A few weeks ago I received an invite from the very kind folks at Axor, the luxury arm of the German bathroom company Hansgrohe, asking me if I would like to attend the world premier of their new bathroom collection. Now as many of you know, I have had a particular interest in bathrooms and kitchens ever since I got my first proper writing job working for Designer Kitchen & Bathroom magazine (or Designer magazine as it was called when I worked there), so this invitation immediately caught my attention. And not only was the launch event going to be held in Berlin, but the new range is the result of Axor’s latest collaboration with international design star Philippe Starck. How could I possibly say no? So I packed my bags, kissed my husband goodbye and off I jetted.
Having arrived at the hotel (there will be a separate post about the hotel to follow) I was joined for dinner by Dr Cartsen Tessmer from Hansgrohe’s corporate communications department and a carefully selected group of international design bloggers. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that I would be spending the next few days in the company of Maxwell Gillingham Ryan of Apartment Therapy, Caroline Williamson of Design Milk and Anita Hackethal of designboom amongst others.
Everyone was very excited to see what Monsieur Starck had come up with and luckily we didn’t have to wait too long to find out. The next morning, coach loads of international journalists were bused to the Ewerk, Germany’s oldest preserved commercial power plant, which is now a dynamic residential and artistic space. The impressive building has a long and varied history and it was a perfect venue to launch the new collection.
We all took our seats as the suspense built and before long Philippe Grohe, Brand Manager for Axor, took to the stage to give us all a bit of background into the new product range. Philippe Starck then proceeded to describe the moment his collaboration with Hansgrohe began. “Twenty years ago I saw a strange guy arrive at my house on Formentera. He arrived by bicycle and he said ‘My name is Klaus Grohe, I make faucets, perhaps we can work together’. I said ‘Why not?’ That’s when we started to work together as friends.”
Starck went on to describe how his relationship with Hansgrohe developed and how he came up with the various ranges they have already produced together. Inspiration for his first collection came from his experiences seeing a hand pump as a child. The simple design of two tubes and a bucket translated into the Axor Starck collection. Moving on from this, Starck said he started to think about how he could “clean up” his design. “My work is not to add, my work is to propose you the essential, the pure essence of what we need. So afterwards I worked on the geometric. The geometric is always abstraction, pure mathematics,” he said holding up the Axor Starck 2 handle tap.
It was at this point, he says, that he wondered if it was even possible to make less. Having decided that his previous designs had already provided us with the essential he started to wonder if perhaps something was missing. “It was mathematical abstraction. But are we mathematical abstraction? No. Slowly I started to realize that life was missing. It was perfect, but the energy of life was missing. So I started to ask myself how I could create less, but stay human,” explained Starck.
Starck identified two elements as providing his inspiration for the new range . “The first is a plant,” he said. “A plant is free. In spring, when you go to the forest and when you see the new flowers and the new trees it is incredibly sexy. There is an incredible energy in a plant and I realised this was a clue. Afterwards I went home and I saw my wife. I looked at my wife and I thought, this is also interesting. I looked at her body and I said ‘wow’. There is nothing more elegant than her body. I thought perhaps I had a solution. If I can find the minimum, the essential but with the natural inspiration of the human body and the plant, perhaps we can have the final solution. It is the elegance of the plant, the elegance of the human and the energy of life and that is what we shall present you today. It is something completely different, a sort of natural, organic revolution.”
When the Axor Starck Organic range was finally unveiled, I must say I could see perfectly well how Starck had taken his two elements of inspiration and transformed them into the product that stood before us. Having listened to him run through the thought processes that led him from one collection to the next, it was far easier to understand what he was trying to achieve with the new collection. However, it wasn’t all about the looks. The Axor Starck Organic collection also boasts some pretty impressive eco-credentials.
Whilst Axor’s mixers generally have a below average rate of water consumption at 5 litres per minute as opposed to the standard 7 litres per minute, the Axor Starck Organic mixer boasts an even more impressive flow rate of 3.5 litres per minute. This is due to the work undertaken by Axor’s spray research laboratory, which has developed a new kind of water spray. Like a generous shower spray, it consists of 90 individual outlets, each producing countless gentle drops of water that are spread over a larger surface area further enhancing the washing experience.
Water consumption is further lowered thanks to the innovative new configuration of the volume and temperature controls. With Axor Starck Organic, the water is turned on and off at the end of the spout and the temperature is regulated at the top of the mixer. In this way less water is wasted when turning the tap on and off and less energy is used as the tap can be preset in an energy-saving cold position or at any other preferred setting.
In addition to this, the specially developed construction of the mixer, means that the walls of the basic body can be cast using about one third less brass than conventionally produced models. This also means that less energy is used to produce the mixer. The construction also allows for the flex of the pipes inside the mixer to go straight into the cartridge preventing the drinking water from coming into contact with the body of the mixer and this improves the quality of the drinking water.
Starck has been trialling the new mixer in his home and said: “Philippe gave me this faucet in June and I have been using it for two months and I can tell you that it is a new way. All other ways to use a faucet are now obsolete. That is now official.” So the only thing that was left to do was to try out this revolutionary new collection for ourselves. Once the presentations had ended we were ushered into a different room across the courtyard that had been fitted out with various different bathroom installations allowing us to experience the new collection in situ.
The evening brought more excitement as we were all invited to a cocktail party to celebrate the new product launch and the following morning we met with Philippe Grohe to find out more about the collection. And before heading back to our respective countries we were treated to a tour of Berlin by bus and by boat. It was a great few days, I met some fantastic bloggers, got an insight into the mind of one of the world’s most prolific designers and got to test one of the most elegant, well-designed, and ergonomic mixer taps there has ever been.
The question remains as to how difficult or easy it will be for people to adapt their behaviour and accept the new way of using these mixers, but I for one couldn’t help but ask myself why nobody ever thought of regulating water flow at the end of the spout before? The idea is genius and I personally don’t think it will take much at all before it becomes second nature. But I guess time, and a great deal of testing on Axor’s part, will tell.