Sinkscaping is a sign of the times
Charlie Burton - Senior Commissioning Editor at GQ
Senior Commissioning Editor. Follow him on Twitter @charlie_burton and Instagram @charlieburtongq
Bathrooms are perpetually trying to shift your attention to something other than their true purpose. After all, in America, even the word “bathroom” has become a piece of legerdemain, used to describe rooms that more often than not don’t even contain a bath. See also: restroom (when did you last go there to lie down?) or little boy’s room (your guess is as good as ours).
In fact, the whole engineering system that underpins the bathroom is about transcending thereality of its use – “flush and forget” as Barbara Penner puts it in her magnificent study Bathroom – and its interior design is complicit in that effort. The archetypal modern bathroom has developed a kind of anti-interior: it has tried to make itself disappear. The keyfixtures have been reduced to blank abstractions – porcelain platonic forms with such little embellishment that you would struggle to call them by their proper name of “furniture”. This is minimalism at its most ruthless.
That’s why the recent buzz around “sinkscaping” – tablescaping for your bathroom – is something of a curiosity.
A quick review for anyone who has been living under a rock. Tablescaping is the recent craze among industrious dinner party hosts and fashion brands for transforming the humble table into a work of art. It is an exercise in theatricality – working up a grand creation using carefully curated linen, candlesticks, crockery and various artfully scattered objets to punctuate the whole affair. It might be elaborate – a safari theme played out via a terrifically expensive tablecloth, Buccellati silver, Murano glassware and Hermès plates – or something more affordable based around colour and sourced from thrift stores. Either way, the idea is to wow. And probably to entice people to take pictures.
Now, imagine taking that same sense of high drama to the area around your bathroom mirror. A blingy gold tap, perhaps, a high-concept basin, a bold-hued countertop – all decorated with a careful arrangement of stylish cologne bottles, vessels of lotions and tasteful flowers. Voilà, a sinkscape.
This maximalist approach might be at odds with the prevailing trend towards more sterile bathroom design, but it is underpinned by the same motivation: distraction. A sinkscape diverts the mind towards beauty and away from the cold hard rationale behind sinks, toilets and baths, which is to take away waste. This strategy does, of course, have a pedigree.
Take a look back at the bathrooms of yesteryear. After the world wars, the thriving middle classes began to demand bathrooms like the ones they had seen in magazines, with all available mod cons and luxuries. The design schemes of these rooms were all about indulgence and sensuality. Think about the jacuzzi bathtub trend of the Sixties, or those green and orange colour schemes of the Seventies – often with carpets and floral tiles to match.
So why is that impulse making itself felt again today? The easy answer is social media.
Image sharing platforms have valourised big, bright and extravagant interior design and this is now finding its way into less traditionally Instagrammable parts of the home. Those same platforms have also legitimised the idea of showing off what would once have been private spaces.
But it would not be a leap to suggest there’s also something more fundamental at work. We live in gloomy times – Brexit, Trump, Iran, Russia – and have a greater sense than ever of the more depressing end of the news cycle thanks to 24-hour broadcasts, Twitter and rolling notifications on our phones.
Is it any wonder that we hunger for a little whimsy?