Bold colour is back in fashion as bathroom designers deliver personality

Bold colour is back in fashion as bathroom designers deliver personality

March 2019

According to the organisers of ISH - the world’s foremost showcase for bathroom innovation - the bathroom is experiencing the return of colour as part of its evolution into a lifestyle space.  With the colour transgressions of the 60s and 70s now forgotten, today the design direction is to avoid boredom at all costs.  Bathroom planners and the industry itself are responding to the desire for individuality with  boldly-designed bathrooms with an ever growing variety of finishes and creative space planning.

Frankfurt’s hugely influential annual exhibition ISH truly sets the trends for modern bathroom design.  And, as the world’s leading trade fair focusing on the responsible management of water and energy in buildings, it is also a showcase for sustainable heating and air-conditioning technology, as well as intelligent home systems.

This year’s event will run from 11th to 15th March 2019.  In the run-up, the organisers have created an in-depth report that fully analyses contemporary bathroom trends.  Pop up my Bathroom, an initiative of VDS (the German Sanitary Industry Association) and hosts Messe Frankfurt, in conjunction with ISH, is an experimental platform for architects, bathroom planners, interior designers, and journalists.  It aims to explore and illustrate the aesthetic and functional  possibilities the bathroom.

On the one hand, it gives experts a chance to find out about new developments while, on the other hand, it aims to convert the designs it develops into pictures that will be understood all over the world.  

The www.pop-up-my-bathroom.com website has thus been expanded into a continuously updated blog that serves as a communication platform and has attracted almost 1,000,000 international visitors.

Pop up my Bathroom has duly recorded that bathrooms are experiencing the return of colour, as designers look to create exciting, bold and individually-designed spaces that showcase many surface finishes and layout options.

Diversity is the order of the day when it comes to materials.  As well as wood, marble is playing a prominent role, as are new kinds of metallic finishes for fittings, furniture surfaces, and accessories.

As a result, interior designers now have the scope they need not just to play with matt and gloss surfaces, but to use totally new design elements as well.

That’s why, in its Bathroom Experience segment, ISH 2019 will showcase a host of interior and colour trends that are fostering the bathroom’s development into a lifestyle space.

In an installation entitled Colour Selection, the Pop up my Bathroom forum will show what opportunities the current colour trends in interior design are opening up for the sanitary sector.  Twelve colour trends, outlined overleaf, will be particularly influential in bathroom design.

1. Grey is a colour too!
The common colour denominator in the bathroom right now is grey, although the composite colour is actually no newcomer to the bathroom: like fashions, colour trends come and go in waves, and we encountered it back in the 80s in the form of Manhattan Grey sanitaryware.

Now grey is back again – but this time in several different shades with a more modern, timeless appeal. Grey inhabits in-between worlds and it is precisely this impure, blended character that gives it such vividness.

In vintage style, grey is extremely popular as a background shade because it makes even good old white look radiant without destroying the patina.  All the negative associations of grey seem to have been set aside: grey is a fashion colour with a long shelf life. That’s because the blend of black, white, and a dash of mystery is a genuine all-rounder that can complement virtually any colour family.

Besides light grey in all sorts of chalky variations, shades tinted with blue, green and brown (see Greige) are also very much on trend.  You can actually create any kind of ambience with grey: from ultramodern all the way to snug and cosy.  That’s why grey can be recommended more or less unconditionally as the ideal starting point for a neutral bathroom design.
White sanitaryware looks just as good with grey furniture surfaces as colour co-ordinated washbasins do, and fittings with a standard chrome finish also go well with grey.

With trendy accessories in gold, or loud colours like red, yellow, or turquoise, it is easy to create fresh contrasts and paint a whole new picture, so to speak.  As a result, it is safe to say that grey has everything it takes to become the new white in the bathroom.

2. Brown hues make a comeback: modern meets cosy
The bathroom increasingly feels like cosy living space and on-trend colours - like petrol or ultraviolet - can be used to reinforce that impression.

But interior designers tend to favour natural colours, which are both warmer and more neutral – the kind of colours that are mainly found in the palette of brown and sand hues.

However, the new shades of brown have nothing to do with the old familiar colour known as Bahama Beige.  On the contrary, the browns available today add up to a thoroughly modern world of colour. Because similarly to grey, there’s just one simple rule: anything goes – as long as it’s not boring or devoid of nuance.  The secret lies in the subtle tints and shades.  Brown can contain hints of mud, clay or terracotta, olive, bronze or rust, pine forest or cedarwood, powder or taupe – the possibilities are endless.

