“I will never understand the toilets in this country”, fumed George Costanza in a 1995 episode of Seinfeld. “Why don’t the stall doors go down to the floor?” We design bathroom doors with our legs exposed in anticipation of the locks not working? It is not a system. It’s a complete system failure!“I think of that seminal withdrawal every time I’m in the underwhelming (to put it mildly) bathroom at my workplace. But it’s not just the overly short stands, which are an ominous shade of not quite white, that make me as pissed off as George. The wall tiles come straight out of a high school gymnasium shower and, even worse, the lighting is so powerfully unflattering that I feel like the mirror is annoying me.
Although my office bathroom was stubbornly blocked in 1987, elsewhere that is not. The bathrooms are more and more designer, with restaurants and bars in mind. In Toronto (or any other metropolis for that matter), you can bet that a restaurant opened in the past two years will offer a bathroom that’s as cool, thoughtful, and photo-friendly as the main space. “Thanks to Instagram and Pinterest, everyone is tuned in to aesthetics, and more people see themselves as pseudo-designers,” says Sarah Townson, designer at DXT Studio, who has worked on Toronto spots. like The Alpine, Reyna on King and Palm Sunday. “People want their place to be photo-worthy and pretty. Restaurant bathrooms are more important than ever because people love sharing photos so much, especially selfies. For many establishments, an Insta-bait bathroom acts as a marketing strategy. After all, if you managed to get a reservation at that cool new French cocktail bar and didn’t post a bathroom selfie in your Stories, have you been there?
“You’re more likely to snap a photo or feel like you can adjust the crease of your shirt or scratch your teeth when you’re not facing a row of six automated sinks. ”
According to Townson, there is a formula for the photogenic bathroom resto. It all starts with good lighting. “You want an even distribution of light around the mirror, ”she explains. “If you take a good look in the mirror, you’re going to want to take a photo in it.” As someone who’s been sucked in by the flattering reflection of those mirrors surrounded by a border of warm light, I can’t argue with Townson. Another key element is the wallpaper. Think: a quirky, sometimes even cheeky wallpaper designed to grab attention – the nude and semi-nude prints of Rhum Corner come to mind.
The final piece of the puzzle has less to do with the setting itself than the feeling it evokes. Restaurant bathrooms are starting to resemble those in residences, allowing guests to feel comfortable in intimate and welcoming spaces. This explains the rise in decor items like plants (often wrong as bathrooms tend to be windowless), earthy colors like terracotta, and matte light fixtures. Organic-looking textures like terrazzo and pink marble are more popular than ever. Restaurants are also increasingly opting for individual bathrooms with a sink in every small room. “You’re more likely to snap a photo or feel like you can adjust the crease of your shirt or bite your teeth when you’re not facing a row of six automated sinks,” Townson explains.
It all adds up to a space that is not only pleasing to the eye, but can also feel like a sanctuary. Individual bathrooms can more easily become gender neutral bathrooms. “It welcomes everyone. These establishments could be more comfortable for someone who is not binary, ”explains Townson.
This trend towards warmer and more welcoming bathrooms is also reflected in the workplace. “Adding design elements to bathrooms is just as important as the kitchen, hall and meeting rooms; it’s something I mention to all of my clients, ”says Mette Johansen Keating, Founder and Creative Director of Mette Designs, a Toronto-based company that works with companies like Wattpad and The National Ballet. “It’s a way for the employer to show that it cares about its people,” says Johansen Keating. “The washroom seems to be the only place you can take a break these days! In fact, thanks to the open plan layout of most work spaces, we can hear our colleagues talking on the phone, typing or chewing celery. A bathroom can provide a much needed respite from the constant feeling of being exposed.
In terms of trends, office bathrooms are ruled by the same influences as restaurants – earthy colors, wallpaper and organic materials – and, like restaurants and bars, they are also increasingly becoming spaces that keep non-binary people in mind. Mette Designs’ client, Urbanflip, requested a full bathroom in their offices. “It is more flexible for capacity, privacy and inclusiveness, ”says Johansen Keating.
But not all businesses have full control of the space. Toilets are often shared by several tenants and any change, regardless of size, are the responsibility of the owner. Faced with such a challenge, Johansen Keating would suggest swapping the lighting from fluorescent lighting in green tones (“it makes us look older than us!”) To a softer LED. Adding a few plants – again, even the fake ones will do – is another quick fix to a sad toilet.
It is not frivolous to want bathrooms to be nice. They are an extension of our work and social spaces, and they have a real impact on our well-being. I won’t lie, I would love a lavish marble bathroom where fiddle-leaf figs rustle to the rhythm of the efficient breeze from a Dyson hand dryer and bottles of Aesop hand soap don’t run out. never. Maybe one day. For now, I’ll settle for a few LED bulbs, a few imitations of succulents, and maybe even doors that go down to the floor. George Costanza would approve.