Baby Blue Tubs and Lemony Loos. Are Coloured Bathroom Fixtures Chic Again?
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Baby Blue Tubs and Lemony Loos. Are Coloured Bathroom Fixtures Chic Again?

The divisive trend has design pros in a lather. Here, they argue both sides.

By LAUREN JOSEPH
Thu, Mar 16, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 4 min

COLOURED TUBS and sinks are getting another shot. Design experts are revisiting the look, which originated in the 1920s. American waterworks brand Kohler recently revived two heritage colors they originally released in the ’20s and ’30s, and British manufacturers such as the Water Monopoly and the Bold Bathroom Company have found fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some designers, however, wincingly recall the avocado-hued tubs and sinks of the 1970s and hold that coloured fixtures are a trend that will date very quickly. For these naysayers, only white bath fixtures will do. Here, they debate the issue.

Yes, coloured fixtures give a bathroom a much-needed shot of style.

Many design pros applauded the news that come summer, Kohler’s bathroom fixtures—including toilets—will be available in two shades from its archive: Spring Green, an icy teal, and Peachblow, a mauvy pink. Fans of the chromatically diverse Rockwell collection from the Water Monopoly, meanwhile, appreciate the fixtures’ vaguely vintage eccentricity.

London interior designer Lizzie Green nestled a Powder blue Rockwell tub, one with a puffy upper rim and spheres for feet, against a wall of variegated green-blue tiles (above). “The playful design creates a center piece in a large bathroom,” she said. (In a similarly bold move, Ms. Green installed a blue art deco pedestal sink from British manufacturer the Bold Bathroom Company in a shower room clad in rose-pink tile.)

Elizabeth Metcalfe, of EM Design in Toronto, made a chalky green Rockwell tub the hero of a primary bath and a foil to some serious luxury. It sits amid walls of Breccia marble—a creamy stone veined in deep purple—and windows hung with pink cashmere drapery. The tub gives an otherwise conservative, grown-up room a “uniquely stylish” edge, she said.

The designers we surveyed agree that the trend’s biggest fans are older millennials who grew up in what Lauren Lothrop Caron terms the “beige 2000s.” The founder of Seattle’s Studio Laloc—a senior millennial herself—urges her contemporaries to be bold. For her own bathroom remodel, she’s eyeing Kohler’s Peachblow fixtures.

Noncommittal types might do best to choose one small colored fixture, says Jake Rodehuth-Harrison, founder of Los Angeles design firm Hubbahubba. Mr. Rodehuth-Harrison loves the “heavy dose of nostalgia” the pieces provide at a time when “the design world and algorithms are always looking forward and saying new, newer, newest.” He popped lilac ball feet onto another Water Monopoly Rockwell tub, this one white, in a Napa Valley, Calif., project. The result perches, most surprisingly, on muted green flooring he chose. If that’s too bold, “we can neutralize these fixtures by surrounding them with tiles in the same color,” he noted.

Another trick: Tiffany Duggan of London’s Studio Duggan suggests working with vintage fixtures that were born white. The designer recently updated an original iron tub with a wash of Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth. “If you change your mind, you can just paint over it.”

No, colored basins and bathtubs are too fatally trendy and impractical besides.

Doubters say hued baths will be a blip on the trend continuum. Unless you’re trying to preserve the aesthetic of a historic home, warned Liana Hawes Young, creative director of Wimberly Interiors in New York City, “colored fixtures will feel dated quickly, if not immediately.” And unlike trendily tinted shower curtains or wall paint that can be changed with little expense, this craze requires a spendy swap out, argued naysayers. Said Kristina Phillips, an interior designer in Ridgewood, N.J., “Clients looking for more long-term, classic design, along with keeping eventual resale in mind, might hesitate.”

Traditionalists say that if you really must, relegate such vivid choices to powder rooms and kids’ baths, spaces you don’t linger in. And well-intentioned salvage-scourers should be wary of mixing eras, said other concerned parties. “Vintage plumbing fixtures can date a space due to their scale,” explained Hattie Collins, founder of Hattie Sparks Interiors, in New Orleans. “Most times, coloured tubs and toilets are much smaller than present-day fixtures.” A safer bet, she suggests, is to focus on rescuing original floor and surround tile.

Powder blue is one thing, many say, but bright or hot-hued renditions of this trend read garish. “Neons and oranges could be a thorn in the room,” said Los Angeles designer Gilda Hariri. Even Ms. Metcalfe, who otherwise champions the trend, warned, “Avoid vibrant, aggressive tones, such as reds and oranges, that evoke a strong emotional response.”

Designers who actually can see a place for coloured fixtures couldn’t help but trivialise the trend as “retro” and “eclectic.” The rest of the room has to quietly suggest luxury, they suggest, to balance kookiness with class. Ms. Collins thinks wallpaper that has layered, expressive colours—the sort often offered by House of Hackney, Gracie or Cole and Son—could help coloured fixtures read higher end, as would lighting of reeded glass and high-quality metal finishes. “Lovely but expensive,” she added. Is the cost of a cheerful toilet really worth it?

