Can the "W.C." be glamorous?
My Irish grandmother is probably turning over in her grave at my publicly discussing anything having to do with bodily functions – and here I am focusing on the "T" word.
They’ve become a product, essential to every bathroom, that combines beauty with high technology. And the water closet (W.C.), which we’ll define as the area that houses the toilet, has finally earned its age-old title: "The Throne Room."
The point is, from the powder room to the grand-scale master suite, current trends and an expanding array of options are providing opportunities for design in the water closet.
First, let’s look at some of the product offerings and options – just enough to make the case that it’s no longer "same old, same old."
Historically, European manufacturers have created toilets that make a stronger visual design statement. From them, we also get a higher comfort level, with the concept of a "washlet," or bidet, for personal hygiene.
Today, U.S. manufacturers are reflecting those same priorities, with a higher level of design and a greater emphasis on integrating the toilet with its surrounding space. We’re also experiencing the benefit of new applications for developing technology. We’re seeing smaller tanks, tanks that disappear into the wall, or even tankless toilets, with powered flushing action and in some cases, heated, self-closing seats, and washlet systems.
As for taking comfort, hygiene and safety seriously, technology has been applied to create internal systems that do all the aforementioned, as well as venting odors, providing soft light that can replace the night light, offering chromatherapy, and even playing soft music when a user approaches the fixture.
The toilet has certainly graduated from unsightly fixture to beautiful swan, but some interesting emerging design concepts include beautiful ways to enclose or enhance its look, as with Troy Adam’s bench toilet design for Julien, a toilet that incorporates a sliding wood panel that converts the fixture into a bench.
Wall-hung fixtures are also growing in availability, with the beauty being in the flexibility of height, the reduced floor space required and the ease of cleanup when the toilet does not connect with the floor.
Finally, we can’t ignore the growing interest in, and availability of, waterless urinals designed for residential use.
Each of these product trends seems to confirm that a closer look at the transformation of our water closet design is certainly worthwhile.
How are we designing the water closet, or the space dedicated to toileting and related activities? In this column, we’ll touch on a few things we’ve seen recently.
A major trend is to design private toileting areas or small rooms that house the toilet area. I must point out that unless a space is large, this type of design bucks the objective of making the toilet area universal and accessible. Nevertheless, it is a trend.
In some cases, master suites are falling back on the concept of separate water closets for each of the partners using the suite – a design concept that has been popular throughout history. Whether a private room or private area within a larger suite, the clear floor space should be enough to allow for a variety of physical needs. Planning minimums of 30" to one side and 30" in front of the fixture, outside of any door swing, goes a long way toward meeting this goal in most cases. In the side wall that does not include the clear floor space, reinforcement for the installation of a grab bar that can extend beyond the front of the toilet (usually not more than 6" off the back wall and a minimum of 42" long) will help meet current or future transfer needs. This space may be filled with a furniture piece that enhances the design of the space, provides storage, and can be removed should the need arise for clear floor space.
As always, lighting and ventilation must be planned to support the activities. Often, particularly when the water closet is a private room, there are no windows.
Design solutions including use of a solar tube or skylight, transoms high in the walls, glass block or frosted glass can maintain privacy and still provide natural light. In addition, the design of ambient lighting seems to be including more indirect or non-glare and adjustable sources. Night lights have become more standard, and motion activated graduated lighting seems to be the ultimate – particularly in covering nocturnal visits to this necessary room.
In addition, ventilation systems that pull from multiple locations make it easier to vent the W.C., as well as the general room. Sounds associated with flushing and ventilation also must be considered when choosing product and locating this space, particularly in relation to nearby sleeping spaces. Cork and other sound-absorbing fabrics and materials are more readily available these days – and in high-end homes, there seems to be great interest in construction techniques that can deaden the noises associated with the W.C.
Storage at the point of use is never more critical than in this area, and lately there are many options for built-in cabinetry suspended off the floor. Design-wise, this frees up additional clear floor space, and it can help to visually expand a smaller space.
In addition, it’s always important to recognize that much of what we store in the toileting area will fit in small and shallow spaces. Often, a niche can be recovered by pocketing into the wall where possible around the plumbing, and this shelf, usually open, can be an easy spot for convenient storage of the products, reading materials, and whatever is needed at the W.C.
Obviously these few examples illustrate that the W.C. is changing. Add to this an increasing awareness on the part of homeowners, and changing needs and preferences of our clients. Who will use the space? How many people will use it? What are their sizes and physical capabilities? Will this be a reading area, and how much is enough privacy?
Whatever the response to these questions, there has never been a better opportunity to help this space live up to its title – "The Throne Room."
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