We have carried out research for one of the UK's largest housebuilders into how people use their homes. When we got to the bathroom, we found that expectations have risen. People travel more now than ever before, and their experience of staying in smart hotels is broadening their view of how their own bathrooms can function.
People need bathrooms for different purposes, and those purposes are connected to different emotional needs. Someone who is using the space to bathe children might be glad of a very low stool. Someone who is cleaning themselves in the morning wants intuitive, to-hand controls. Someone who is cleaning the bathroom wants fittings they can clean around without leaving a loathsome residue. Someone who wants hermetic personal time requires shelves for scented candles or glasses of malt whisky. Someone who is fixing it wants plumbing that is easy to install and service.
So, the questions that need to be addressed before designing a bathroom should go way beyond the standard: "What do you want it to look like?" and "How much have you got to spend?" to include a more complete profile of who will be using the space, what they will be doing and how will the space work with other parts of the home – now and in the future.
Housebuilders aren't only increasing the number of bathrooms in new homes, they're also rethinking the size of the smallest room. You can now see a clear correlation between the size of the bathroom and the pricetag of the home – a Bathroom Index, if you like. Topping the index are projects such as Berkeley Homes' Three Houses in Petersham (pictured on the previous page), where £4m buys a lot of space and luxury fittings from Alternative Plans, including a 460-litre bath.
The trend in housebuilding is to manifest luxury in the bathroom – and the manufacturers have just the things to go in them
This is rather a volte face for an industry that over the past decade had honed bathrooms into highly functional spaces that have all the generosity of a broom cupboard. The change has been brought about for very simple reasons: bathrooms may have become very efficient, with their nifty space-saving sanitaryware, but they are dull. Buyers don't associate deep vein thrombosis with the word "luxury" that was emblazoned in gold-embossed lettering in the sales brochure.
They don't want somewhere to have a quick wash and brush-up in the morning; they want the kind of candlelit retreat they see in lifestyle magazines. Sanitaryware makers are now following suit, and emphasising that their products can be big and luxurious. Take Coram Showers' Premier range, which has been specified by Croudace Homes at its Sherfield Park development near Reading in Berkshire. Coram's Quadrant, Bi-fold and Inslide enclosures are being installed in the scheme, in sizes from 800 mm to a more than generous 1200 mm.