The power of association doesn’t work well in the trend’s favor, either. A black bathroom, for instance, installed for a sense of refined moodiness, might evoke one from a 1980s basement nightclub, giving words like sterility and sanitary a new appeal. Austere white bathrooms, a holdover from the “hospital white’” tiled bathrooms of the early 1920s, are far more practical. Dark colours reveal water marks and chalky toothpaste smears. To Kristine Renee, co-founder of Sacramento, Calif., interiors firm Design Alchemy, “Nothing ever seems as clean as white.”

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.



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New York Watch Auctions Record Uptick in Sales in the Face of Market Slowdown
By LAURIE KAHLE
Mon, Jun 24, 2024 4 min

Luxury watch collectors showed ongoing strong demand for Patek Philippe, growing interest in modern watches and a preference for larger case sizes and leather straps at the June watch sales in New York, according to an analysis of the major auctions.

Independent and neo-vintage categories, meanwhile, experienced declines in total sales and average prices, said the report from  EveryWatch, a global online platform for watch information. Overall, the New York auctions achieved total sales of US$52.27 million, a 9.87% increase from the previous year, on the sale of 470 lots, reflecting a 37% increase in volume. Unsold rates ticked down a few points to 5.31%, according to the platform’s analysis.

EveryWatch gathered data from official auction results for sales held in New York from June 5 to 10 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. Limited to watch sales exclusively, each auction’s data was reviewed and compiled for several categories, including total lots, sales and sold rates, highest prices achieved, performance against estimates, sales trends in case materials and sizes as well as dial colors, and more. The resulting analysis provides a detailed overview of market trends and performance.

The Charles Frodsham Pocket watch sold at Phillips for $433,400.

“We still see a strong thirst for rare, interesting, and exceptional watches, modern and vintage alike, despite a little slow down in the market overall,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of the California-based pre-owned online watch dealer BobsWatches.com, in an email. “The results show that there is still a lot of money floating around out there in the economy looking for quality assets.”

Patek Philippe came out on top with more than US$17.68 million on the sale of 122 lots. It also claimed the top lot: Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime 6300G-010, still in the sealed factory packaging, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$5.4 million, much to the dismay of the brand’s president, Thierry Stern . The London-based industry news website WatchPro estimates the flip made the actor as much as US$2 million in just a few years.

At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire
Richard Mille

“As we have seen before and again in the recent Sotheby’s sale, provenance can really drive prices higher than market value with regards to the Sylvester Stallone Panerai watches and his standard Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1a offered,” Altieri says.

Patek Philippe claimed half of the top 10 lots, while Rolex and Richard Mille claimed two each, and Philippe Dufour claimed the No. 3 slot with a 1999 Duality, which sold at Phillips for about US$2.1 million.

“In-line with EveryWatch’s observation of the market’s strong preference for strap watches, the top lot of our auction was a Philippe Dufour Duality,” says Paul Boutros, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of watches, Americas, in an email. “The only known example with two dials and hand sets, and presented on a leather strap, it achieved a result of over US$2 million—well above its high estimate of US$1.6 million.”

In all, four watches surpassed the US$1 million mark, down from seven in 2023. At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire, the most expensive watch sold at Christie’s in New York. That sale also saw a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM52-01 CA-FQ Tourbillon Skull Model go for US$1.26 million to an online buyer.

Rolex expert Altieri was surprised one of the brand’s timepieces did not crack the US$1 million threshold but notes that a rare Rolex Daytona 6239 in yellow gold with a “Paul Newman John Player Special” dial came close at US$952,500 in the Phillips sale.

The Crown did rank second in terms of brand clout, achieving sales of US$8.95 million with 110 lots. However, both Patek Philippe and Rolex experienced a sales decline by 8.55% and 2.46%, respectively. The independent brand Richard Mille, with US$6.71 million in sales, marked a 912% increase from the previous year with 15 lots, up from 5 lots in 2023.

The results underscored recent reports of prices falling on the secondary market for specific coveted models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The summary points out that five top models produced high sales but with a fall in average prices.

The Rolex Daytona topped the list with 42 appearances, averaging US$132,053, a 41% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, with two of the top five watches, made 26 appearances with an average price of US$111,198, a 26% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar followed with 23 appearances and a US$231,877 average price, signifying a fall of 43%, and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had 22 appearances and an average price of US$105,673, a 10% decrease. The Rolex Day Date is the only watch in the top five that tracks an increase in average price, which at US$72,459 clocked a 92% increase over last year.

In terms of categories, modern watches (2005 and newer) led the market with US$30 million in total sales from 226 lots, representing a 53.54% increase in sales and a 3.78% increase in average sales price over 2023. Vintage watches (pre-1985) logged a modest 6.22% increase in total sales and an 89.89% increase in total lots to 169.

However, the average price was down across vintage, independent, and neo-vintage (1990-2005) watches. Independent brands saw sales fall 24.10% to US$8.47 million and average prices falling 42.17%, while neo-vintage watches experienced the largest decline in sales and lots, with total sales falling 44.7% to US$8.25 million, and average sales price falling 35.73% to US$111,000.

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