May 5, 2002
Don’t Leave Your Good Image At the (restroom) Door
By Richard Ennis and Alan HorwitzDramatic lighting. Vibrant color schemes. Curved surfaces. Architectural fixtures. These are the design elements most office building owners and managers like to feature in their lobbies and public spaces to make the best possible impression on current and prospective tenants.But consider this: Office building tenants spend more time in the washroom each day than they do in the lobby for an entire month.And while lobby and public space renovation work typically carries a high-ticket price tag, renovating the restroom to create a better image can often be accomplished within a relatively small budget.The Tale of Two RestroomsHillier, the nation’s fourth largest architectural firm, recently partnered with Kimberly-Clark Professional to prove a point: that a few simple upgrades to an office building’s washroom can make a night-and-day difference in its image and create consistency between a building’s public spaces and its tenant spaces.Figure 1 shows a typical office building restroom. Bland colors, harsh fluorescent lighting, and standard fixtures make the space appear utilitarian at best and uninviting at worst. Completely gutting and rebuilding the space would be fiscally prohibitive, so Hillier looked to limit the number of trades involved and keep many of the structural walls and hard fixtures in place.According to designer Felix Heidgen, the new restroom design (see Figure 2) needed to focus on holistically integrating several key elements:• Color and lighting. The orange color scheme adds vibrancy and a feeling of home-like comfort while complementing the soft green colors found in the flooring and partitions. The orange color scheme also is carried through on the toilet paper and towel dispensers, which feature “deco strips” that can be customized to match virtually any décor.Recessed, down-lighting creates additional drama and highlights various design elements in the space. Incandescent lamps also let restroom visitors see truer skin tones in the mirror. Changing paint color is one of the least expensive and quickest ways to change the look of a restroom, and the electrical work required to change the lighting scheme is relatively inexpensive.• Surface treatments and partitions. Why be ordinary when the unexpected can create so much visual interest? The angled wall separating the toilet stall area from the washbasin area incorporates the existing wall structure – another cost-control strategy. The curved toilet partitions are modern, sleek, and complement the curved surfaces of the towel and toilet paper dispensers. The toilet stall doors add a touch of whimsy to the space. While they appear to be see-through when open, they become opaque when closed – the result of electronic sensors that activate when the door is in a closed position. Finally, the choice of flooring tile – while not a low-budget item – is unique and consistent with the high-quality images.• Restroom accessories as architectural elements. Toilet tissue, paper towel, and hand soap dispensers are often considered as afterthoughts to the overall design of the restroom. In this case, however, the sleek, curved surfaces of these accessories were treated as architectural elements – as part of the “visual vocabulary” for the space.As with some of the other changes made in this restroom renovation, upgrading dispensers is a low-cost option that can greatly improve the restroom’s appearance. The sleek and modern look of the selected SaniTouch® Convert-A-Matic® dispenser better matched the other improvements. As a bonus, its dispensing system helps keep the restroom looking more neat and sanitary while reducing maintenance time.Making the best impression possible on tenants is the name of the game in property management. A few simple, low-cost upgrades to your building’s restrooms can send a positive message to both current and prospective tenants.Richard Ennis is category director at Roswell, GA-based Kimberly-Clark Professional (www.kimberly-clark.com), and Alan Horwitz, AIA is associate in the Newark office of Hillier (www.hillier.com), headquartered in Princeton, NJ.

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