Bathroom architecture design isn’t super-sexy, but good design can address both hygiene and aesthetics with new technologies and materials.
They may never be the room’s centerpiece, but a well-designed, well-functioning toilet pays quiet dividends—as anyone with a toilet that is on the fritz is bound to agree. The same could be said of plumbing, as an almost unsung hero of the modern world; the addition of functioning pipes in our homes and workplaces allows us access to clean water for drinking, showering, laundry, and most importantly, keeps those clean water sources separate from outbound dirty water. While historians attribute the origins of plumbing as far back as Ancient Egypt, improvements continued to be made in cleanliness, water efficiency, and distribution. With the ubiquitous S-trap, the first toilet prototypes arrived in the UK as the 1700s drew to a close. By the mid-19th century, Chicago proudly became home to the first widespread sewage system.
While much of the Western world tends to stick to the standard bowl, anyone who’s taken a trip to Japan is sure to have come away with the desire to upend their current bathroom set-up for a full-featured toilet. These toilets, known as the “washlet” (actually a branded term by toilet titan Toto), have been praised for their increased hygiene, comfort, and customizability. When was the last time you used a toilet, you could think of as customizable?
Bathroom Design: Improving Bathroom Hygiene
Both public and private restrooms are ideal places for bacteria, germs, viruses, and other unpleasant lifeforms to fester. Factors such as the number of users, the users’ hygiene habits, and the frequency with which the surfaces are sanitized all playing a role. Although restroom hygiene has always been a crucial part of public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has only clarified why it’s so critical to control these hygiene variables as best we can to mitigate the effects of this and any future nasty viruses.
The washlet encourages and enforces better hygiene in several ways, practically eliminating the need to touch any part of the toilet with one’s hands before, during, or after use. The touchless journey begins when the user walks into the restroom. The washlet’s lid uses motion sensors to raise, doing away with handling one of the germiest surfaces out there. A bidet, complete with pressure and temperature options, gracefully steps in for toilet paper, saving a trip to the store in the middle of the night. Bidets provide a more thorough cleanse, and further minimizing the need to touch surfaces while using a bathroom.
Toto is practically a household name—when it comes to fancy toilets. However, it’s not the only brand making a statement in the realm of washlets. Kohler and Duravit, an American and German company respectively, have come out with their own products in this realm. They include a host of features, from temperature and pressure custom-controls to seat warmers (a bonus on those chilly winter nights), to pleasant audio that can cover up any unsavory noises. And fear not—after the cleansing is complete, a washlet worth its salt will dry the user with warm air, so there is truly no toilet paper needed.
Why You Should Keep The Toilet Separate
To bump up the cleanliness factor of the washlet another notch, we recommend keeping the toilet and sink/vanity/mirror/shower/tub, etc., separated. This old school “water closet” set-up actually has a myriad of benefits, all of which are helped along by the nearly touchless washlet. For one, cordoning off the toilet from the rest of a bathroom’s functionality in a home keeps the cleaning appliances in an area solely meant for cleaning. Also, in a home context, whether a multi-person house or apartment, bathrooms are naturally high-traffic areas. And being able to occupy the mirror for shaving, skincare, etc., while listening to NPR without worrying about blocking off the only toilet at peak morning hours is well, priceless.
But what about commercial businesses? We’ve long been advocates for multiple single-occupancy, accessible, gender-neutral bathrooms adjacent to a large communal sink and mirror. Not only does this setup support the safety of trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks, families, and many others, it is also more hygienic to keep toilets and sinks separated in restaurants, offices, and all other businesses, too.
Residential Case Study: Erie Loft Combined Condo Unit
In a combined condo unit project for a family that needed a little more space, a wall hung toilet helped bolster a spa-like master bath by allowing for easier drainage from the generous shower and cutting down on cleaning time. A sandblasted glass wall and door further the serene atmosphere by keeping the WC separate from the soaking tub and vanity area.
Commercial Case Study: Dill Pickle Food Co-Op
At the Dill Pickle, a grocery cooperative in Logan Square, we implemented this bathroom design to comply with design codes while maximizing space and privacy. By installing separate, gender-neutral, private rooms—no awkward partitions here—and a large communal sink, the result was an ultra-efficient, safe, welcoming, and maximally hygienic user-experience for all grocery store patrons.
Choosing and Installing a Washlet
At this point, you may be wondering just what it would take to get this new and improved bathroom approach into your home or business. Those not quite ready to install a full-on washlet could opt for a bidet attachment for an existing toilet. However, these may have drawbacks, including difficulty adjusting the spray angle and position, which can in some cases uncenter the attachment itself. Attachments can also have difficulties regulating the water spray pressure, resulting in an unwelcome cold water blast. Additionally, many attachments only have a back spray, which is not hygienic and safe for all genders. Lastly—we have to mention this as designers. An attachment simply won’t look as clean or as tidy as an all-in-one washlet, which could affect its long-term functionality, too. Then again, if a bidet trial period is on the docket, these could be just the ticket.
Planning for a washlet requires access to a hot and cold water line and electricity to operate its warming, sound, motor, and other features. However, these specifications are easy to make in advance and none too difficult to employ for existing plumbing set-ups by simply using the existing water line meant for a traditional toilet. The electric heater in the seat warms the water. The only consideration is typically installing a GFCI outlet beside the toilet, where they generally are not already set up in most Western households.
Our favorite configuration of all might be a wall-mounted toilet by Toto and/or Duravit. This streamlined set-up saves space and is more accessible for wheelchair users, among a host of other benefits. Wall-mounted toilets look sort of futuristic but not so much that they’d clash with a mid-century modern piece in the powder room. Their pared-down look partially comes from the fact that the tank is hidden in the wall. This design removes bulk and visually opens up the floor. Best of all, the lack of a base means they are easier to clean (and who likes getting in all the crevices of a toilet base?). It is gross and annoying at best and potentially presents access issues to those with mobility restrictions or the elderly. You can see examples of wall-hung toilets at moss HQ and showroom, Logan Certified, where a wall-hung toilet makes maintaining communal spaces a breeze.
For our Winchester, single-family renovation, we installed a wall-mounted toilet in the guest bathroom. Shown here (below, left) is a photo taken during installation during construction followed by completion photos. The entire system is tucked away behind the tile and all that’s visible is a streamlined tank and wall-mounted flush plate.
If this hasn’t convinced you yet, consider that in addition to being more hygienic, washlets also conserve more water than the average toilet. It takes a significant amount of water to produce a roll of toilet paper—to the tune of 37 gallons per roll, and billions of rolls are used each year. All else being equal (flushing that is), the washlet only uses about a gallon a day for its bidet-functions, making it more water-efficient than relying on toilet paper.
If you have questions about washlets for an existing, new, or renovation project, please contact us.