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Bathroom And Kitchen Design Revolutions (And A Surprise Home Safety Lesson)

No longer simply "service" rooms, kitchens and bathrooms have become increasingly integrated in living spaces. But the author also finds out what's any home's most important feature.

Bathrooms are now a place where one can relax.
Bathrooms are now a place where one can relax.
Berto González Montaner

BUENOS AIRES – The most radical changes in interior design are now happening in bathrooms and kitchens. At least, according to the latest edition of the Milan International Furniture Fair.

In Argentina too, things are changing. Sure, kitchens and bathrooms are still cramped little rooms, confined to the back of our old houses and buildings. Yet with the expansion of apartments, kitchens have become larger — to the point of moving frontwards in the blueprings, by the living and dining space.

As for the bathroom, it has moved in with the bedroom, nicely complementing the dressing room. Where space allows it, this can even become a suite. But, as architects say, they tend to remain "submarine" — without light or outside views.

Kitchens are now technical and sophisticated. The kitchen space is increasingly functional and the sink, dining surface and bar are now fully integrated. Yet one obstacle remains. As Augusto Penedo of the Urgell-Penedo-Urgell studio told me, residential developers have proved most reluctant to accept the merging of the kitchen and living areas into one, single space.

A living room? A kitchen? Both

In Milan, major design companies presented their kitchen models as a piece of home furnishing, integrated spatially in the living space, and in its materials and textures. We could see items like wall ovens, fridges and freezers hidden behind floor-to-ceiling cupboard panels. They would then slide, open or be concealed into the depth of a structure that, itself, extends in other spaces like the library.

What were the materials used? Natural wood, wood laminates, textiles — even granite and marble stones that felt like leather. Gradually, they're ending kitchens "lab" appearance and giving them warmth.

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The kitchen items are hidden behind cupboard panels — Photo: Articad Images

Between the cooking and the living spaces, what we call the island — this slightly elevated table top surrounded by benches or stools, and used for breakfast — has grown. It can now combine not only space to prepare food, but a glass-ceramic cooker, a kitchen sink, and a dining area. There's nothing over it.

Kitchen cupboards are also disappearing. They're morphing either into waist-high storage or sliding shelves, that can keep as much as the most obsessive owners ever dreamt of.

Want to relax? The bathroom's new role

As the kitchen no longer looks like a kitchen, the bathroom changes too. It is no longer designed exclusively for personal hygiene. Like new kitchens, it won't be confined to its service tasks — but aims at being a place where one can relax and have fun with water. The 3.2 square meters and ventilation grill required by our building codes are no longer enough.

Bathrooms are now a full part of bedrooms — with the best views. They are organized into three distinct areas: the toilet and bidet on one side — often suspended to ease the cleaning — the sink on another side, and, finally, the shower and bath tub.

Tubs are now unfailingly detached from the wall and, despite new designs, recall the four-legged bath tubs of old times. Showers have also changed. The traditional tap or shower head now includes modules and mechanisms that give you cascades, rain — and even massages.

Safety before a fancy design

A lot of creative energy is going into taps. Companies are hiring prestigious designers to give their products unique forms and concepts. One of the most celebrated designs at the Milan fair was Philippe Starck's transparent tap, which lets you see water swirling as it rises through the faucet. Quite a nice way to include nature in our daily habits.

As I was enjoying this veritable kitchen and bathroom revolution in Milan, a phone call from Buenos Aires broke the magic. After an intensive day wandering around the fair, my wife and I were sleeping. Suddenly, at 4 in the morning, her phone rang.

"Hello! It's Pedro, Juan's friend (Juan is my son). Lala, are you with Berto? Thieves are breaking the front door and entering your house!"

My house is on a busy street in Almagro, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It was 11 p.m. there. Providence made sure that a friend of my son was passing by, just as the thieves were crossing the street to violate my home. They made so much noise that a neighbor sitting at a bar next door called the police. My children were at home then.

They locked themselves in the bathroom. A miracle, along with the thieves' incompetence in trying to force the door, gave the police time to send five officers. The thieves fled as soon as they heard the police car, and my children emerged from the bathroom. Yes, a traditional place in design, but apparently still the safest part of the house.

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Indigenous Women Of Ecuador Set Example For Sustainable Agriculture

In southern Ecuador, a women-led agricultural program offers valuable lessons on sustainable farming methods, but also how to end violence.

Photo of women walking in Ecuador

Women walking in Guangaje Ecuador

Camila Albuja

SARAGURO — Here in this corner of southern Ecuador, life seems to be like a mandala — everything is cleverly used in this ancestral system of circular production. But the women of Saraguro had to fight and resist to make their way of life, protecting the local water and the seeds. When weaving, the women share and take care of each other, also weaving a sense of community.

With the wrinkled tips of her fingers, Mercedes Quizhpe, an indigenous woman from the Kichwa Saraguro people, washes one by one the freshly harvested vegetables from her garden. Standing on a small bench, with her hands plunged into the strong torrent of icy water and the bone-chilling early morning breeze, she checks that each one of her vegetables is ready for fair day. Her actions hold a life of historical resistance, one that prioritizes the care of life through the defense of territory and food sovereignty.

Mercedes' way of life is also one that holds many potential lessons for how to do agriculture and tourism better.

In the province of Loja, work begins before sunrise. At 5:00 a.m., the barking of dogs, the guardians of each house, starts. There is that characteristic smell of damp earth from the morning dew. Sheep bah uninterruptedly through the day. With all this life around, the crowing of early-rising roosters doesn't sound so lonely.

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