Interview with Antonio Linares
- Mr Linares, as Senior Managing Director, you’ve been navigating the course for Laufen since 1 November 2019. Prior to this appointment, you served for many years as Managing Director for Laufen in Russia. In your opinion, what makes the brand strong? And what makes it special? Has your new role changed your perspective on Laufen?
Antonio Linares: Laufen is a global leader in the premium design segment for bathrooms, and business has developed very positively over the last two decades. The most outstanding feature of the brand is its unique Swiss perspective on bathrooms. The bathroom culture in Switzerland is highly developed; shower toilets were invented here, for example. And the Swiss have genuine insights into design and function; Switzerland is the crossroads where the Italian and North European schools of design meet. The resulting philosophy focuses on clarity and simplicity – characteristics that are reflected in our complete bathroom solutions.
Everything from Laufen, from the ceramic fixtures and faucets to the bathtubs, furniture, mirrors, accessories, and even the installation systems and hidden features, is innovative, heart-warming and radiates a unique aesthetic appeal. It’s also optimised for daily use and manufactured to highest Swiss quality standards. But above all, our success is due to our highly motivated employees. They have an incredible amount of industrial expertise and are wholly dedicated to serving our customers. This is something I noticed in my previous role, and have seen again here in my new position in Switzerland.
- Given the current global situation, how do you think the market will develop?
AL: The last few years were marked by the aftermath of the financial crisis. Now it’s the corona crisis, which I’m sure will impact us for some time to come. But on the other hand, troubled times encourage lots of people to invest in their own home, which they see as a shelter against the dangers of the outside world. And bathrooms are a key component here, because a bathroom is like a cocoon – an intimate retreat that is not only associated with health and hygiene, but also with peace and harmony, relaxation and a sense of well-being. At the same time, money spent on a bathroom is a crisis-proof investment that increases the long-term value of a property if you’re planning to sell or rent.
Another aspect which gives me confidence for the future is the steady increase in demand for accessible bathrooms for the ageing societies of the industrial world. Important aspect to consider here is that people not only want their bathrooms to be functional, but also aesthetically pleasing. From level-access showers to raised height toilets or wheelchair-accessible washbasins, special faucets and shower toilets, Laufen offers a wide range of solutions for appealing bathrooms that cater to multi-generational family life as well as to the needs of the elderly.
- Laufen is not only active in the established markets of German-speaking countries (DACH countries), but has also penetrated very dynamic, developing markets. What can these markets learn from each other? What potential do you see? And in which direction is Laufen developing?
AL: Dynamic markets give Laufen the chance to try out new approaches that might not be possible on established markets – by trying out innovative products that cater to specific special needs, for example, or new sales and marketing strategies. Here we have more freedom to experiment. And if a concept seems promising, we can then use it as a blueprint for the traditional markets. In the opposite direction, our quality standards on the traditional markets in Switzerland, Germany and Austria set benchmarks for the rest of the world. The DACH countries are where we develop many of our highly sophisticated solutions which are tried and tested millions of times in daily use. Naturally, these can be transferred to other markets.
Bathroom cultures differ from country to country, not only in terms of specifications, but also in terms of customary usage and plumbing. So where necessary, we tailor our products and solutions to the respective market. For example, we might include special water-saving features, or cater to typical national styles, or tailor our designs to local customs, as we did with save!, our toilet that separates urine from other waste. This was developed not only as a traditional toilet, but also as a squat toilet version.
Although Laufen has a diverse portfolio, it has retained lean and efficient structures with intercultural and interdisciplinary teams. This gives us the speed and agility of a speedboat – we can respond flexibly to different market situations and fluctuating demand more easily than a cumbersome tanker.
- For decades, sanitary ceramics were the uncontested king of the bathroom. But now the trend is shifting to a mix of materials. Laufen has traditionally focused on ceramics. What’s so special about this material? What other options does Laufen have alongside ceramics? And what potential do these materials have?
AL: Sanitary ceramics are still the uncontested king of the bathroom; no other material offers so many advantages in this area. For example, it enables us to handle drinking water in a totally hygienic manner. This is a matter of trust – our dinner plates are made of ceramics as well, and with good reason! Then again, there’s the sustainability aspect of the raw materials involved. Sanitary ceramics are made from clay, kaolin, feldspar and quartz, so once they finished their long service life, they can be wholly recycled.
With regard to shaping and forming ceramic materials, we’ve entered a whole new dimension of design with our SaphirKeramik. This allows us to create new washbasin designs that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago. And on an industrial and affordable scale, of course! Nor have we yet explored the full depths of its potential.
