Bailey Hikawa sees a natural relationship between the 3-D phone cases she’s been designing since 2019 and her more recent turn to toilet seats. Like the cases, the toilet seats play with material, color, and decorative elements — polka dots and glitter, unexpected curves and bumps, and everyday objects like watches and spaghetti suspended in resin — but they’re also subtly twinned in how we interact with them. “I’m interested in that space where we are using something unconsciously multiple times a day,” Hikawa says. “What are we thinking about when we’re going to the bathroom 25,000 times?” (The two mediums also have germs in common.)
Of all the rooms in the home, the bathroom is maybe the most utilitarian. Even a designed commode can feel a little bland: The elongated bowl of the Toto Neorest, the matte black and polished chrome of Kohler’s more expensive offerings — each refined in a way that almost renders them invisible. But Hikawa’s work defies that impulse, making the toilet an intentional object of fascination and maybe even a little revulsion. It’s of course not for everyone. These are hot-girl toilet seats.
Hikawa isn’t the only one in the eye-catching-toilet game. Trone, the incredibly chic French brand, treats the toilet like a stand-alone design object. They have reengineered the form of the toilet: The reservoir tank is now a clear tube shooting from the back of the seat like a skyscraper. (While both beautiful and forward-looking, the pieces are incredibly expensive and require a significant commitment.) Another French company, Tohaa Design, is toilet-seat focused, and patterns from street artists and designers are printed and lacquered onto the seats; the dense patterns and dizzying graphics are the hype-beast response to the Starry Night soap tray picked up in the museum gift shop. There are unironic kitsch offerings — the sea shells evoke the grandmotherly toilets of your past — from Daniels Baths, a company that also makes the cousin to the funky toilet seat, the fuzzy toilet-seat cover. And as with most design trends, one can turn to Etsy for examples that both support and undermine the appeal of the movement.
Hikawa’s designs are wholly unexpected, almost grotesque, and after that initial moment of shock and surprise, you are left wondering how on earth someone made it. There’s one full of hair, a play on the undefinable ick one feels when one spots a stray hair in the sink or on the shower wall. The marbleized Shibuki seat is both ominous and beautiful. And then there’s the unholy alliance of toilet seats and food.
For Sarah Myers, service manager of the popular Middle Child Clubhouse in Philly, the hubbub around Hikawa’s toilet seats is just part of their shifts. Myers was helping owner Matt Cahn brainstorm ideas for what to do with the bathrooms to help them match the style and energy of the rest of the space. Toward the end of the process, Meyers threw out the idea of weird toilet seats and Cahn immediately gave them his blessing. Myers worked with Hikawa to figure out what exactly “weird” meant for them, and they landed on the idea of classic diner foods: a BLT, oysters, a snack mix with a local Philly candy. The food in the seats is both real and fake, a process that required a lot of trial and error. “I think the coolest part about it — or the silliest part, I guess — is that people will go to the bathroom four times throughout their meal to see all of them and then decide which one is their favorite,” Myers says. “And you’ll hear them doing it — like at the table, they’ll be like, ‘My bathroom had this one, and my bathroom had this one.’”
Hikawa’s toilet seats are Instagrammable moments that merge seamlessly with TikTok maximalism and the evergreen popularity of renter-friendly upgrades, but for Hikawa, the toilet seats aren’t just a product meant to shock and delight for the sake of a few likes. There’s a reason she’s not making shower curtains or cups: She knows the toilets provoke a strong reaction. They are also a quietly democratic object in an intimate space. “Everybody does it, we’re all doing it,” she says. “I think that’s why it’s kind of hilarious too. It’s private and public. Holding multiple truths at once.” So you’re not just getting old cell phones suspended in a toilet seat, you’re getting the next frontier in bathroom design, an invitation to mindfulness, and something to talk about when you’re done peeing. It also just looks really, really cool.