For years the bathroom has been a purely functional space, viewed in terms of its water pressure and cleaning powers. If you wanted a luxurious spa experience, then you had to go to a hotel.
But, as our lives become more frenetic – after all, us Brits work the longest hours in Europe – we are gradually turning to the bathroom as a place to relax and wash away the stresses of the day rather than just dashing in for a quick scrub and dashing out again.
This room still needs to be functional, but now its design is taking a more organic form, making it a place in which to spend time. Curved baths are painted in muted colours. Natural materials such as wood and stone are being used, and showers are designed to mimic rainfall.
One company which has really embraced this idea is VitrA. A Turkish company, which takes the hammam, or turkish steam bath, as its inspiration, VitrA has produced a range of sanitaryware which is full of curves and rounded shapes. Even the taps are reminiscent of pebbles.
Its designer Ross Lovegrove thinks it's time we all embraced this organic mood. "The bathroom is one of the last rooms in the house to be affected by modern design," he says. "We are taking more of an interest in the sensual side of bathing rather than the functional side of washing, and of course we are becoming more body conscious, so vanity also plays a part. We're more aware of our health and wellbeing, and our bathrooms need to reflect that."
The idea of the bath as a sanctuary rather than a place for basic sanitation infuses the range. "Hammam means a warm place and it's easy to get from there to the idea of a sanctuary where you can feel cocooned," says Lovegrove. "It's also a practical idea. If you need to navigate your way round this room in the middle of the night or in the dark, it's better to do it around curved shapes, rather than aggressive linear ones. If you ask anyone if they would rather touch a traditional cruciform tap or a rounded pebble one, it will always be the pebble. It's a more natural form."
"This organic trend is the next logical step and, let's not forget, the Turks come from a bathing culture so they know what they are talking about."
Lovegrove is not the only person to have embraced the organic form. Alessi, renowned for its edgy Italian design, has also produced a bathroom collection. Designed by Stefano Giovannino, it also features those rounded shapes that are more comfortable for the human body.
Continuing the them is another Italian company, Boffi, which has produced a range of baths, one of which is shaped like a giant hollowed-out stone, and another that has a squarer shape carved around the outline of a pebble. William Garvey has a round basin made from wood and a matching bath, while Villeroy and Boch has produced the Pure Stone range with pebble-shaped basins and toilets.
While there is no doubt that some of these are investment pieces, we all know that where designers lead, the rest will follow. And to that end, the consumer-friendly bathroom store Aston Matthews has produced a range designed by Antonio Citterio and Sergio Brioschi which includes curved wall-mounted lavatories and bidets which add to the sense of space by freeing up the floor.
"We have a range of curvaceous contemporary shapes, and many of our customers are keen to include natural materials in their bathrooms," says Howard Birch, director of Aston Matthews. "We've also launched a round basin made from a piece of hollowed-out granite.
Birch confirms that customers want curvy bathrooms full of biomorphic forms – all the better for that spa-at-home experience. "There's a definite move away from that white, clinical look so popular in bathrooms a couple of years ago," he says. "Softer lines, splashes of colour and organic shapes are making the bathroom a far more personal and relaxing place to be."
"Il fiumi po" from Italian company, Boffi, is made from either stone or Corian. It's an eye-watering £25,000 for the former and £15,000 for the second, but as long as you plan never to move house again, it will certainly last for ever and is very beautiful (www.alternative-plans.co.uk; 020-7228 6460).
For a more affordable option, the Antribes free-standing bath from www.livinghouse.co.uk costs £890. It's made from mineral crystal and is ideal for a small bathroom as it is narrow but very deep, so you can still have that luxury wallow. Living House (01722 415 000) also has plenty of solid stone and resin baths to choose from, if you are determined to spend a fortune.
Furniture designers William Garvey (www.williamgarvey.co.uk; 01404 841 430) will make you a round wooden basin to order for £548. The matching bath will cost you £13,000. Both are made from teak and the natural oils within the wood protect it from the water and stains and allow it to be cleaned with household detergents. Teak is also naturally insulating which means the water stays hot for ages.
Aston Matthews' Bedrock basin is created from a giant granite boulder fished out of a Chinese river, then cut in half, hollowed out, and polished inside. The exterior is left in its natural rough state and no two basins are the same. It costs £468 (www.astonmatthews.co.uk; 020-7226 7220).
Taking the organic feel to its logical conclusion, Hansgrohe (0870 770 1972) have produced the Raindance collection, starting at £58 for the hand-held shower, rising to £3,230 for the 60cm diameter showerhead that you can regulate from light rain to a full-on downpour.
Matki (www.matki.co.uk) has launched the Deluge showerhead measuring 22cm and costing £285.
Aston Matthews' Axis range designed by Antionio Citterio and Sergio Brioschi is a compact range of wall-mounted or floor-standing basins, bidets and toilets that conform to a simple curved shape. The wall-mounted WC costs £222 (ww.astonmatthews.co.uk).
Alessi's "egg" loo was designed by Stefano Giovannoni as part of the "il bagno alessi" range and follows the same principles of soft, rounded shapes. It costs £678.56 (www.ilbagnoalessi.com; 01386 422 768).Reuse content