There are two main options for interpreting brown in a contemporary way: either as a colour spectrum inspired by nature, often used in combination with natural materials to create a harmonious colour space, or as an artistic reference to historic styles.  Matt surfaces are a popular choice for underscoring the fresh, natural look.  And when it comes to materials, wood tops the list of frontrunners for creating a bathroom with a snug feel.  Whether it’s used for the wall, the worktops or the floor, there’s a perennial favourite for conjuring up a pleasant, feel-good atmosphere: oak, preferably with a finish that reflects the current trend towards a light ambience.

On the other hand, elegant arrangements featuring darker wood hues from cognac all the way to bog oak are coming in again, especially among the avant garde.  In this case, the brown colour scale is used in an emphatically upmarket way to add a hint of art deco and luxury to the modernist bathroom.

No matter what style is preferred, however, the question as to which materials to use is often resolved by means of simulation: shower trays, floor tiles or splashbacks printed to look like wood and worktops made of composites skilfully imitate nature and combine it with the positive material properties of the established product canon.  


Up-to-the-minute brown hues can transform any bathroom into a lifestyle space, especially when combined with suitable accessories in complementary accent colours – like the petrol shade mentioned above, turquoise, orange, a beige-tinted dusky pink (or Millennial Pink as it’s now called), ultraviolet or the odd dash of mustard, which looks great with olive and brown shades.

3. A hint of luxury: gold adds gleaming highlights
Gold, as a finish and colour, is currently a firm favourite for creating an interior design with a lavish, sumptuous touch.  Then there’s brass – a related colour that’s also very much on trend right now, and a commonly used material in traditional bathrooms.  There’s great demand for metal surfaces in general and, in the bathroom, it’s mainly met by fittings and accessories, which are now available with all sorts of metal finishes.

But while platinum and copper are also popular, gold is in a different league: where bathroom design is concerned, it’s becoming an absolute highlight.  Besides washbowl basins that are occasionally even coated with real gold leaf, wall coverings are a good way of bringing the precious metal into play in the form of special wallpapers, gilded tiles, or paints that create the velvety shimmer and subtly textured look of pure gold.

However, gold surfaces make the greatest impact when they’re not overused. Gold is never the sole colour in the interior design concept; instead, it’s often used in conjunction with black or dark shades of green and blue. But combinations with light, natural colours, grey and even surprise options like delicate pink, also make for a successful bathroom design.

4. Black remains a cool choice
A black bathroom remains a powerful statement.  It seems as if the on-trend white-on-white look (not to be confused with conventional bathrooms tiled in monotonous white) is facing serious competition in the form of black-on-black: paired, of course, with highlights in white, gold, or other snazzy colours.

While individual components have always been chosen in black occasionally, it can now happily be used for several elements in the modern lifestyle bathroom.  The trend comes from the interiors sector and is finding a growing number of fans in the bathroom too, because black looks upmarket, elegant and modern all at once.  

Mixed with white, black, or particularly trendy green marble and leather, black is a tasteful classic, whereas when it’s combined with painted metal furniture, wood and concrete, it’s an ideal companion for the industrial style.

And thanks to new production processes, even fittings manufacturers can accommodate demand and are now offering a choice of dark shades that ranges all the way to deep black.  From black shower enclosures and black bathroom furniture to floor-standing washstands in black enamelled steel, almost every bathroom product is now available in this classic non-colour.

And the addition of a few splashes of colour – the bolder the better – sets the black bathroom off to perfection.  Just like white, black is available in a vast array of different nuances.  But even a design in one consistent shade of black can be given a certain je ne sais quoi by combining matt and gloss surfaces.  And, by the way, the simple charms of black don’t only appeal to men; the very deliberate distinction to the light colours favoured by the mainstream is something any fan of black will appreciate.

5. Splashes of vibrant colour for bright bathrooms
In colour theory, chroma represents the purity of a colour’s hue.  Accordingly, the purest colours are the spectral colours, which have maximum saturation.  Family and preschool bathrooms vary this vibrant look to create a pleasant atmosphere that appeals to the respective target group.

But now, bright colours are also being very deliberately used as a design element for lifestyle bathrooms.  This approach means turning traditional visual habits upside down and working with several very dominant colours.

Colour gradients?  Forget it!  Instead, bold colours and contrasts are used to make a clear statement that advocates more optimism in life.  And while the bright bathroom might look playful, it’s definitely not naive.  Instead, it represents an act of defiance in the face of miserable prospects, the kind of “when-if-not-now” attitude that’s emerging in creative circles and expressing itself in the form of unaccustomed and totally uninhibited combinations of colours and patterns – especially in the fashion world.

