The Great Toilet Rebrand

The Great Toilet Rebrand

After decades of being treated like something that’s better left unnoticed, designers are making toilets fun again.

In Perfect Days, the latest film from German director Wim Wenders, we follow a man named Hiroyama (played by Koji Yakusho) as he cleans the toilets of the Tokyo Toilet Project. The toilets in question are housed in structures designed by architectural giants like Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma, and are arguably far and beyond even the nicest public toilet you’d find in the United States or elsewhere. The project launched in 2020, and was supposed to get its shine during the 2020 Summer Olympics, but the pandemic dashed those plans, so Koji Yanai, the retail executive who spearheaded the Tokyo Toilet Project, reached out to various directors he admired to see if anyone would be interested in working together to bring international awareness to the project. According to the New York Times, Wenders, a longtime "admirer" of Japan, took the bait. Perfect Days is nominated for a 2024 Academy Award and has received mostly rave reviews, though some critics are quick to point out that what Wenders is actually doing is fetishizing the blue-collar worker and, also, Japan. Regardless, the real star of the movie (besides Yakusho) are the toilets themselves.

While Wenders’ intention was likely to get people to think about stillness, slowing down, and the ineffable beauty of the mundane, what’s really interesting about the film is the reverence given to the humble toilet itself. Public restrooms are generally not spaces where you want to spend a lot of time, though there have been some attempts at least in the United States to improve their condition. Bryant Park’s restroom famously got a facelift in 2017, undergoing a privately-funded $300,000 renovation; there are now fresh flowers on the counters, classical music on the speakers, and bathroom attendants, making for an altogether pleasant public bathroom experience. (This is an anomaly and is absolutely not the norm—were you to visit one of the public restrooms in any subway station in New York, I think your experience would be slightly different.) Arguably, if public bathrooms were cleaner and less apocalyptic, one imagines that people would actually use them, and not places they shouldn’t! While it’ll probably be a while before the rest of the world catches up to the level of cleanliness, service, and hospitality provided by a public bathroom in, say, a train station in Taipei (very clean, serviceable, and will not leave you wanting a Silkwood shower when you’re done), any attention paid at all to the plight of the toilet, aesthetically and functionally, is positive news. 

Fascinatingly, though it will likely be a long time before the public toilet situation improves in any demonstrable way, the options for toilet innovations in your home have become wide-ranging and, frankly, strangely exciting. Traditionally, toilets are white porcelain eyesores and a part of the bathroom that many designers hide—toilet closets, literally a small room in the bathroom itself where the toilet lives, and a staple of HGTV renovations and real-life renovations alike, exist because no one wants to look at or think about a toilet and what happens in it. But not every renovation or existing home has the space to hide the toilet, and, in the words of a famous children’s book, everyone poops. If you make the toilet a focal point by having a little fun with it, options abound.

In 2023, Kohler reintroduced colors from their archives in honor of their 150th anniversary, offering tubs, sinks, and toilets in Peachblow and Spring Green—two muted pastels of the sort you’d find a bathroom replete with colored vintage tile. For 2024, they rooted around in the archives and reissued three greens; Aspen Green, an on-trend, soft sage; Teal, a dark and moody blackened green; and Fresh Green, an almost-avocado hue that suggests the eternal optimism of spring. A dark teal toilet functions as a neutral more so than white porcelain ever could, especially if plunked in the middle of a moody and vaguely aquatic guest bathroom, wallpapered and tiled in colors suggestive of the deep sea. Call it quiet maximalism, or just a sense of playfulness that suggests personality.

Kohler San Souci
The San Souci one-piece toilet offers a sleek, contemporary design with a convenient chair-like height and elongated bowl for comfortable use. This toilet features innovative AquaPiston technology, a patented flush engine that delivers a fast, powerful, and virtually plug-free flush.

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram and have let your algorithm do its worst, you may have seen Bailey Hikawa’s 3-D phone cases. She’s recently turned towards toilets—resin seats embedded with things like hair and Y2K-era cell phones. And if overhauling your entire bathroom to support the aesthetics of a dark-colored toilet is a bit out of your comfort zone, then consider the idea of a minimalist bathroom with a maximalist toilet seat—an easy way to lean into the absurdity of the object itself. Hikawa’s recent forays would feel at home in an industrial bathroom in a cafe serving adaptogen-infused lattes; there’s a nasty and subversive quality to her creations that begs the user (you, trying to pee) to linger. 

