Having bathroom fun with Laufen

January 9, 2012, 5 Comments

 Swiss bathrooms tend to be functional, there for a purpose; often a white, minimalist look with few fripperies to be seen. No carpets or curtains, pictures or knick-knacks, and certainly no lacy loo-roll or furry toilet-seat covers. As for books beside the loo – that’s a sure sign that one of the residents is an expat; one Swiss friend said to me in all seriousness that there are more comfortable places to read. Very true, but also missing the point!

But being all about function doesn’t mean that Swiss bathrooms aren’t stylish. Most are, thanks to Switzerland’s oldest bathroom company, Laufen. They’ve been doing great things in bathrooms since 1892 and last year I was lucky enough to have an inside view of what it’s like to be a loo-maker. The end-result may not be as glamorous as a watchmaker’s but it’s infinitely more practical. I even got to don a white apron and create my own version of a designer washbasin!

What surprised me most in the factory wasn’t the huge kilns or the heat & humidity. Nor was it learning that ceramic can be recycled or that 98% of bathrooms these days are white. No, it was how much of the production process is done by hand – something I got to try out for myself. First clamp together your plaster mould and pour in the slip, or liquid ceramic. Let it set for a few hours. Then turn it out and rub down any sharp edges and blemishes. Wipe off the surface to a smooth finish. Lastly, hand it over to be fired and glazed. Easy as that, at least for us visiting guests anyway.

And the end result was a swish mini-me Palomba washbasin. The original is 900mm long and 420mm wide so mine is about a third of the real size, and without a plug hole. It makes a great fruit bowl or, as I discovered this Christmas, a perfect repository for festive chocolates. And it is unique. For sure, many have been made by visiting journalists, architects and bathroom salespeople but none of them has my name carved into the underside. That wasn’t a moment of authorial egoism but purely so that it could be identified post-firing and -glazing.

Laufen has been in the bathroom business for 120 years and it’s practically impossible to pee in Switzerland without using one of their products. They are everywhere! Railway stations and restaurants, hotels and hospitals, and many private homes. And although most new fittings are white, you can still find some garishly colourful reminders of past fashions, such as this burgundy affair I saw in a Mürren restaurant. Made by Laufen, back when Abba were still together.

Bathroom design has, thankfully, come a long way since then. Now it’s all sleek lines, new materials and minimalist appearance for maximum pleasure. Out with the old cold functionalism and in with the new warm wellness feeling, although in Switzerland such indulgence may take a while to catch on. Until then, one of the best ways to keep up with what’s happening in the bathroom world is to follow Laufen North America on its Facebook page – it’s like mixing Swiss business with American pleasure – and you never know, you might even end up making your own bowl at Laufen too one day!

5 Comments on "Having bathroom fun with Laufen"

  1. Peter Rechner, Oberdiessbach Monday January 9th, 2012 at 11:34 AM · Reply

    Dear Diccon,
    thanks for your always so well-written new contribution!
    May I be a nitpicker (Erbsenzähler oder Korinthenkacker in German – those are some fine expressions, don’t you think!) for just a moment . . . . I’d love to visit you at what must be the grandest apartment in Bern where you can display a 900 meter fruit bow. – All the best and lots of stamina when you have to do the dusting . . . .
    Gruss, Peter

    • swisswatching Monday January 9th, 2012 at 06:22 PM · Reply

      Thanks for the correction, although I only need room for a 300m fruit bowl (as i wrote, it’s a third original size)!

  2. Janie Wednesday January 11th, 2012 at 12:29 AM · Reply

    Okay, why is it called a loo? I know it is British. I also know WC or water closet. I am American so it is bathroom, lady’s room or men’s room or restrooms or potty, or toilet…can’t think of anything else. Most likely there are other names. But where did the word loo come from? And what names are used by the Swiss ?

    • swisswatching Wednesday January 11th, 2012 at 09:37 AM · Reply

      It’s not so clear where the word ‘loo’ came from. At school we learnt it was a shortening of “gardez l’eau”, French for watch out for the water – referring to the times when they used to throw the contents of the pot out the window. In British English a bathroom is exactly that (a room with a bath or shower in it); it’s never the loo, and we never rest in there, so again we never say restrooms. Ladies’ & Men’s (or more usually Gents) rooms only refer to public places, never your own home. But there are many others: lavatory (usually shortened to lav), bog, head, privy, khazi, throne, the smallest room, or in Asutralia the dunny or thunderbox.

      In Switzerland the most common usage is WC (from the English but pronounced roughly vey-tsey in German or vécé in French) because it overcomes the language barrier. Other than that in German you have Klo and Toilette, although some of my Swiss friends say ‘Schiishüüsli’ (literally shit-house) for a public toilet; you certainly never use the German translation of bathroom or restroom. The mobile toilets you get at outdoor events and on building sites have ToiToi written on them. And you find in some places (eg restaurants) that the two doors just have H and D written on them – to get the right one, you have to know that H is for Herren (or Gents) and D is for Damen (or Ladies).

      • swisswatching Wednesday January 11th, 2012 at 01:33 PM · Reply

        or think that Damen = the men

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