Samuel Ross designs textured toilet that is "closer to a sculpture"

Designer Samuel Ross set out to subvert any idea of how a lavatory should look when creating his first toilet for bathroom brand Kohler, set to debut at Milan design week next month.

Rendered in attention-grabbing orange, the Formation 02 smart toilet has an asymmetric shape designed to recall the stark edges and angles of brutalist architecture.

Formation 002 toilet by Samuel Ross for Kohler in a surreal setFormation 002 toilet by Samuel Ross for Kohler in a surreal set
Samuel Ross designed the Formation 02 smart toilet for Kohler

A shell made of recycled epoxy resin, which Ross designed with unexpected cut-outs and craggy textured sections reminiscent of natural rock, surrounds its porcelain bowl.

Set to be produced in a limited edition, Formation 002 presents an attempt at elevating the humble toilet to the realm of a “functional sculpture”, Ross told Dezeen.

Side view of textured orange toiletSide view of textured orange toilet
The toilet has an angular asymmetrical shape

“It has such an intensity that pulls you in by use of the colour and by use of the asymmetry,” he said. “So I would argue that it’s actually closer to a sculpture, it just happens to have an incredible function.”

“It’s also a new price band for that type of product, which will retail at roughly around $25,000 per unit,” he added.

“So it places itself in this incredible grey area in design at the moment, between object and artefact and design object versus functional object.”

Hands on the lid of the Formation 002 toilet by Samuel RossHands on the lid of the Formation 002 toilet by Samuel Ross
An epoxy resin shell allowed for the addition of roughly textured facets

The toilet is the latest outcome of an ongoing collaboration between Kohler and Ross’s industrial design studio SR_A, following the release of the angular Formation 01 tap at Design Miami last year.

Coming from the world of fashion, where he worked under Virgil Abloh at Off-White before founding his streetwear brand A Cold Wall in 2015, Ross sees the partnership as an opportunity to bring a new perspective to the traditional world of sanitaryware.

Close-up of orange toilet seatClose-up of orange toilet seat
The smart toilet has a heated seat

“There hasn’t necessarily been an aberrant on the shape and form that has been disruptive really since the 1960s or 70s,” he said. “It felt like there was such a familiarity with the object that it was one of the last unturned stones within service design.”

“What it is to be a designer, fundamentally, is to be on the edge of risk when it comes to proposing new ideas,” Ross added. “And this was about having a sense of risk and elastic thinking applied to a functional category.”

With this aim, Ross approached the project rather like an artwork than a design project, sketching forms on paper instead of working with CAD files and KPIs.

“I wanted to produce forms that had not been seen before,” he said. “So I wanted to start from a very pure standpoint, which was pen and paper, feeling and emotion to determine where we should go in the process.”

The final design is more “extroverted” than a traditional toilet, according to Ross, being both higher and considerably wider aside from being bright orange.

Side view of Formation 002 toilet by Samuel Ross for KohlerSide view of Formation 002 toilet by Samuel Ross for Kohler
Its angular form was designed to recall Brutalist architecture

The toilet’s many facets and its roughly textured sides were made possible with the help of a recycled epoxy resin developed by Kohler, which was cast into custom moulds and fitted around the toilet’s ceramic base.

“If we think about the use of textured or recycled epoxy in toilets, it literally doesn’t exist,” Ross said. “So what we’re proposing is pretty much category creation within sanitary solutions.”

“The way in which texture comes into play, the amount of concaves and convexes that have been worked into on the epoxy, which we actually patented as part of the partnership between SR_A and Kohler – all of these advents are new.”

Close-up of texture on Formation 002 toilet by KohlerClose-up of texture on Formation 002 toilet by Kohler
The design is rendered in a bright orange hue

Together, Ross hopes they help the user see the toilet as a sculptural object first, before going on to discover its function as a toilet and its integrated tech.

This includes a heated seat, a nightlight and a touchscreen remote for opening, flushing and cleaning the toilet as well as activating the bidet “if that’s your thing”, Ross said.

Close-up of edges on Formation 002 toiletClose-up of edges on Formation 002 toilet
Formation 02 is set to be unveiled at Milan design week

The toilet will be unveiled as part of a temporary installation at Milan design week in April, while its first permanent location is set to be the Milanese art and design gallery Spazio Maiocchi.

“For the most part, if we’re being really honest, they’re going to be put into galleries, into museums, into high-value corporations, which have an affinity towards the arts or value aesthetics,” Ross said.

Other recent attempts at reinventing the toilet have focused largely on function, with Swedish bathroom brand Harvest Moon launching a waterless compost toilet while Samsung teamed up with Bill Gates to develop a toilet that combusts waste “into ashes”.

Milan design week 2024 will take place from 15 to 21 April in locations throughout Milan. Stay tuned for our Milan design week 2024 guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks happening throughout the week.

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