DESIGNER: How did the collaboration between Victoria + Albert and Conran and Partners initially come about?
Tim Rundle: It all started with a conversation with one of their global specification team about how to create a product that would utilise Victoria + Albert’s unique materials whilst ensuring it would be relevant for the architecture and interiors specifier market.
Victoria + Albert already has a great range of beautiful freestanding baths, but many of our projects – especially those in dense urban locations – don’t have the space necessary for this type. We still wanted to be able to lend these spaces that same sense of indulgence you get from a freestanding bath, but to design out the pragmatic issues you often come up against when specifying one.
There is a real synergy between the two companies – we are both British-owned, yet have a global presence. It seemed a natural step to collaborate using our unique skills; our experience in architecture and industrial design, and Victoria + Albert’s in manufacturing and materials.
DESIGNER: What were the key stages in the process of developing the Eldon bath, from initial sketches to finished product, and what were the dynamics of the relationship between designer and manufacturer?
Rundle: We didn’t actually put pen to paper and start sketching until we had built a really clear understanding of the context. Our industrial design team spent time speaking with the interior architects at Conran and Partners to build a clear picture of what they are looking for when specifying a bath, and what issues they have come up against in the past.
Once we had rewritten the creative and functional brief, we began sketching in a very schematic way, and shared these ideas with the Victoria + Albert team in a meeting that was much more discussion than presentation. This was a chance for them to inject their insights and vast knowledge of the industry as well as their own manufacturing expertise before the concept was made concrete… or Volcanic Limestone™, as it were.
We then took the design and started working in more detail, creating scale models and sharing digital 3D models back and forth with the Victoria + Albert product development team while they prepared the drawings for creating the complex moulds. In terms of a dynamic, it was a very collaborative project, with us acting as an extension of the client’s design team. We both poured in our collective expertise to bring to life a result that was much more compelling than would have been possible working in isolation.
DESIGNER: What are the challenges in bringing the small detail that is always required in a product of this type into play for a design that had to be suitable for the contract market?
Rundle: While there was a clear focus on the practical ambitions of the brief, it is always a given that our products must be beautiful. This is especially the case with the bath, a product that symbolises what is becoming one of our most precious luxuries; time.
Key to a successful contract market product is flexibility in its installation configurations. We set out to create a ‘back-to-wall’ bath that could be installed in any project; whether it was a new build, a hotel refit or a period renovation. This led to us creating voids underneath and behind the tub, where exposed plumbing could be concealed and hardware could be wall mounted, floor standing or deck mounted on the bath itself. Obviously this creates more complex forms, making the design of the mould more challenging.
DESIGNER: What are the benefits – and the challenges – of working with a material such as Quarrycast®?
Rundle: Quarrycast® is a great material, that has clear functional benefits, but for us the ability to create a complex form like this in a single seamless moulding was the most exciting. We were able to give the form a crisp but generous solid edge detail; something not normally possible with other common bath materials.
As Quarrycast® products are manufactured in a casting process, it lends itself very well to soft, fluid forms. However being an architecture practice, we felt that a more linear, pure geometry of straight lines and arcs would fit more naturally into architectural spaces, while allowing us to keep the interior void very organic. This presented a real challenge for the technical team at Victoria + Albert, and I have to take my hat off to them for achieving our vision brilliantly.
DESIGNER: How important is it for an architecture and design studio such as Conran and Partners to be associated with products that reach beyond the more expensive or exclusive end of the market and into projects of all types, sizes and budgets?
Rundle: It goes right to the core of our ethos as a practice. After all, our founder, Sir Terence Conran, became a household name by bringing sophisticated modern design to the British High Street with Habitat in the middle of last century.
Our team works on projects ranging from the most exclusive residential and hospitality schemes, to affordable housing developments and public spaces. We don’t see our approach as being relevant to a particular demographic, but as a way if thinking that can be used to improve the everyday for all walks of life.
Victoria + Albert / vandabaths.com
Conran and Partners / conranandpartners.com