Making a splash: Pimping the bathroom has never been more popular
'Of all the elements of Japanese architecture, the toilet is the most aesthetic," wrote that nation's novelist Junichiro Tanizaki.
"Compared to Westerners, who regard the toilet as utterly unclean and avoid even the mention of it in polite conversation, we are far more sensible and certainly in better taste," says Tanizaki in the pages of In Praise Of Shadows (1977) where he waxes lyrical about the joys of the outdoor loo, which he describes as "a place of spiritual repose".
One can only conclude that the Japanese thunder box was a far more elegant affair than the Irish version.
The Japanese are good at toilets. On my travels there, I've experienced WCs that pre-warm the seat, play covering music, and squirt you with warm water when you're done (the trick is not to jump up in alarm). And now the toilets of the land of the rising sun are available in Ireland. The Geberit Aquaclean offers an oscillating spray, a pulsating massage spray, a "gentle lady wash", and then dries you off with a gentle puff of air. It comes with a remote control on which up to four people can save their "personal pampering programme".
The Geberit Aquaclean costs between €1,600 and €5,000, depending on your choice of bells and whistles. "If you're one of those people who likes the product, the price becomes almost irrelevant," says Tony Murphy of Tile Style. "It's a new product so it's early days yet, but we're getting a lot of enquiries."
He has also noticed that, where the typical Irish household was once happy with a roll of loo paper, the desire for cleanliness is bringing the bidet back into style.
"A lot of people from other countries think we're very dirty because we don't use bidets," Murphy comments. A standard bidet from Tile Style costs €118 with an additional €100 for a bidet tap.
The family-owned company based in Dublin is this year's Bathroom Retailer of the Year for both the UK and Ireland, and caters for the middle-to-upper end of the market. Its top-selling toilet is the Acro Porcelanosa (€450), but you can pay up to €1,221 for a high-end Arquitect wall-hung loo.
Bathrooms will be a big part of the very first House show event which debuts at the RDS this weekend, with most of Ireland's leading bathroom retailers taking part. They say wall hung toilets, which have no pedestal and no visible U-bend are by far the most popular in all price brackets.
And, according to Richard Sloan of Sonas Bathrooms, rimless toilets are trending. "The rim was developed to facilitate the flush, but now we're seeing rimless porcelain bowls with clean ceramic all the way around," he says. "They have a good strong flush and they don't splash!" They do cost a little more though. An entry-level wall hung loo from Sonas Bathrooms costs €175 and the rimless version of the same model costs €280.
According to recent research from Houzz, 66pc of Irish people who renovated their bathrooms last year put in a new toilet and 68pc bought a new shower. In fact, showers are more popular in Ireland than anywhere else in the world, apart from Australia (74pc) and New Zealand (72pc). Only 31pc of Irish bathroom renovators splashed out on a new bathtub and, according to Murphy, there is a trend for getting rid of the bath.
"People don't want a bath and they don't want a shower tray. They want a walk-in shower and they're going for unusual finishes like polished nickel and powder-coated steel. They'll also buy a wiper in the same finish as the shower to clean the glass. It looks nice and matches everything else, so you don't have to hide it away."
Rain-shower heads are popular, but many people, realising that it's hard to wash conditioner out of your hair without a directional jet, go for an additional hand-held shower. "When you're installing a rain-shower, the tallest person in the house sets the height and smaller people can feel out of control, standing on their tippy-toes to redirect it," says Murphy.
The space created by removing the bath is often used for double wash-basins, often as part of wall-hung cabinets. Popular luxuries include under-floor heating that dries out the tiling where you step out of the shower, magnifying mirrors and steam-proof mirrors.
"There's a condensation map behind the mirror just like the one on the rear windscreen of your car," says Murphy. "The bathroom is becoming more of a dressing room. It's that little alpha closet where you can think for yourself and the smartphone and the tablet don't crowd in on you."
Meantime, the metal look is big across the water in the UK with antique style stand alone claw tubs in copper and brass (see main picture) making a big splash right now through companies like Hurlingham of Lincolnshire at prices of around £2,700. Many items can be specially imported by arrangement.
According to Shane Colleran of Tubs & Tiles, the often-neglected downstairs bathroom is now moving into the limelight. "The little loo under the stairs or off the kitchen is the one that is used most and thought about least," he says. "People are realising that this is the bathroom the visitors use and they're going for quality."
Colin Welford of Fired Earth agrees. "Everyone wants their bathroom to be a little different and people are dressing up the downstairs loo. They're making it an event." While tastes for ensuite decoration tend to be conservative, a small bathroom can be a more daring space (how wrong can you go?).
Welford has recently finished a project where a downstairs loo was tiled in black mother-of-pearl mosaic. "It's like walking into a jewellery box," he says. At slightly more than €600 per metre, you can see why those particular tiles would be a good choice for a very small room.
If you're looking for advice on bathroom products or design, drop in to the interior design event, House, in the RDS this weekend (May 20-22) where experts from Tubs & Tiles and Sonas Bathrooms will be there to help. See also firedearth.com, tilestyle.ie, sonasbathrooms.com, tubstiles.ie, and houzz.ie.