Darlington On Showrooms: Bathrooms In New Zealand
I don't know if you're like me, but I can't use a restroom without looking at the fixtures, faucets and layout. I guess that's what 40 years in the business does to you! Some of the things we saw in New Zealand made those visits to the “loo” all the more interesting. Since we also did several homestays, we were able to study both the residential and the commercial side of bathrooms.
Allow me to share some of my observations. First, ALL fixtures are white and ALL faucets are chrome! The only exceptions were a few colored vessels (glass, china and stone) that we saw in the showrooms.
There were more wall-hung water closets than floor mounted and almost every water closet had the two-flush system. Water-saving was put to use there several years before the United States. More than half of the water closet tanks were enclosed in the wall with just a plate (chrome or white, of course) exposed for the flush. I didn't see any “comfort height” toilets - even in the commercial facilities. Almost all the water closet seats were the very thin plastic type that form fit the rim of the water closet. (Most Americans think they are flimsy and cheap looking, but I think they're practical.) Most flushing mechanisms were push button. Only older closets had lever handles. Almost all of the waste drainpipes were 4-1/2 or 5 inches. As in Europe, there was a toilet brush beside almost every water closet. I don't remember seeing any one-piece toilets, nor any bidets.
There was a huge variation in size and shape of the lavatories in commercial bathrooms. This often depended on the size and age of the facility. There were a lot of small 8-inch front to back x 20-inch wide lavs. They made sense in smaller rooms, but I can tell you from firsthand experience, it's impossible to use them without splashing water on yourself, the floor, the wall, etc. Practical for space, but not for use! One really neat thing we saw was in a public restroom at The Hermitage Hotel at the foot of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain (12,000 ft.). The lav area was a series of single-lever wall-mounted faucets sticking out over a flat slab of granite. The slab was about 3-1/2 inches from the wall with a stainless steel trough running the length of the slab, on the back side, and about 6 inches under it. (See picture.) The slab was tilted back lightly so that when the water hit it, it ran over the back and into the stainless steel trough. Seeing the faucets but no bowls was quite a shock to people walking in. It was very dramatic and I can see it being used in both residential and commercial applications.
As in the United States, in newer, nicer homes the kitchen and bathroom are the two most important rooms in the house. Usually there was a large master bath with a whirlpool tub for two, sometimes two lavs - but most of the time only one. Most of the sinks are self-rimming, but we did see a few under counter. Most of the newer homes had radiant heat in the floors and when the exhaust fan was turned on the defog mirror heater came on also. In the master bath area the water closet was in the same room. But in the hall bath, the water closet was in a totally separate room - with a door off the hall. Yep, a totally separate room, long and narrow (3-1/2 feet x 7 feet). This gives privacy options for two people using the bathroom. Each of these long, narrow water closet rooms had one of the 8-inch x 20-inch wall-hung lavs.
Most residential bathrooms were fully tiled, floor and walls. Because of this often there were no shower doors required, because three walls would be tiled. The shower drain acted as the drain to clean the entire room. There were no thresholds at all! I can tell you from experience that it was easy to maintain - you just dried any splash outside the shower area! If there was a shower door, it was 1/2-inch glass with solid brass hinges and had a 1/2-inch plastic sweep that was flush with the floor.
Every shower we saw had a bar with an adjustable handheld unit. Most valves were single control. Two things there that really have not caught on in the United States are: 1) almost every bathroom had an electric towel warmer, and 2) every bathroom had a wall-mounted built-in heater with adjustable fan control. Both items were wonderful! All you folks should be showing and selling these.
Single-handled faucets outnumbered two-handle faucets about 4 to 1. When they did have two-handle faucets almost all of them were non-mixing taps - hot out of one side and cold out of the other. The European, contemporary styling was 90%-plus of what we saw. There was very little traditional product available.
Most vanities were wall hung and offered minimal storage. These were also white - mostly with solid-surface countertops. They used both integral bowls and surface mount bowls. We didn't see any laminate tops throughout our trip. With both water closets and vanities being wall hung and a drain in the tile floor, it sure made cleaning the bathroom easy!
I was always taught that plumbing was an easy business as long as you knew four main things: 1) hot's on the left, 2) cold's on the right, 3) waste doesn't go uphill, and 4) payday's on Friday. However, in New Zealand you find hot and cold all mixed up - just depends on where the plumber feels like putting it on the day he's installing! No codes! And they do have waste that goes uphill! Now could that be because they are “Down Under”? And heaven knows when payday is!
In my next column I'd like to share some facts and observations on New Zealand's largest plumbing wholesaler and its showroom operation, products and services.