If last week's Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan is anything to go by, bathrooms and kitchens have become just as important as other rooms in the home. Alongside the world's largest annual furniture fair, the Bathroom and Euro Cucina exhibitions showcased the very best Italian and international products.
According to event spokeswoman Marva Griffin Wilshire, the bathroom is the domestic space that has changed its original identity the most in the past few years. 'It has gone from being a private, hidden-away utility area to a very real hub of mental and physical wellness, drawing attention to itself and playing to the imaginations of designers and manufacturers,' she says.
Griffin Wilshire says the greatest innovation this year is the processing and use of marble, onyx, slate and natural stone. 'The informed combination of concept, craftsmanship and strong manufacturing capacity has produced pieces that exploit the characteristics of the materials to create a powerful emotional impact, suitable for rooms of all kinds,' she says.
Bathrooms displayed at the fair were transformed from being purely practical spaces to outlets for style and technology.
Bathrooms were set up as a space of wellness for rest and relaxation, with many incorporating seating and even decorative objects, such as paintings, rugs and task lighting. The new image of the domestic bathroom is a space that is able to hold its own in terms of furnishings and, where innovative design is applied, in terms of shapes, colours, materials and lighting.
The kitchen has become a domestic space that is steadily shedding its focus on functionality to become a place for socialising.
Kitchens present complex design challenges for manufacturers. They have become one of the most structured and technology-rich parts of our houses, but they also need to cater for more functionality - from the onslaught of liquids, such as vinegar and lemon, to the movement of red-hot pans and the cutting, slicing, mincing, gutting and plucking that occurs in a kitchen.
This year, manufacturers showed off the latest kitchen gadgetry, including Whirlpool Europe's 6th Sense Live technology that enables consumers to interact with their electrical appliances straight from their smartphones, tablets or personal computers. Consumers connect online through Wi-fi and are driven by a single application that can be downloaded onto tablets, smartphones and PCs.
Despite the new technology, a certain nostalgia has crept into kitchen design. Fashion house Diesel, which has made its entry into furnishings through partnerships, has teamed up with Italian kitchen design company Scavolini to produce distressed kitchen materials with a special vintage effect, including marked knotty oak, which gives a well-worn textured appearance.
Italian design is particularly popular on the mainland, with kitchen exports from Italy to China growing by 50 per cent between January and August last year, putting the mainland in 17th place in the world for Italian kitchen imports.