“Speaking of bathrooms, it’s the end of black and white, the end of right and wrong,” announced Philippe Grohe last week on a quick visit to Johannesburg.
And he should know. For over a century, Hansgrohe, the company his forefathers built has been spearheading innovations in the way we shower and bathe. One of the few global players in the sanitation sector, Hansgrohe employs more than 3,200 people all over the world, with ten production sites and subsidiaries in 37 countries.
Philippe was in town to launch the new Axor Bouroullec range, an exciting collaboration between Hansgrohe and the astoundingly talented French design duo, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Barely 30, the brothers’ contribution to contemporary design has been recognised by no less than the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France, with an ongoing retrospective of their work.
Axor is Philippe’s baby. With Axor, he is able to bring a distinct design-oriented, even playful, approach to bathroom fixtures. “Consciously or unconsciously, I choose to work with architects and interior designers who are very gifted in product design,” he explained. Previous Axor collaborators have included Philippe Starck, Patricia Urquiola, Antonio Citterio and Jean-Marie Massaud. Thus, the partnership with the Bouroullec brothers is something of a departure; they are product designers first and foremost.
“Today, our discussions around the bathroom revolve around our changing lifestyles, how they are becoming more and more hectic, more and more digital. The bathroom is the place in our daily lives where you can find balance in modern life.”
The bathroom, he said, is “the water room, the nature room. So the bathroom can become this sanctuary for us. But there is no ideal bathroom; it is a very personal thing. In the morning it has to wake us up; in the evening, it has to calm you down. Some want to feel protected, while others want a sense of openness.”
Philippe can barely hide his enthusiasm for the new Axor Bouroullec range, which was six years in the making. “For the first time, we are offering complete freedom in personalising the bathroom,” he said. “You don’t have to put two washbasins side by side, for instance, for two people who are very different. Why not put one at an angle?”
The answer, he stressed, is not in one product but in offering solutions with an entire product range that offers a host of possibilities. “With the Axor Bouroullec collection, we come with a minimalist organic design, something sensual as opposed to the more common geometric shapes. We come with a very nice design proposal that allows you the possibility to choose exactly how you will use our products. In the past, you would talk about technology, design and price. Now, you can talk about things like, how would you like to handle the water? Where do you want to place the spout? Where would you like to position the taps – the left side, the right side, up or down? We are not forced anymore to place it in the middle of the back of the washbasin. We free ourselves from that and we give you the possibility to adapt the product to your desires and your needs.”
It all sounds pretty abstract until you actually see the products that make up the range, and indeed, the element of freedom is both compelling, if somewhat intimidating. We’re so used to heights and positions being dictated to us that being afforded – finally – the opportunity to determine the mix we want can be a rather heady undertaking.
As Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec exhort, “Feel free to compose!”