A new normal?
As the nation locked down in March, there started a very steady transformation of how we used the space inside our homes. From makeshift workplaces to pub gardens, our homes suddenly became multi-functional spaces. But perhaps the biggest role the home had to play during the months of lockdown – and indeed may continue to play as we learn to live alongside COVID – was a safe haven, with our private space becoming a protective bubble away from infection.
During this period, there was a very clear shift in consumer behaviour – at the start of the outbreak, for example, Amazon reported that searches for touchless products increased by up to 2000% with one study finding that some 80% of consumers expected to change the way they would engage with publicly available technology.
But what legacy will this leave in our own homes as we adjust to post-lockdown life? And what will this mean for future bathroom design and innovation?
Importance of the washroom space
It’s worth touching briefly upon the history of the bathroom and its evolution alongside disease prevention to put the significance of the space in a little more context. Today’s bathrooms developed alongside the 1950s cholera epidemic, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and tuberculosis outbreaks. Back then, wallpaper, floorings and finishes were all designed to minimise the spread of bacteria and to promote health and hygiene; the need for bathrooms to be easily cleaned was a crucial consideration.
In later years, when antibiotics and hygiene standards improved, the emphasis shifted from disease prevention in the bathroom. Bathrooms evolved into more sensory spaces, with trends like textured bathrooms in the ‘70s and into the ‘80s where carpets and toilet seat covers were ‘stylish’ additions in the space. More recent decades have seen the transformation of the bathroom into a sanctuary, with innovations such as Bluetooth and infrared technology developing alongside this.
So are we set to see a new post-COVID era of bathroom design?
Even before the advent of COVID-19, we were seeing the start of a new frontier in bathroom design. Changing households, such as the rise in multi-generational living, had helped fuel growth in demand for infrared products in the bathroom – and this should not be underestimated when considering how bathrooms may change. The Office for National Statistics suggests that households with three generations living together had risen from 325,000 in 2001 to 419,000 in 2013 and in 2019 it reported a 46% increase in the number of young people aged 20 to 34 living with their parents. Integrating smart and touchless technology are effective ways to maximise hygiene in a busy household.
Manufacturers have, of course, been producing touchless products for many years and it’s likely that one of the biggest shifts we can expect will be even greater demand for this touchless technology – something we at Geberit are now seeing unprecedented demand for from our customers in light of the pandemic and our growing awareness of hygiene.
Infrared wall-mounted taps, for example, such as Geberit’s Brenta and Piave products, optimise hand hygiene in washrooms used by non-household members such as guest cloakrooms – a major area where bacteria can spread between households.
Likewise, touchless WC flush controls incorporate innovations such as a sensor that allows the unit to flush as soon as the toilet has been used. With guest washrooms a high-footfall area of the house, making this space touchless wherever possible will be a huge consideration for architects and designers when considering how to prepare for bathroom design of the future.
But it’s not just this infrared technology that can help put hygiene front of mind. More simple product developments from manufacturers – for instance, Geberit’s KeraTect Glaze – make cleaning easier with a non-porous and smoother surface; such glazes can also help prevent staining of the ceramics and create a high-gloss effect. Solutions like this not only help maintain high levels of hygiene but also, crucially, really help to enhance the look and feel of the bathroom as a ‘clean’ space.
Similarly, developments such as Rimfree toilets and innovations such as Geberit’s TurboFlush technology can eliminate tricky corners and hard-to-reach areas around the pan, with removable toilet seats also helping eradicate any hidden areas where dust and bacteria may proliferate.
Another area we’re predicting real growth in is wall-hung toilets and sanitaryware. Lifting the toilet from the floor naturally makes cleaning much easier; and once again, with no hard-to-reach areas, dirt and dust accumulation is significantly reduced. Alongside this, we predict a strong future for the growth of the shower toilet, with products such as Geberit AquaClean providing guests with the ultimate washing with water, hygienic experience.
Spotlight on hygiene?
At a time when the pandemic has thrust hygiene into the spotlight, the onus is now on manufacturers, interior designers and architects to work together to find not only hygienically-optimised products but solutions and designs that also reinforce the perception of a clean space.
As one US architect observed, what is significant about these periods of disease is that “architects are often inspired to come up with fresh ideas during these moments”. And this will need to apply to us manufacturers too, as we continue to innovate and work in partnership with interior designers and architects to help them adapt to these new times.