Colour me AXOR
London designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have created a new colour palette for a collection of taps they designed for German bathroom brand AXOR last year. The duo found inspiration in naturally occurring and vibrant interactions between light, colour and water
Colour is relative. Basically like time. You could even say that colour is an indicator of time. Almost every decade can be identified by certain nuances that have often emerged from social transitions. In the Covid era, the longing for nature has become stronger. Being in the forest, in the mountains, by the sea: these are associations that calm the mind and provide a balance to the restless times we are currently living in. Associations with nature can be expressed not only in words and images, but also in colours. And these can be used in the most intimate room of the home: the bathroom. Even though chrome fittings may still dominate in many parts of the world, for some time now, the tendency has been moving in a different direction..
Bathroom design brand AXOR recently commissioned London-based design firm Barber Osgerby to curate a series of six new colours for the AXOR One tap, which the duo released in 2021. “Each colour balances the ability to become part of a calm visual field with limitless scope for self-expression and individuality, reflecting the way in which bathrooms and small cloakrooms are increasingly becoming places that are less about neutral utility and more about original and impactful design,” says Edward Barber. “We chose the colours to complement the widest range of bathroom finishes, from enamel and concrete, to marble and wood,” Jay Osgerby continues. The six colours take us on a journey around the globe.
The soft blue-green of Aquamarine captures the chromatic character of a calm sea. Coral is a warm, powdery red-orange tone that doesn't scream for attention but is quietly powerful. Ice is a light, muted blue, as found in the layered hues of glaciers and sea ice. Stone comes in a strong grey, referencing the intersection of land and sea. Shell is a cool pink that fades into a light grey and Sand is inspired by the coast and beach, still wet from the outgoing tide. “Edward and Jay curated these colours for us to evoke specific aspects of water in relation to the earth and the sky,” says Anke Sohn, Head of Global Brand Marketing AXOR. “The palette draws on the designers’ observation that colour often increases in vibrancy and intensity when seen through water."
The six different colours are available for non-public spaces through the AXOR Signature service, which can personalize, customize and adapt almost any AXOR product. “Colour can completely change the appearance and also the perception of a tap,” says Benjamin Holzer, Head of AXOR Product Management. “In the past, we always looked at new designs in chrome during product development. Today, we also look at them in coloured surfaces because they simply have a completely different appeal.”
The colours inspired by water and light expand the classic metal palette. Chrome and steel have been joined in the last decade by nickel, brass and bronze. They have brought a noble shimmer to the bathroom and charged the supposedly cool material of metal with a warm sensuality. “Metallic tones will continue to be in demand but their colour spectrum is limited,” explains Holzer. “At AXOR, we follow interior design trends, because our products have to correspond with them. That's why we are expanding our palette with lacquered shades.”
The new lacquer colours are intended to make a statement. Nevertheless, they are deliberately not gaudy. “Especially in the bathroom, where a tap is used for 15 or 20 years, you should avoid tones that you get tired of after a short time,” Holzer continues. Around 80 percent of all the taps sold by AXOR have a matt brushed finish instead of a glossy polished surface. The fact that the new lacquer colours from Barber Osgerby feature glossy surfaces is no coincidence. It makes the colours appear more intense. The reflective surfaces become a symbol for the water itself, which makes light dance on contact.
Incidentally, whether a fitting is painted or not has to be defined in advance. “With the AXOR One colours, we use a very high-quality three-layer lacquer,” says Alexander Kuderer, Head of AXOR Product Engineering. “First a base coat is applied, then a top coat and then a glossy coat on top of that. Since this layer structure is ten times stronger than a metallic surface treatment, corresponding gap dimensions are taken into account during product development.” In other words: the fitting must be several thousandths of a metre smaller. In this way, the paint is not applied too thickly and the sometimes very small tolerances when moving the mechanical components are not exceeded.
The colouring process of the AXOR One fittings is carried out by suppliers who also work for the automotive industry. “Layers of colour are applied by hand in a highly professional manner, paying attention to quality and comparing each part to ensure colour consistency,” says Kuderer. At AXOR, the pieces are finally inspected again before they go into assembly and then to the customers. The reason for the outsourcing is a change in the dyeing process. In the 1990s, all fittings were still coloured using powder coating, for which an in-house painting facility was available.
Today, wet paint is used – a process that has been further developed in recent years, in particular due to impulses from the automotive industry. While powder coating means the colour particles are burned into the metal surface, in wet painting the colour is sprayed on. “We need much more homogeneous and calm surfaces in terms of design nowadays," explains Kuderer. “This is where wet painting offers all the advantages. In addition, it gives us the opportunity to switch to new colours more quickly.” In his opinion, wet paint will eventually establish itself in the entire sanitary ware industry, starting from the high-end sector.
The variety of colours reflects the new role that the bathroom has taken on in recent years, and the manner in which attitudes, states of mind and aspirations are reflected in colours too. Not on a conscious level but on a subconscious one where a colour often simply feels right or wrong. As the bathroom moves away from being a cool wet room towards a wellness lounge with homely furniture, warm wall hues and indoor plants, it also becomes a refuge for, and from, everyday life. This has also changed the dimensions and appearance of the fittings. “Ten years ago they were much bigger,” says Holzer. “You could also say they had a more masculine design. In the future, the design language will be more filigree, as with the AXOR One taps by Barber Osgerby.” This also expands the scope for colours. While a special colour tone can quickly appear too dominant with more voluminous fittings, it looks just right with a more delicate design. The message is clear: the bathroom is becoming more sensual. And in order to achieve this, the colour controls are being turned upwards.