sensory design and wellbeing

Geberit lifts the lid on sensory design and wellbeing

New research from Geberit has revealed a lasting legacy of the past 18 months with many of us more aware of the importance of wellbeing than ever before. A poll of 2,000 adults across the UK found that more than half of us have made improvements to our self-care routine since the pandemic began, alongside a growth in the number of homeowners setting time aside to relax each day. Here, Sophie Weston channel marketing manager at Geberit, looks at the significance of the bathroom as homeowners embrace wellness and how biophilic design can create the ultimate sanctuary across residential projects.

Geberit Citterio WC Plan

A great deal has been written about the impact of the pandemic in relation to wellbeing. The Office for National Statistics reported last spring that over a third (37.4%) of adults said that the pandemic had affected their wellbeing. The same report found that the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety rose sharply during April and May.

But, 18 months and several lockdowns later, it looks as though homeowners have made changes in their lifestyle as a direct result of the pandemic. We undertook a YouGov poll of 2,000 adults across the UK which found that more than half (51%) of respondents reported making improvements to their self-care routine. Exercising more (21%) was the most popular lifestyle change, with almost one in five (18%) also reporting changes in their diet as well as getting more sleep.

This shift towards adopting positive changes in lifestyle was reinforced by the 34% of respondents who told us that they successfully manage to put time aside to relax each day. This figure is a 24% increase when we asked the same question in a nationwide survey in 2018. So it seems that, despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the physical and mental health of many, we are making adjustments to our lifestyles. We wanted to delve a little deeper into how this may impact on future home design – and what role the bathroom can play in creating a sanctuary in our homes.

Wellbeing routine

To understand how all this may alter our interaction with the spaces in the home, let’s first look at how we’re now using those ‘public’ areas of the home. Families are increasingly adopting zoned living areas, segregating space for work and play. John Lewis’ Flexible Living Report 2020 found that one in five people had reconfigured their open-plan space to accommodate multiple activities throughout the day. It observed that “….although sparked by urgent needs in the midst of the pandemic, this new perspective on a modular, flexible approach to living within our own four walls, is here to stay.”

Living in lockdown has, of course, changed everything. Indeed our own poll indicates that we may be shifting towards these more private spaces within the home, with half of our respondents entertaining at home less than they were before the pandemic. It seems that, together with our greater understanding of wellbeing, our homes have now become the ultimate sanctuary and safe haven away from the outside world. With this in mind, can we expect to see a greater focus on these more private spaces in the home – and, crucially, those rooms most intrinsically linked to wellbeing?

Geberit VariForm washbasin

Bathroom design

In its report, John Lewis also found that one in five respondents voiced the need to have a space where they could spend time alone. And that most private space of all – the bathroom – could hold the key to offering a place of sanctuary and respite within the home. The reality is, however, that in many residential projects, bathrooms are viewed as a functional space - often harsh and sterile places with poor acoustics and cold surfaces. But, with this growing emphasis and awareness of mental health and wellbeing, architects and designers must now unlock opportunities by considering how to transform the humble bathroom in to a modern day sanctuary.

In order to do this we must design for the four key senses of auditory (sound), visual (sight), kinaesthetic (touch) and olfactory (smell) and the impact they have on our wellbeing.

Sound of silence

Let’s start with auditory. Our ears work even when we’re asleep - and when we are awake, we need to consider the impact those seemingly mundane sounds could have on our mental wellbeing. Think about the affect that a dripping tap, for example, can have upon one’s mood. In fact, as we discovered in our 2021 White Paper on the importance of acoustic design in the home, these seemingly innocuous noises are indeed affecting us. We found that one in four adults (28%) were regularly disturbed by bathroom sounds at night or when trying to relax, and one in five (19%) were regularly disturbed by flushing toilets, running taps or pipe and drains.

Managing the acoustics within a bathroom is, therefore, key and there are several ways to ensure noise is contained within a space, both inside the room and behind the scenes. Geberit’s Silent-db20 can reduce noise transfer from draining water from washbasins or showers; likewise, wall-hung toilets with concealed cisterns and pre-wall frames such as Geberit Duofix decouple from the construction, prevent noise from travelling down the wall and through the floor.

The eyes have it

When it comes to the visual sense, colour in the washroom can have a profound influence on how we view the space. The psychology of colour is an important reference point here. White, for instance, brings a sense of cleanliness and purity, while green references nature and is associated with balance and healing. Red, on the other hand, is more dynamic and energetic with blue perceived as more calming.

In modern bathroom design, brassware is often used as a reference point when matching colours, with bathroom accessories commonly chosen to match brassware finishes. Instead, at Geberit, we offer a wide range of flush plate colours and finishes which complement our ceramic furniture options. Opting for natural materials like wood, slate and stone over high-gloss within the space will bring warmth and comfort to the washroom. Similarly, there is no denying that lighting can also affect our mood. According to the Illuminating Engineering Society, the direction of a light source can transform a space and affect how a room might make us feel. The society advises, for instance, that lighting positioned above eye level can create a feeling of restraint, creating a more formal atmosphere. On the other side, lighting positioned below eye level can invoke a feeling of individual importance and help establish a more informal setting. Meanwhile, exposure to harsh light sources, especially in the middle of the night can shock us and stimulate our sense of alertness, disturbing our natural sleeping patterns. Opting for automatic lights or orientation lighting can help preserve the sanctuary of sleep and prevent overstimulation of the visual sense.

Geberit Acanto Bathroom in sand

Touch

A deep understanding of the importance of touch has allowed bathroom designers and manufacturers to adapt and embrace the ways in which we interact with our spaces and the technology within them. In the bathroom, Geberit’s Sigma80 and Sigma10 touchless WC flush controls incorporate a sensor that allows the unit to flush as soon as the toilet has been used.

The kinesthetic sense can also be awakened by incorporating textures into bathroom design and, again, this can be achieved by opting for materials such as rustic wood or slate for surfaces and flush plates.

Scent

Often overlooked, scent has a strong effect on our experiences because it’s processed in the olfactory cortex of the brain’s limbic system. Of course, it goes without saying that this can sometimes have a negative effect in the washroom. Lavatory odours are generally dealt with by masking the unpleasant smell with a scented spray. The latest thinking in odour extraction technology by manufacturers takes a more innovative approach. The new Geberit odour extraction unit can be installed in all concealed cisterns from the Sigma range and filters the air within the room to neutralise any unwanted odours.

A complete sanctuary

How we view and use our homes has changed forever. The FT, writing about this subject early in 2021, hit the nail on the head when it noted that, “…home is like the water a fish swims through: so familiar that it often goes unnoticed. Light switches are flicked without looking, and furniture edges navigated with blind precision…lockdown challenged this passivity.” As homeowners become ever more aware of wellbeing, architects and specifiers must understand how the washroom can provide the ultimate place of escape in the home. The potential for wellbeing is at its highest when the design of spaces is informed and uniquely enriched by all four of our senses. We are entering an exciting new design paradigm, where we shift from creating just ‘bathrooms’, to thinking about how the design process itself can elevate this space by considering the potential for wellbeing.