What’s driving washroom design?

Neil Jeffery of Franke Water Systems takes a look at some of the key trends in commercial washrooms, from product design and materials to sustainability, saying that designers need to take a holistic approach to create spaces that stand the test of time

The washroom is such a central part of any hotel and restaurant experience that a poorly designed or poorly maintained one can turn a five-star review into a three-star disappointment.

It’s not simply a matter of hygiene standards, which should be faultless as a matter of course. It’s also about making sure the sense of style that gets so much attention in the guest rooms and interiors, are also incorporated into the washroom designs throughout the building.

Balancing passing fashions against the expected service life of a washroom may be difficult. However, there are certain long-term trends we are seeing that practically guarantee a washroom will still stand out as a stylish, contemporary environment for years to come.

Getting back to nature

One of the most significant movements of recent years has been biophilic design; incorporating natural elements such as plants and dried flowers, organic materials like sisal and untreated wood, or stones, pebbles and running water features in washroom design.

Proponents of biophilic design point to research that shows getting closer to nature, even indoors, can reduce our levels of stress, bring down our blood pressure and heart rate, and improve general wellbeing.

Whether that’s universally true or not, designers have responded by incorporating a wide range of natural motifs into their plans to move the washroom away from being a hard, unyielding environment to one much more attuned to our more organic instincts. The message is clear: ‘Hygienic doesn’t have to mean clinical’ and in the room that’s used for the most natural bodily functions of all, nature has a big part to play.

The console washstand

Oddly enough for an age that saw even showing the faintest hint of leg as shockingly daring, the console washstand is widely associated with Victorian bathroom design. Today, of course, the basic principle of two legs supporting the front edge of the basin while the rear edge is fixed firmly to the wall has been endlessly reworked to fit in with any era or design trend.

That means designers can lean on the console in every kind of project, from an Edwardian boutique hotel to a city centre basement bar where distressed surfaces and unfinished wood are all part of the urban appeal.

Their rise in popularity is down to the need to create an impression of space in smaller washrooms. Swapping a bulky, enclosed vanity unit for the much sparser frame of a console instantly creates additional depth from wall to wall. However, it may not be space that’s particularly usable, and it does mean tiling the back wall all the way to the floor – something that doesn’t have to be factored in with a solid unit.

In most cases, it also means exposing the sink waste assembly, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing; with the wide choice of high-gloss chrome units available today, even this piece of utilitarian plumbing can be turned into an attractive design feature.

Attaining sustainability

Less an aesthetic consideration than an obligation for everyone working in the built environment, sustainability is perhaps the most important driver of all for washroom design.

The washroom is, after all, where the most water is used and wasted in practically every business. And with climate change science pointing to the fact that water scarcity will be an everyday reality in the UK by 2040, it falls to washroom designers and product manufacturers to find ways of saving water wherever they can.

The good news is that there is a wealth of products and systems available to help specifiers achieve that.

Timed push button and electronic sensor taps that shut off automatically after a set period; tap aerators that limit average flow rates to around 1.8 litres per minute; waterless urinals that cut water consumption by up to 90 per cent compared with conventional designs; vacuum flush or dual flush WCs that use less water with each flush; and greywater systems that reuse waste water from bathing and washing to flush toilets.

Because water scarcity and greenhouse gas emissions are closely linked, energy efficiency in the washroom also has a part to play. Here, designers can opt for a number of energy-efficient innovations, including PIR-operated LED lighting and low energy hot air hand dryers.

Sustainable doesn’t have to mean utilitarian. With an ever increasing range of products that satisfy the style choices of their clients as well as saving water, designers can go on creating washrooms that add to the customer experience while preserving vital resources for generations to come.

Neil Jeffery is group specification manager at Franke Water Systems