In 1991, Saturday Night Live aired an advertising parody for a product called The Love Toilet. In a candlelit room, on a porcelain throne styled after a classic kissing seat, a couple sat with their pants around their ankles, gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes. “…Because when you’re in love, even five minutes apart can seem like an eternity,” the voice-over intoned.
The spot remains one of SNL’s finest consumer satires (right up there with edible Corn Chip Nail Tips). But a rash of new products meant to be enjoyed a deux suggests that some designers have begun to take the couples theme to heart. Updated twists on the kissing seat include Michael Hilgers’s Dialounge, a rotational-molded polyethylene chaise longue for two, and Karim Rashid’s oddly bra-shaped pink sofa for Veuve Clicquot.
And in 2003, The Love Toilet became real when U.K. architecture firm FAT debuted its Bathroom Sweet, a bloated, heart-shaped sculpture in which each fixture—toilet, sink, and tub—was sliced up, welded to a twin, and painted in what principal Charles Holland describes as a “rather putrid shade of pink.” The piece was originally commissioned by the British Council for a traveling exhibition called “Hometime,” where designers created installations for an imagined celebrity residence. Holland had in mind a sanctuary for obsessively groomed twosomes like Posh and Becks, but he insists the unconventional form was based on the mating habits of mere mortals. “You really do take a bath with a partner, but most tubs aren’t designed for that,” he points out.
British designer Marc Owens, a Master’s student at London’s Royal College of Art, says he was inspired by a similarly prosaic observation when designing Tandem, an umbrella with two shafts that unfurl a single, extra-large canopy. “It’s a function of problem-solving,” he says. “My partner and I would go out on rainy days, and one of us would always get slightly wetter than the other.”
Like the loveseat or a double bed, the Bathroom Sweet can be enjoyed by a solitary occupant. But Tandem represents a shift toward designs that require the participation of two users. Other recent examples include Smittens, a specialty mitten for couples holding hands; the 2Cycle, which links together a pair of bikes to form a stable four-wheeler; and Blindspot, a group of products that backfire if a certain level of trust isn’t achieved between two users. Conceived as a thesis project by designer Jim Rokos, the line includes the Til Death Do Us Part pipe, which must be drawn on by two people at once to prevent either from inhaling excess smoke.
Both Owens and Rokos say their products are salutary tools meant to foster communication between partners. And the idea of design as couples therapy recently popped up in the industrial design thesis of Pratt grad Alyona Makeeva. Her products include an interactive sleeping bag, whose detachable Tyvek panels can be used to write out naughty suggestions or love letters.
Designs for sweethearts are hardly practical; after all, what happens when one member takes a solitary outing—or, worse, decides to break things off? Who gets the Smittens? And yet, it’s awfully hard to argue with designers who are trying to put more heart into their products—even if it’s in the shape of a toilet.
Jill Singer is the managing editor of I.D.
Photo: Mark Weiss