Getting down to details: Owners design their mark on new homes

As construction projects are completed, the interiors industry is taking off, bringing a range of up-to-the-minute design solutions to the region. Zoe Naylor takes a look through the mirror in the bathroom of the booming sanitary ware sector.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  January 14, 2006

advances in bathroom and sanitary ware solutions are revolutionising interior designs across the middle east|~|104prod200.gif|~|Cutting edge bathroom designs are helping local home-owners to add their stamp of originality on typically homogenous property developments.|~|Dubai’s surge in residential and hotel construction has provided rich pickings for bathroom and sanitary ware firms. Once viewed in terms of functionality and utility, bathrooms are undergoing somewhat of a revamp, with designers incorporating the latest materials and technology. And in a region characterised by high disposable incomes, top-of-the-range bathroom and sanitary ware manufacturers are finding a ready market for their products. “In terms of who we supply to, high net worth individuals are a significant target for us in the region,” says Jennifer Reid, regional marketing manager, Jacuzzi Middle East. While Jacuzzi has had a presence in the Middle East for about 20 years through distributor agreements, it was just over a year ago that the company decided to set up a dedicated regional office in Dubai. According to Reid, another factor that is helping to drive demand for Jacuzzi products in the region is the refurbishment market: “This is beginning to appear already —we had expected it to be three years before we started seeing this, but the people who have been buying properties in the last year or so are already starting to look at personalising their bathrooms. “A lot of the villas here are very homogenous and once people own a property, they want to put their stamp on it. So once they’ve done the decorating, they then turn their attention to kitchens and bathrooms,” she says. In terms of which bathroom products are in demand, Reid says their whirlpool systems are selling very well in the Middle East, as is the newly launched Aura Plus product — a double whirlpool bath with a wooden surround. “We tend to do well with larger baths in this part of the world, probably because people here have larger bathrooms than they do in places such as Europe,” she explains. With so much competition in the marketplace, Reid says it’s vital that products are not only functional but aesthetic: “If you look at the design and shape of our baths, some of our best-selling products were designed 20 years ago but they’re still cutting edge in term of design.” This year looks set to be a busy one for Jacuzzi, with the company recently receiving a major order for sanitary ware for the signature villas on the Palm Jumeirah. The start of 2006 in particular looks like being a frenetic period: “January is our major product launch time for sanitary ware — about 100 new products will be launched,” says Reid. This includes products from Morphosis, a top-of-the-range whirlpool bath designed for Jacuzzi by Pininfarina (the designer of Ferrari and Maserati). “We’re now launching the matching Morphosis sanitary ware which means we’ll be offering a total Morphosis bathroom concept.” The demand for bathroom ceramics continues to go from strength to strength, so much so that one of the region’s leading producers is increasing production capacity yet again to keep up with the local (and export) market. Based in Ras Al Khaimah, RAK Ceramics is one of the world’s largest tile and sanitary ware manufacturers. The company’s daily production of sanitary ware is around 7000 pieces. Last year it opened its ninth factory in the emirate adding 35 000m2 daily production capacity of ceramic tiles to its output, making it the world’s largest single ceramic products plant. Not satisfied with this level of expansion, RAK Ceramics’ tenth plant is now edging towards completion. “Our latest plant is under construction,” says Christopher Sunil, senior sales manager, RAK Ceramics. “It will start production of porcelain tiles early this year, increasing our daily capacity by a further 35 000m2.” According to Sunil, Dubai accounts for around 80% of the company’s market. “Current projects we’re supplying to include the Arabian Ranches, the Burj Dubai, the buildings coming up beside it, and the towers being built by Nasa Multiplex for Emaar. “Jumeirah Beach Residence is also another big project for us,” he adds. “All the towers there are using solely RAK Ceramics’ tiles and sanitary ware.” But Sunil says that not only is there is a huge demand in the regional market for their ceramics products, the export market is also looking healthy: “We are exporting our products to 145 countries — our biggest markets are the US and the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Germany.” RAK Ceramics is now turning its attention to promoting its porcelain range: “This is a new product item for us and we’re in the process of developing new models and technology,” adds Sunil. In recognition of its contribution to the economic development in the UAE, RAK Ceramics was awarded the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Award (MRM Business Award) for Industry at the end of 2005. “The award is a big achievement as far as the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah is concerned,” comments Sunil. “We’re a local company and we’re competing in a world market. It’s a real achievement for us and has placed us at the top of the line.” Another company making in roads into the region’s bathroom sector is Stone Concepts. According to managing partner, Annie Hayes, the Dubai-based firm is finding a welcome home for its stonewall panel system. Sourced from four different quarries just outside Beijing in China, the product comes in panels measuring 600 mm by 150 mm and is versatile enough to be used in outdoor landscaping and around swimming pools — as well as for lining shower recesses in bathrooms. “This product has been used in Australia for about 18 months; we’ve just brought it over to Dubai and we’re finding it’s very popular because there’s no maintenance.” Turkish ceramics firms continue to make a push into the GCC bathroom market, with companies such as Altin Çini supplying a variety of projects including Omani royal palaces. The Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque — currently in the finishing stages in Abu Dhabi — is another such project that will feature Turkish ceramics: Iznik tiles from Turkey will be used in the ablution areas. German technology continues to make its presence felt in the GCC — this time in the form of a toilet seat featuring an integrated extraction mechanism that eliminates unwanted odours. On display at The Big 5 show in November last year, the Aspidor toilet seat and cover from building materials company Ten Stars removes odours from the toilet at the source. “Once somebody sits on the toilet seat, a fan will extract the odour into a filter device,” explains Jamal Abu Qiyas, managing director, Ten Stars. “Following the filtration process, new clean air is blown into the room, ensuring no odours are spread into the surroundings of the bathroom,” he adds. The exponential growth of the region’s residential and commercial construction market has prompted a rise in demand for bathroom products and materials such as porcelain sanitary ware, whirlpool baths and ceramic tiles. While local manufacturers and suppliers may be increasing their production capacity to keep up with the demand, they are facing growing competition from overseas markets intent on getting a slice of the bathroom action.||**||

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