In addition to expertise in the field of ceramic materials, Laufen’s portfolio includes a wide range of products for complete bathroom solutions. We’ve been manufacturing faucets for a long time. In recent years, this area has developed in leaps and bounds; new surfaces, colours and finishes are establishing themselves on the market. The growth curve for bathroom furniture is also impressive, and Laufen has an extensive portfolio of products in this area too. The same applies to shower toilets, where our ‘Swiss Made’ products have raised the global benchmarks for design and quality.
The Laufen portfolio also includes products made of materials such as Sentec and Marbond. These enable us to manufacture small batches that cater to the individual wishes and requirements of architects and bathroom designers. Alongside manufacturing high-quality products, one of Laufen’s core strengths is innovation. So in the future, we’ll continue to come up with revolutionary new ideas for bathrooms and more – that’s a promise!
- Increasingly, sales channels and target groups have higher expectations. How does Laufen respond to this challenge?
AL: Laufen’s portfolio includes different solutions for each sales channel, each target group, each type of usage and all levels of expectations. For example, we offer complete bathroom solutions for people who want to plan and design an entire bathroom quickly and simply. Complete bathrooms are a safe option in terms of design, because all the ceramic fixtures, bathtubs, furniture, mirrors, faucets and accessories belong to the same design family, created by renowned designers such as Marcel Wanders, Konstantin Grcic, Patricia Urquiola, Kartell, Alessi and Toan Nguyen. These are integrated solutions that are easy to plan and can be coordinated in a functional manner to ensure optimal usage of bathroom space.
Interior designers and architects who prefer mixing and matching can use our building block system to combine products from different product families. Not all of our products are icons, and with good reason. A wall-mounted toilet like Laufen’s ‘Kartell’ model, for example, is very popular with architects because of its clear and minimalistic design, which allows it to be integrated into a wide range of bathroom environments.
- Alongside standard products, Laufen also offers products which are bespoke to a lesser or greater degree. Could you explain this approach?
AL: ‘Bespoke’ products are ones that are tailored to individual planning requirements. In such cases, Laufen works hand in hand with the architects or planners to develop an autonomous design for a certain product or group of products. As mentioned above, we use Marbond or Sentec as well as porcelain to create bespoke solutions for furniture or faucets.
We’ve worked with renowned architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, and with creative designers such as Marcel Wanders, with whom we created bespoke bathrooms in the Mondrian Hotel in Doha, Qatar. This area holds much potential for the future, because major property developers and hotel chains are increasingly looking for customised options so that their unique brand identity is reflected everywhere, even in the bathrooms.
- Traditionally, Laufen has always been involved in joint ventures. How does the company benefit from collaborating in this way?
AL: Each of Laufen’s collections has its own unique signature. This is coloured by the special Swiss understanding of design. Each of the architects and designers with whom we work interprets this understanding into their own design language and enhances it with their own statement. This benefits all the parties involved – not least the consumer. Design is not an end in itself; it has to respect and upgrade the environment in which it is placed, so it should never be too egoistic, audacious or self-confident.
The size of a bathroom is a limiting factor, for example. It is restricted, in general, and the average size of bathrooms is – if at all – increasing only slightly. So, it’s all about using the available space as well as possible. The division of space and the proportions have to be balanced, and the latest trend dictates that they should also be as individual as possible. Our partners from architecture and design are an important source of inspiration thanks to their experience in all areas of home design and real-life projects.
Our task here at Laufen is to channel these ideas and this inspiration into everyday bathroom products. SaphirKeramik is an extremely important material in this context. It enables us to work on improving the proportions of the bathroom, which is of particular benefit where space is limited. It’s also enabled us to develop a new generation of washbasins which open up a whole new world of possibilities in bathroom planning.
- As a Swiss company, Laufen has always had a very special relationship with innovation and sustainability. Both of these have become buzzwords in recent years. How does Laufen handle these aspects?
AL: Bathrooms play a key role in environmental protection. Drinking water is one of the most valuable resources on our planet, and in a home environment, bathrooms are the place where most drinking water is used. As a result, innovations that help to save water and energy or that benefit the sewer system are immensely important.
Laufen addresses these issues in a wide variety of ways, from water-saving toilets, urinals and faucets to recyclable materials and LCC, a dirt-repellent finish that helps people cut down on cleaning agents. Our save! toilet that separates urine from other waste was developed together with EOOS, an Austrian design studio funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In addition, Switzerland sets high standards in the field of sustainability. These are reflected not only in our products, but also in our production processes. As a matter of course, we handle resources in a responsible manner and recycle waste from production processes. Our high ecological standards are reflected in the fact that all ceramic products manufactured in our Central European factories come with an EPD and are certified to ISO14025, EN15804 and EN16578 standards.