After nearly 100 years, Japanese ceramics and sanitary-ware producer INAX has embarked on a drive to showcase its products to the world
INAX, a veteran Japanese manufacturer of ceramic tiles and innovative sanitary wares, made its debut on the world stage at Milan Design Week in April. It strengthened its international profile further by a presence at major trade fair Kitchen and Bath China (KBC) 2019, in Shanghai. The booth at the event was designed to be not only a showcase for INAX's wares, but also a destination, with all of the brand's milestones on display. Emphasis was placed on showcasing Japanese culture, particularly those aspects relating to water, such as physical and spiritual purification and water-based rituals, all of which influence the company's designs. The exhibition included a tea-ceremony area for visitors, while new bathroom collections were presented in a Zen garden-like setting – a perfect location to introduce the brand's innovations.
Emphasis was placed on showcasing Japanese culture, particularly those aspects relating to water, such as physical and spiritual purification and water-based rituals, all of which influence the company's designs
Yoichiro Tomioka, assistant manager of LIXIL Water Technology Japan, in charge of the design of INAX's booth in Milan this year as well as the exhibition at KBC 2019, says both projects were the result of two years' work. He adds that while INAX is famous in Japan, it is not well known outside the country. As a result, he says, the presentations were an important opportunity for visitors to become acquainted with the brand's storied history, design aesthetics and philosophy.
INAX has a long history of collaborating with architects and creating user-centric products. About a century ago, the company's founders produced ceramic tiles for the Imperial Palace Hotel in Tokyo, designed by American architectural legend Frank Lloyd Wright. According to Tomioka, the brand continues to uphold this practice of working with architects.The well-being of the users of its products is a top priority for the company, as is considering the products in relation to the spaces they occupy. Also central to its approach is infusing the products with INAX's core design values, focusing on aspects such as purity, sophistication, and etiquette. INAX's high-tech toilets, for example, feature lids that move in a way reminiscent of the bowing tradition in Japan.
"The key words for INAX are 'architect' and 'human'," explains Tomioka. Also on display was the brand's long history of producing innovative toilets, including the nation's first modernised commercial toilet, Santarina, in 1967, equipped with what were game-changing features at the time, including a warm-water shower spray and air dryer.
Fast-forward to the present and the company's new S600 and S400 lines were the main stars of the event. The serene display for the S600 line, for instance, had a large bonsai tree at its centre, alongside a shower toilet, freestanding tub, an intelligent-control shower system, and a basin made from the brand's ultra-thin Cerafine technology. All these fixtures were set before a backdrop flanked by decorative tiles featuring curved corners. "In the tiles, we created a very rounded shape because we felt it brings out a more humanised feel; we don't feel the modern shape is all sharp corners," says Tomioka. "We wanted to bring more softness to the areas."
"This exhibition is all about bringing out our new INAX [to the world]," said Tomioka.
Also on display was the brand's prowess in tile technology. It presented four new colours for its latest ultra-thin Cerafine line; its washbasins have hues inspired by springs, lakes and other scenery. The Kakita River Spring colour, inspired by the Kakita River in Shimizu (a waterscape formed from snowmelt from Mount Fuji) was represented as a cyan-tint in the colour of the basin, seamlessly fading into the white-bordered periphery of the design. "Thanks to ceramic glazing [technology], we can do this," Tomioka says.Another hue was a dark granite shade known as Takachino, inspired by a waterfall that flows over volcanic rocks in Kyushu. In addition, a blue-grey ash colour, named Fuji Five Lakes, joined the series. INAX is part of LIXIL Group Corporation, a Japanese listed company with an extensive bathroom brand portfolio that includes American Standard and GROHE. Enhancing the bathroom experience American Standard and GROHE's presentations at KBC 2019 showcased creative rethinks of the bathroom, from smart designs to high-tech faucets.
American Standard is thinking big and creatively on behalf of its customers, no matter their age or lifestyle. Innovative solutions include those showcased in the brand's City collection, a response to the evolving needs of urban dwellers living in small apartments, a segment continuing to gain much industry attention. "American Standard is about making beautiful products with purposeful technologies that are accessible to everyone… City is one of them," explains Antoine Besseyre Des Horts, VP of design for American Standard in Asia.
Highlights include a compact vanity system, which reflects the brand's great emphasis on space-optimisation solutions. In the City Vanity (pictured right), the sink is integrated into a mirrored vanity, with the key element being the hideaway faucet and sink controls completely suspended above the washbasin, the fixtures seamlessly incorporated into the cabinet furniture instead. To yield more storage space, American Standard has rearranged the architecture of a sink and vanity layout, including its front and backend fixtures. "We have moved elements around and [thanks to our] innovations in packaging technology, we can afford to have vertical drawers. This is more like a micro-architecture in a way," explains Des Horts.
The basin's drain was located in a far corner of the sink and the water outlet's back-end fixtures were relocated near that behind-the-scenes area. As a result, the basin has a long rectangular shape, lending a greater versatility of functions beyond just washing and grooming rituals. The sink can be used to clean a baby or a pet, for example. When the water-related functions are no longer required, the hideaway faucet can be hidden from view.
Having researched many properties, including small residences in Hong Kong, Des Horts learned that some inhabitants had limited room in bathrooms. The placement of a toilet might make it difficult to pull drawers out, for example. The City Vanity addresses that dilemma by relocating the water outlet in a far corner, which results in more storage space in the bottom compartments. Additionally, users access the drawers from the side.
Meanwhile, GROHE also showcased its dazzling bath hardware, particularly its faucet technology. Crowd-pleasers were the 3D-printed ultra-slim metallic taps, part of the ICON 3D collection, of which GROHE produces only 300 each year.
Other displays included the GROHE Plus range, notably a high-performance faucet with clean and rounded lines and a distinctive flat and round-cornered surface top that allows for an abundance of features. The LED-enabled surface atop the faucet indicates the temperature of the water flowing through it, in real time. In addition, a sensor built into this system lets users govern the hardware's functions in a new way. To change the water flow level, for example, users wave a hand across the top of the faucet.