Patricia Urquiola, arguably the world’s hottest designer, seems to be the creative force behind 97% of what you see in the world these days. Indoor furniture, outdoor furniture, housewares, architectural installations, lighting exhibitions -- the Spanish-born designer and her Italian studio seem to be everywhere, doing it all. Give Urquiola the California budget mess and she might be the one who can design a solution.
On Monday night in New York, she presented her design for the new W resort on the Caribbean island of Vieques; on Saturday, she was at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair walking me through the North America launch of her bathroom collection for Axor. At first glance the sinks and tubs are pure Axor, beautifully streamlined in aesthetic and efficient in function. But poured into all those clean lines and polished finishes were layers of meaning -- Urquiola’s attempt to get people thinking harder about sustainability, the bathroom and their daily routines in it.
Yes, on the face of it, Urquiola’s sink simply has a graceful shape, one that’s at once rustic and modern, at home in a city loft or a contemporary country retreat. But as she pointed out, slits on the sides gently evoke the image of a bucket -- “and when you fill a bucket, you think quantity – how much,” she said. “How much am I using?” Just as we might strive not to spill a drop from bucket, she said, so too must we better manage what’s flowing into our sinks. “It’s time to take care of the water we use,” she said. “Come on!”
The same slit appears on the bath, where it's aesthetically pleasing as well as functional -- a towel holder for the designer's modern riff on the claw-foot tub. But here too Urquiola pushed sustainability. Rather than create an oversized, boxy spa tub, she designed elegant curves that hug the back and taper inward, subtly reducing the amount of water needed to fill the vessel while preserving the illusion of size and the sense of luxury.
The collection's faucets are sleek with a touch of playfulness. Perhaps more important, they're equipped with the German company's engineering: "dynamic flow restrictors" and aerators that create a higher air-to-water ratio. Compared with Axor faucets from just a couple of years ago, Urquiola's line will deliver 18% less water per minute -- theoretically with no discernible difference to you while you're washing your hands.
When Axor brand manager Philippe Grohe said the collection was four years in the making, I asked him how he started discussions with Urquiola. He answered:
“My first question to her was, ‘What does the bathroom mean to you?’ And the first thing she said was: ‘It’s the first place where every day, I have to look at myself in the mirror.' ”
Urquiola’s point was not only metaphorical but also literal. In her concept room pictured at top, notice how the faucet and sink on the wall have their mirrors set to the sides, not directly above. What woman, Urquiola asked, wants to look at herself over a sink, brushing her teeth?
-- Craig Nakano
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