But trendy and original colours will make themselves felt in the bathroom too – and in this trend, it’s primary colours that set the agenda. Besides intense shades of red, yellow, green, and blue, that also includes options like warm orange, mysterious violet, and smart amber yellow.

At ISH, visitors will see bathrooms in provocative colours; from washbasins in loud shades all the way to transparent bathroom furniture in blue and green: a top trend.

6. Premier design: creative colour harmonies
Anybody who wants a suspenseful colour combination without the loudness of the bright bathroom should consider trying the ultimate discipline of colourful bathroom design: the combination of several colours to create a harmonious overall effect.
Colour chords - combinations of several colours of the same intensity and quality - are probably the most challenging option; but also the most individual.  This could take the form of, say, a mustard yellow sofa with blue and putty-coloured cushions set against a blue wall.  Like fashion, such colour chords are a matter of taste, and they tend to meet with a far more enthusiastic reception elsewhere in the interiors segment than they do in the bathroom.  But, when they’re done right, they create a subtle, tasteful, multi-coloured look that turns any bathroom into a highly original gem.

When it comes to bathroom design, arrangements that comply with certain types of colour harmony tend to meet with greater consensus.  Colour harmonies can be created out of neighbouring hues (e.g. blues and greens); by using only cool colours (like blues and violets) or only warm shades (such as orange, yellow, and red); or by combining chromatic and achromatic colours (e.g. various shades of blue combined with several shades of taupe and grey).

The goal is to achieve an optimally balanced composition that is perceived as pleasant, and the colours are usually selected on the basis of colour wheels or colour cubes.

Colour chords and colour harmonies are possible in all colour ranges. What’s important when it comes to designing a bathroom is that one colour sets the tone, while three to four others are used to underpin the harmonious impression.  Every single nuance matters, and choosing the right products and materials is extremely challenging for the bathroom planner.

7. Strong meets subtle: tone-on-tone schemes
Tone-on-tone concepts bring a sense of serenity to the bathroom even when bold colours are used.  But even though one colour dominates the colour scheme, a monochromatic interior design is rarely confined to the homogenous use of a single colour; instead, the surfaces are gradated in different shades and nuances of one hue.  Even without contrasts, this gives rise to a subtly differentiated impression of depth that is extremely expressive thanks to the monochromatic palette. A change of materials can also be used for gradation – be it a certain shade of stone or wood that harmonises particularly well with the basic colour or a different surface texture that results in deeper shading.

Tone-on-tone concepts are a tried-and-trusted design concept in fashion too, where simply using several different materials is enough to create elegant ensembles, for instance by combining wool, patent leather and leather in one and the same shade.  By contrast, the focus in interior design is on achieving the necessary differentiation between surfaces.  And because smooth, uninterrupted surfaces are playing a prominent role in interior design right now, with detailed products being contrasted with large expanses of colour, tone-on-tone concepts are currently very much on trend, especially in kitchen design.

This colour trend can, therefore, be recommended for the bathroom too, especially when a modern look is required, because colour gradations can create differentiation and an impression of depth even in smaller rooms.

A blue bathroom, for instance, can play with different shades of blue without being a strain on the eyes; even so, it will create the impression of a completely blue room as long as there are no stark deviations or brightness contrasts as compared with the main colour.  The result is like “a blue grotto”, “a green jungle”, “a pink powder compact” or “white infinity”, but nevertheless rich in spatial differentiation – and in view of the sensory overload we’re confronted with in our everyday lives, the effect is a veritable tonic for the soul.

8. Creative tip: the green oasis
Two developments are fostering the trend towards a bathroom dipped in green.  Firstly, the longing for natural surroundings in which nature is perceptible as humankind’s primordial home.

And, secondly, green is a trending colour that creates a wonderful mood – especially when combined with plants.  What’s more, a combination of different shades of green is relatively unproblematic.  Solitaires, like a freestanding bathtub, can be used to make a statement, and the colour space can range from a mysterious dark green for an upmarket, comfortable bathroom all the way to a fresh May green; a great choice for young families.

What’s more, green is an excellent basis for telling intriguing stories, for instance when combined with big patterns, floral wallpapers, photo wallpapers, and a little jungle of plants that will add an exotic touch to any bathroom.

9. Modern, feminine, and cosy: pastel shades
Pastel shades are a big interior design trend right now - mint, pale pink or light blue look welcoming, and can be used to create colour accents.

