Kitchens and bathrooms: chronicle of a metamorphosis foretold



Big, multi-functional and hyper-designed rooms, but also summations of triggers and opportunities: just don’t refer to them as service areas.  

While many years ago, bathrooms and kitchens were regarded as “service areas,” they have now become domestic statement spaces. It’s pointless denying it, this is a bang up to date signal – bathroom and kitchen specifications have now expanded their physical and media requirements. Potentially, they are large, hyper-designed spaces. Often multifunctional, in a purely hedonistic key. So, nothing strictly functional – fireplaces may make an appearance in bathrooms and reading/relaxation nooks in kitchens.

Intarsio, Cesar

Intarsio, Cesar

Nowadays, bathrooms and kitchens are seen as spaces “ripe for invention,” summations of stimuli and opportunities, calling for large continuous surfaces, in which the material finds its greatest expression in terms of “square meterage:” marble or wood, with brass and burnished metal fittings serve to turn them into verses of architecture or works of art.

Now, the most significant signals from the bathroom and kitchen worlds (and therefore also from the world of finishes which take on a starring role here) are signals of luxury and perfection. Here, the “precise design” of a product is less important than the material with which it is made: the former, if not overridden, is purposely “dumbed down” in order to put the spotlight on the latter. 

Happy, Duravit

Happy, Duravit

If we wanted to find a common symbol for the kitchens it would probably be the monolith. A pure and silent volume, often placed in the middle of the space, always finished with precious materials and sophisticated colours, it conceals a beating technological heart. Water and heat sources appear as required with great efficiency and a wealth of accessories, but they are also made to disappear once they have served their purpose. Meanwhile, powerful extractor hoods (the latest generation ones are on the worktop rather than suspended) ensure that there is no trace of cooking smells or human endeavour in the surrounding atmosphere.

Carlo Colombo, with Isøla for Rossana, has come up with a counter island, both sides of which (the one facing the living area and the one facing the technical equipment) have been subjected to different treatments, although they remain equally important (note the Imperial Marble teamed with heat-treated chestnut wood on the front).

Isøla, Rossana

Isøla, design by Carlo Colombo, Rossana

The great industrial kitchen worktops are clearly also sources of inspiration, such as K-Lab, designed by Giuseppe Bavuso for Ernesto Meda, for example.

K-Lab, Ernestomeda

K-Lab, design by Giuseppe Bavuso, Ernestomeda

Francesco Meda has focused instead on the issue of accessorising and instant availability (therefore visibility) of all those accessories that increasingly sophisticated culinary practices have made indispensable. In Sistema XY for Dada in particular, he has factored in sliding horizontal tops that can be moved to wherever the creative urge (and the dish in progress) demands.

XY, Dada

XY, design by Francesco Meda, Dada

Lastly, there is Fabio Novembre’s Dandy Plus for Scavolini: essential bridging structures with bold pops of colour marking out the points of interface, from the handles to the switches, which can be activated by means of the Bticino Living Now system and now, for the first time, by Alexa, Amazon’s voice-operated virtual assistant.

Dandy Plus, Scavolini

Dandy Plus, design by Fabio Novembre, Scavolini

In the meantime while appliances have “disappeared” inside the overall architecture, they are also increasingly present thanks to connection modes that turn them into “personal assistants” – the first incursion of robotics, which will shortly seem absolutely normal.

There are, for example, the Sense induction hobs from AEG equipped with wireless temperature sensors that allow the cooking temperature to be set with total precision or recognise the vibrations that indicate when saucepans are likely to boil over. The subject of efficiency is now inextricably bound up with that of sustainability. The new dishwashers from Electrolux, for example, feature the new intuitive QuickSelect interface, and the AutoSense automatic programme that can identify both the level of dirt of the contents and the actual load. With the focus on Smeg, another important research signal can be picked up, relating to the interface this time: along with the increasing complexification of the appliances, the simplification of instructions is equally crucial, based on a sort of intuitiveness of the controller. Smeg is also aiming for this, introducing the VIVOscreen display, distinguished by its immediate and iconic graphics, into its collection of top-of-the-range ovens.

SenseBoil, AEG

SenseBoil, AEG

Bathrooms these days are basically one of the “most important” rooms in the house. For individual use or for couples and to be shown off to others in a hedonistic key that just happens to be keeping step with the increasingly widespread attention to our bodies.

As far as design goes, there seem to be two distinct and somewhat opposing bathroom trends – on one hand the sanitaryware plays a starring role, standing strongly out against the background, i.e. the coverings, while on the other a “mimetic’ approach can be discerned, by which the functional part seems to fade into the surrounding part. The latter has taken on a fundamental importance within the space of just a few years, prompting the rediscovery of rare marbles and ancient checkerboard or open vein techniques, and fast-tracking research into “fake marble” porcelain stone, which has produced extraordinary results in terms of similarity, along with the possibility of working with truly great formats (that nature cannot give us).

Going back to bathroom schemes, Rigo by Patricia Urquiola for Agape is a perfect example of an architectural solution. Designed in 2018 and constantly being updated, Rigo consists of a beam parallel to the wall on which the basins and accessories sit. An actual piece of interior architecture comes from Castiglia Associati with its articulated system of glass and aluminium walls and doors (with 180° openings) for Vismara Vetro, enabling veritable bathroom “niches” to be created inside the bedroom. Their interiors can be customised, while the exteriors are compatible with the overall design of the room – they are the ultimate evolution of the “humble” shower cubicles of the past.

Rigo, Agape

Rigo, design by patricia Urquiola, Agape

The countertrend is to put the spotlight on the sanitaryware in a volumetric, if not sculptural process. One peerless example is the freestanding Plissé basin by Paolo Ulian for Antonio Lupi, which progresses the research of the great Tuscan designer into the expressive potential of marble. Again for Antonio LupiGumdesign have proposed an absolutely original combination of materials (and therefore of colours) for their freestanding Bolgheri washbasin. The column is made of natural cork while the basin is in Cristalmood (transparent resin).

Bolgheri, Antonio Lupi

Bolgheri, design by Gumdesign, Antonio Lupi

Harnessing the power of memory, Andrea Marcante and Adelaide Testa have come up with the Frieze collection for EX.t, in which nostalgia for times gone by goes hand-in-hand with a post-modern reference – definitely by no means a run of the mill design!

Frieze, Ex.t

Frieze, design by Marcante - Testa, Ex.t

16 December 2020