Victoria and Albert, manufacturers of extremely desirable baths, were one of the sponsors of the recent Modenus BlogTour during London Design Festival. Bob Borson of Bernbaum-Magadini Architects, and author of the much celebrated and highly entertaining blog, ‘Life of an Architect’ , was one of the participants of the aforementioned adventure. So when we discovered that Bob is a fan of Victoria and Albert, having specified it for more than one of his recent projects, we thought it made sense to ask him about it.
The project in question is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because of what it reveals about Bob’s approach.
It all started when a client wanted a space for a grill, a bathroom with a shower and a seating area. And as the client started talking to Bob they found someone who was receptive to their ideas and encouraging their questions and visions.
Slowly the project developed. Bob tells how the client still jokes about sitting out in their back yard with a couple of glasses of wine before sending off a ‘what if…’ email.
It was only when the cabana was framed and decked, and the roofer was already on site, that the clients decided to add a bedroom. And because of the strict local planning laws there was nowhere to put it except on top. The metal spiral staircase which is such a strong visual feature of the design was formed by pragmatism. There wasn’t really anywhere else to put it and Bob tells how, as it would be so visible, he wanted to make it a feature.
“They were great clients because they were happy to ask ’what if”, Bob says, “they were interested in exploring possibilities, wanting to make things better.” Talking to Bob you feel you are as much in the presence of a skilled therapist, a communicator who encourages and enables his clients to express what they really want. “They worried about making my job hard – but that is my job – that’s why they hired me. If they don’t know the end game, part of my job is to figure it out.” Bob is more than happy to explain the ingredients that make his practice different. “Communication skills are probably most important – and making a connection. People may show us a picture of a room they like but that’s no real help. Our job is to work with them, to work out exactly what they like about that room. What makes us different is the process is enjoyable because people know it is for them.”
The Napoli tub from Victoria and Albert also found its way into the bedroom because by the time the clients decided they wanted one, there wasn’t really anywhere else to put it. The clients, who had traveled, had come across tubs in bedrooms before and liked them. But that was far from the end of the story. There was, for example the not inconsiderable task of sliding three more floor trusses into the already sheathed building to carry the weight of the tub, water and, no doubt, the content person within.
And, of course, the aesthetics had to be right. As Bob says “A tub in a bedroom has to do a lot more than hold hot water. We knew Victoria and Albert make beautiful tubs with very clean lines that are intended to be looked at. We settled on the Napoli almost immediately.” At this point Bob’s enthusiasm betrays an attention to detail, especially in how things feel and work, as well as their appearance. “The Napoli allows you to sit with your head at either end, but it isn’t the same either side. So if you sit at one end you slide down more, at the other end you are more upright. “
I ask Bob if he takes his clients to see a tub before it is included in a project. “Not normally”, he says, “but these aren’t normal tubs. Victoria and Albert products look good from all sides and I know if I can get them in front of that tub in person they will get it, especially if they have a chance to climb into one. ”
The Napoli passed the ‘climbing in and out’ test and was duly installed. Bob’s choice of Victoria and Albert is in accord with his philosophy. “Our work comes from people talking to happy clients.” He says. “I need to touch things, to know how they feel and know that they work as promised”.
Photos, except Napoli Bath (above) by Charles Davis Smith