Bailey Hikawa Your Hair is Everywhere Toilet Seat
Each toilet seat is slightly different from the others as these are handmade to order. Hair is synthetic.
Bailey Hikawa 2G Trash Phones Toilet Seat
2G & 3G Old Trash Phones embedded in a custom toilet seat. Handmade to order in our Los Angeles studio.

Perhaps this is a sign that we’re moving away from the staid in the bathroom and toward an aesthetic that’s a little more playful and, dare I say, practical—it’s never fun to clean a bathroom, but it feels particularly impractical that the toilet is generally white porcelain and not any other color, texture, or finish under the sun. Your home reflects your personality in so many other ways, so— these brands seem to be saying—your bathroom should too.

Japanese toilet brands like Toto are infamously luxurious in that they provide the user with a real spa experience from the comfort of their own home. And while they’re largely nice to look at, there’s a spartan, sterile feel to them that communicates function rather than fun. You might think that toilet innovations haven’t progressed beyond what Toto’s top-end products offer, but some brands as of late have options that actually marry form and function. 

French bathroom brand Trone offers just three products: two wall-mounted toilets and an accompanying wall-mounted plate that controls the flush. Callipyge, released in 2021, bears a passing resemblance to the Guggenheim, and is elegant enough to function as the centerpiece of the bathroom. Though it lacks the bidet functions that Toto and other upscale toilets possess, the bowl is rimless—when you flush a traditional toilet, the water gushes down from under the lip of the toilet bowl, but in a rimless model, the water flushes horizontally, along the sides, which makes cleaning an easier operation.

Trone Callipyge
Innovative curves, an asymmetric form, a palette of strong colors, Franco-italian production, a wall-hung toilet, simple to install. That's a lot of pros for a WC.

Kohler’s taken this on as well, like with its Numi 2.0, which bears a passing resemblance to a nice garbage can and comes kitted out with all the expectant bells and whistles: LED lights, warm air blasted on your nethers, temperature-controlled water in a bidet function that cleans your back and your front, an automatic lid, and, crucially (I suppose), integration with Alexa. 

Kohler Numi 2.0
The Numi 2.0 smart toilet combines unmatched design and technology to bring you the finest in personal comfort and cleansing.

Then there are the brands merging sleek and stylish. Agape Design, an Italian sanitaryware brand, gives toilets and sinks the same careful consideration one might give a kitchen or a primary suite, featuring work from designers like Studiopepe, Angelo Mangioratti, and Patricia Uriquola, whose Shimmer Table for Glas Italia, created in 2015, has now been knocked off enough to feel ubiquitous. Pears 2, the toilet she designed for Agape in 2019, looks enough like a traditional toilet, minimizing any confusion in the restroom, but stands out thanks to its clean lines and unexpected color.

Agape Design Pears 2
The Pear 2 rimless sanitary ware takes up the design of the Pear collection, but interprets it with a slimmer shape. Offered in the suspended type, they come in a completely glossy or matt white shade, a classic in the bathroom, or in a two-tone version, to create a dynamic visual effect.

While the European minimalism on offer from Agape and Trone is one direction the bathroom has taken, there are also plenty of people experimenting with kitsch. (If you don’t like what you see in the bathroom, closing the door makes the space out of sight and out of mind, designating it a safe space for experimentation, however you want to interpret that for yourself.) Daniels Bath and Beyond will sell you a bathroom "set" that would be at home in a retiree’s apartment in Boca, but where they really shine are their decorative toilet seats—retro in a way that feels fun or at the very least, unexpected. (For enthusiasts of this style in search of a bathroom that skews less Etsy and more vintage, colored porcelain a la Kohler’s is probably just enough.)

Daniels Bath & Beyond Island of Dolphins Toilet Seat
This toilet seat is made from polyresin. Round size  fits for 17",  elongated size fits for 19".

It’s noteworthy that while so much innovation of a private space is happening in private homes, we’ve stalled out on the private ones in public spaces (pun not intended). The development of a project like the Tokyo Toilet Project has more in common with what toilet you might pick for your house than might appear at first glance: that everyone deserves to find a little bit of beauty in the mundane, because how else will we break up the monotony of an average, everyday life?

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Related Reading:

All the Products You’ll Need for Your Very Own Party Bathroom

I Flushed Every Toilet and Turned on Every Faucet in New York So You Don’t Have to

Megan Reynolds
Senior Home Guides Editor
Megan Reynolds is Dwell's Senior Home Guides Editor. She's previously worked at Jezebel, The Billfold, and many others. She feels strongly about neon as a neutral and loves a good lamp. Holler: megan.reynolds @ dwell dot com.


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