordinating accessories. These are designed to mix and match, for that truly individual look. Key pieces are a freestanding tall washbasin, called the Menhir, and a freestanding bath with a sloping high back – comfortable and indulgent. Then there’s the Living Square wash-basin, geometric, and minimal, with a wide countertop, easy-clean ceramic surface, integrated liquid soap dispenser and chrome hand towel rail (www.uk.laufen.com).