Pastel bathrooms conjure up a pretty new world – sometimes trendy, sometimes fanciful, but always with a dash of escapism.  In short, they’re a great place to start the day!  Combining pink with brown elements – perhaps a light wood floor or tiles – underscores the cosy look.  In the bathroom, these modern-looking colours are mainly used for the outer surfaces of bathtubs or washbowl basins.

But the wall behind the vanity unit is also a great canvas for giving the bathroom a fresh boost.  Light pastel shades are particularly suitable for small bathrooms because they make the space seem bigger, especially when paired with large-format tiles and plain walls.

The effect works particularly well with grey, which is no doubt why the combination of pink and grey – often bordering on silver – is probably one of the most popular colour harmonies for the bathroom right now.  And powdery dusky pink used in conjunction with white and grey is nothing short of romantic.

10. It’s all in the mix: greige
Greige: these days, it’s impossible to imagine the colour palette of modern architecture and interior design without it.  Greige evokes nature and country houses, but it also looks a bit like the floor of a New York loft apartment.  It goes just as well with a playful vintage look as it does with a minimalistic industrial style.

The neologism greige is an amalgamation of grey and beige, and thus stands for the dominant colour principle in this bathroom trend: a composite colour as a modern, neutral basic shade with an extremely harmonising effect.

Greige exemplifies a category of colours that enter into a permanent alliance with a second colour and create something new.  Just as greige is made by mixing grey with light brown, it’s also possible to mix grey with blue (which tends to result in a cooler look).  The positive attributes of greige can be put to particularly good use when designing a cosy bathroom.  And, if the furniture finishes are perfectly co-ordinated with the walls and floor, the overall effect is as modern as it is snug. Like grey, greige therefore has what it takes to become the new white in bathroom design.

11. From turquoise to ultramarine: bathing in blue
Blue is probably the most popular colour of all in European countries.  We associate blue with relaxation, the vastness of the sky, and life-giving water.

Colour providers have greatly modernised the palette of blue shades in recent years, resulting not just in innovative colours for the wall but in new variants for tiles that create a cosy effect as well, and the interior design world’s rediscovery of marble is encouraging the use of blue sanitaryware.

Combined with sand hues, blue creates a style related to the popular Scandinavian look, and anyone looking for an alternative to the hip black trend can opt for sumptuous ultramarine instead.  The more vibrant the shade, the more luxurious it looks.

12. The top trend: white solo or partnered
White stands for purity.  That’s why it’s been dominating bathrooms for decades and serves as the basis for a wide range of design approaches.  45% of Germans swear by the timeless, universally combinable basic colour, giving it a huge lead over beige (11%), grey (10%) and blue (8%).

In many cases, it’s chiefly the ceramic sanitaryware, as well as mineral cast washbasins, bathtubs, and shower trays, that form the basis of the colour scheme.  The underlying idea is totally understandable: the products are meant to be the shining stars of the bathroom; both with regard to hygiene and in terms of colour.

More than 80% of the ceramic sanitaryware sold in Germany is white, so it’s very convenient that white happens to be so popular in interior design right now.

In the meantime, sanitaryware producers have added different shades of white to their offerings, although these new variants are still having a hard time asserting themselves.  

The best way to bring out the design qualities of the white sanitaryware is to combine it with colourful accessories and a welcoming overall look.  Contrasting it with colourful bathroom furniture or floor tiles is also a clever design principle that’s guaranteed to banish boredom.  

A classic black-and-white design, for instance, is a less eccentric alternative to the ultra-hip black bathroom – and no less stylish.

Bathrooms evolve as lifestyle spaces
The fact remains that, even if only because of the high investments involved, the bathroom will probably never number among the rooms that are revamped every few years in line with the latest colour fashions.  All the same, a little bit of colour is never a bad thing!  And, if you ask design-savvy target groups, a little bit more is even better.

Whereas minimalistic restraint was until recently considered the epitome of elegance and design awareness – especially when it came to the colour scheme – today it’s the willingness to embrace colour that counts.

At the same time, using colour in the bathroom doesn’t necessarily mean colourfulness – just swapping the dominance of white for a neutral spectrum of brown and grey tones, composite shades or brighter tone-on-tone concepts is an evolutionary step towards turning the bathroom into a lifestyle space.

Pop up my Bathroom aims to explore and illustrate what possibilities the bathroom can offer people as an aesthetic and functional space.  The website www.pop-up-my-bathroom.com has thus been expanded into a continuously updated blog that serves as a communication platform.

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