Modern bathroom design has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, says Giles Kime – but the classical fittings we used to love are making a comeback.
Because many Modernist designers like a room to resemble a cross between a science lab and a Buddhist monastery, they set out to eradicate anything that will disrupt the glacial look they love so much (repeating, under their breath, the words ‘less is more’ like some grim, dystopian mantra).
In the kitchen, this means hobs have been reduced to black squares of glass, with doors devoid of handles and kettles that are replaced with taps that emit water at the press of a lever. In the bathroom, it’s spawned discreet buttons that have taken the place of loo handles, cisterns that have been buried in the wall and square baths that are ergonomically unsuited to the not remotely square human form.
The problem is that the process creates rooms that are pared back so relentlessly that they have all the aesthetic charm of an abattoir.
Thankfully, the Modernist revolution has been succeeded by a counter-revolution, led by plucky aesthetic rebels who have made a stand against the sensory deprivation enforced by the chilly hand of Minimalism. In bathroom design, this new spirit is manifesting itself in the popularity of baths, loos, cisterns and showers that take their inspiration from the past.
It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Victorian-style plumbing that it can still be bought from an actual Victorian business, Thomas Crapper, which first opened the doors of its showroom on the King’s Road in Chelsea in 1870 and later gained its first Royal Warrant for supplying the plumbing (including 30 loos) for the future Edward VII at Sandringham.
Other than a renewed interest in Victorian and Edwardian designs, the big stylistic growth area in bathrooms is Art Deco, a look that offers a glossy, Claridge’s-style glamour that’s hard to resist.
There’s no doubting the character and comfort that classic bathroom fittings lend to a space when compared to the chilly look of the contemporary alternative, yet the revival of interest in classic plumbing is less about nostalgia and more about quality.
The robust functionality of properly made traditional fittings make them a pleasure to use. Drummonds, Devon & Devon, Samuel Heath, Chadder, The Water Monopoly and C. P. Hart are sources of a wide range of options, from Victorian and Edwardian to Art Deco and mid century, many made using time-honoured techniques. None of the designs has a hard edge or handle-free drawer among them.
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