VitrA's design director Erdem Akan is responsible for developing one of the world's leading portfolios of bathroom products – Amelia Thorpe talks to the man behind the brand's distinctive aesthetic and modern identity.
There can be little doubt that Erdem Akan has done much to shake up VitrA’s product portfolio since he joined the brand as design director eight years ago. He has introduced original collections produced with leading lights Arik Levy, Claudio Bellini and Terri Pecora – and most recently, Liquid, an attention-grabbing and award-winning complete bathroom range by British design supremo, Tom Dixon. "When I arrived, I realised that the portfolio was a little bit dusty," he says. "It was a big collection with nice products and competitive prices, but I was super aware that it couldn’t stay like that for the next 10 years."
Leading bathroom manufacturer VitrA is part of one of Turkey’s most prominent industrial groups, Eczacibaşi, with 12 production facilities in Turkey, Germany, France and Russia. Based in Istanbul, Akan set about re-engineering the portfolio to create a distinct VitrA identity. "Just as we think about how we can combine the clothes in our wardrobe, I began to develop this kind of approach for our products – how we can mix and match them together so that the combination potential is 10 times greater," he explains. Each time he was asked to introduce new designs, he would apply what he calls his "hidden agenda", considering how every new product could be successfully combined with existing collections.
"At the beginning, it was difficult – I felt as if I was steering a big ship, turning the wheel with all my power, but the landscape wasn’t changing," he continues. "But finally, about four years later, I realised that the landscape was starting to alter – and that has continued to give me motivation."
The portfolio is split into its mid-level Bathroom collection and its mid-high Designer collection. "I try to focus on our customers and end users and how we can make a system that allows architects to cherry pick from our collections to create their own atmosphere in their designs – through to a customer who might only buy a bathroom once in every eight or 10 years, has zero knowledge and wants to be inspired by a complete set," explains Akan.
The VitrA identity is clearly modern ("even if we are making a classic washbasin, it will have a modern touch," he says), with a look that Akan describes as sitting between rational and natural. "Our products have to work and function very well, and, on the other hand, by their details, colours and so on bring a natural atmosphere to the bathroom, because nature is a big inspiration for us," he says. He cites the basin from Claudio Bellini’s Equal range as an example. "The outside is a geometric shape, but inside, where the liquid flows, is softer and organic."
Most recently, VitrA has launched Root, a range of bathroom furniture with flat, grooved and modern-Shaker fronts, available in a wide choice of sizes, colour and wood unit combinations and handle styles, together with Root Round and Root Square brassware (in five colours) and three basins. "Your choice of options allows you to customise your bathroom with minimal effort," he says.
Akan says we can expect a new washbasin line – in different projections and sizes – plus a plywood bathroom furniture collection, both launching at ISH 2023. He also suggests that the trend towards natural influences in bathroom design, from plants to a nature-inspired colour palette – will continue, as will the move towards touchless products. "We are constantly refining our range and giving more options and combinations," he says.