In the sartorial universe, the terms bespoke, made-to-measure, custom-designed, artisanal and handcrafted are often bandied about. In the world of sanitaryware, those terms are used with much less frequency. German marque Axor Manufaktur, however, breaks with this mould. Since 2002, Axor has been customising taps, shower heads and other bathroom accessories for private clients. More recently, the specialist production facility broadened its reach to include projects such as hotels and restaurants.
A customised faucet or mixer might not seem like the most essential requirement in a design scheme. But when you consider the infinite aesthetic possibilities that can be achieved with state-of-the-art technology and hand-finishing, then suddenly the potential seems limitless. To an architect or interior designer, this opens up an entire cosmos of options. “We support architects and interior designers in their efforts to create luxury bathrooms for their customers," says Philippe Grohe, Axor’s vice-president of design management.
Among Grohe’s clients are luminaries such as Dutch interior architect Piet Boon and Spanish design superstar Patricia Urquiola. The former specified a brushed black chrome finish for the kitchen and electronic mixers when he designed uber-hip dining venue The Jane in Antwerp. The elegant, sombre surfaces were a perfect match for the purist ambience of the converted chapel.
Meanwhile, Urquiola chose brushed gold-optic for the bathroom taps of the redesigned Spa at The Four Seasons Milan, the subtle lustre of the finish marrying well with the calming, quasi-monastic atmosphere of the wellness centre.
Gold-optic finishes, in fact, account for the bulk of the special surface finish requests. Bicolour finishes, where a touch of gold augments the tap’s chrome finish, are also very popular. Axor offers a standard range of 15 finishes; additional colours are possible and are coordinated directly with customers.
The eight-member team based in Schiltach, Germany, is also capable of applying special lettering, logos or coats of arms using lasers. “Our mission is to assist our customers in transforming their bathroom vision into reality," says Lothar Schoch, head of Axor. A recent project for a luxury hotel client in China saw the team adorn the taps with Swarovski crystals.
And if Axor’s regular production is marked by rigour and precision, custom orders are treated with an even higher level of attention to detail. Each piece is hand-bevelled and hand-polished before being scrutinised for flaws. Sounds easy enough, but not when you consider how the brushed surfaces have to achieve a consistent, uniform finish despite being worked by hand.
This artisanal approach is balanced by high-tech processes such as Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) technology, where objects are placed in chambers and noble gases are ignited within the chambers to produce a vapour that coats the objects with a custom finish. The resulting surfaces are highly resistant against scratches, cleaning agents and harsh environments.
“A fabulous resort in the Pacific asked for taps from the Axor Starck collection with extended spouts and different handles. We also applied a nickel-coloured PVD coating to the surfaces – not just for aesthetic, but also for practical reasons: the salt in the sea air on the island would attack galvanised chrome surfaces over time," Schoch says.
On a more technical level, the team’s expertise means that they are fully capable of, say, machining a tap to the required length. This may sound simple, but as Schoch explains, “Someone with a trained eye needs to determine whether it is possible to increase the length of a tap, because the design and the underlying geometry may impose certain limitations. Provided it is technically feasible, the process of increasing the length of a mixer requires many hours of labour and the right tools for the precise fusion of two main bodies."