Designers, bathrooms commune in MODA's ‘WaterDream' exhibit

The ocean-blue photograph of water that covers the Museum of Design Atlanta's front door is a tip to the immersion experience that awaits in the new exhibition "WaterDream: The Art of Bathroom Design."

You may fantasize of adding a spalike retreat in your home. You may even be fortunate enough to have one. But it's unlikely you've ever dreamed quite as deeply about the functions of the bathroom as the designers and architects whose concepts and creations are on view at MODA.

Most of their notions were set in motion by Hansgrohe International, a bath and kitchen manufacturing firm founded in Germany in 1901 with international offices now dotting the globe. Its North American headquarters is in Alpharetta.

Hansgrohe spent the 20th century getting people to buy into the idea of bathrooms as more than basic water closets -- moving, as the company phrases it, "from its historical, hygienic role to its place as a design-driven living space."

In a difficult economy, you might think that dream-stoking pursuit would have lost some steam. Au contraire, said Russ Wheeler, president of Hansgrohe North America, a MODA board member who was instrumental in organizing the museum's second show in its slick, expanded Midtown location across from the High Museum of Art.

"Everything is very hectic today. Mobile devices never get turned off," said Wheeler, as soothing sounds of sax, bird song and water flow mixed to set a chill mood in the galleries. "The only time you get away is in the bathroom. It's your last refuge where you can really relax."

Thus, Hansgrohe doesn't sedately stand by and let water-dreaming designers and architects come to it. Instead, it initiates innovation by taking these creative forces on global AquaTektur tours, to compile ideas on how different cultures commune with water. It also hosts the annual Hansgrohe Water Symposium at the Aquademie Event Centre in Schiltach, Germany. The fourth edition, with the theme "Touched by Water -- The Union Between Humans and Water," is set for October.

Fear not, however, if you don't happen to be heading to Germany's Black Forest region this fall. Instead, you can float through MODA's "WaterDream," which includes a visual timeline of bath evolution from early 19th century Europe to today, a gallery showing design advances in fixtures, and another spotlighting the visions of four international creators whose works are produced by Hansgrohe.

(This would be a good place to acknowledge that the show, while restrained enough not to come off like a supersized commercial for the German bath and kitchen manufacturer, is very heavily Hansgrohe. But if you can accept that James Bond is unlikely to ever drive anything other than an Aston Martin, this may not trouble you.)

Hansgrohe’s designer brand Axor commissioned Jean-Marie Massaud, Patricia Urquiola and Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec to think beyond the pressures of bringing products to market and create "visionary landscapes" for the bath of the future. Their fanciful room designs were presented at the Milan International Furniture Fair in 2005, a display re-created in MODA's largest gallery (along with a display of minimalist design trailblazer Philippe Starck).

French designer Massaud's organic design is like an Asian-inspired living room built around water features including a sunken tub large enough for a family of four and sinks sprouting up from the floor like fountains. A fanciful touch is a huge cloud of moss floating across the ceiling, supposedly to provide an extra dose of oxygen.

French brothers the Bouroullecs emphasize modular design that invites customer customization, not only in hardware finishes but where faucets and other fixtures are positioned.

Urquiola, a Spaniard who works in Italy, created what she called a "dreamlike grove" where "faucets grow naturally like bamboo to create an animated forest." Urquiola has two tubs, basins and everything else in her dream bath so that mates can enjoy a little individual space while being together. Female exhibit visitors also seem to especially like that the designer places mirrors off to the side of sinks so that one doesn't have to gaze at one's self in the morning until properly composed.

Hansgrohe official Wheeler was asked by one skeptical gallery-goer if all this fanciful design is really more a flight of imagination than something that will touch the masses. "Yes, it absolutely can be, but it's going to look different," he responded. "This is something that's going to inspire you. It's very design-centric. You take it and figure out how to incorporate it into your own home."

And if you happen to like the sensuous lines of Massaud's $10,000 tub, well, it happens to be available.

On view

"WaterDream: The Art of Bathroom Design"

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays (until 8 p.m. Thursdays), noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 24. $10; $8 seniors and military; $5 students and ages 5 and older. 1315 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-979-6455,

Drink in Design: 6-8 p.m. Thursday featuring steel drum music by David Cooper and an exhibit tour by Russ Wheeler, president of Hansgrohe North America, at 7 p.m. (regular admission includes free drink).