McFarland sees the market for digital controls growing, but believes this will remain a niche rather than mainstream. “There will always be a subset of consumers who want ‘the latest’ and so it’s understandable that digital technology has made its way into the bathroom,” he says. “As people become more used to technology elsewhere in their lives, they will have more of an expectation of seeing that technology in a shower or bath, especially at the upper end,” he adds.
Petch sees more demand for what digital technology can provide, particularly in the custom shower market. “Demand for unique products like [Kohler’s] DTV II custom shower system, which integrates the delivery of water, audio, chromatherapy, ambient lighting and steam, has exploded over the past few years.”
DeGenova has also seen some interest in digital controls, as well as other technologies like speed clean and Grohe’s DreamSpray technology, which distributes water evenly for full body coverage rather than producing a ring of water. He also sees thermostatic controls growing in the U.S. as people learn about the technology.
Just as individual trends grow, so, too, does the desire for unique and personal applications of these trends.
“In every aspect of one’s life, from buying a car to selecting a TV service provider, we are looking to add our own level of personalization to the product,” says Petch. “The flexibility of shower system design and the ability to totally customize the showering experience at almost every price point has been and remains a key factor in its growth in popularity.”
People are becoming more creative, adds Mullally. “They want more unique items, they want items that everyone doesn’t necessarily have.” Rather than “keeping up with the Joneses,” he says, they want something different than what the Joneses have.
Mike Teresso, executive director of Laufen North America, says “consumers are figuratively ‘banging on their bathroom doors,’ demanding a customized bathroom suite based on functionality, budget and personal aesthetics. Taking the entire house into consideration as one giant design project, the bathroom must also transform into a culture of its own.”
From glass tubs and ceramic enclosures to a host of quirky customization requests, he’s seen it all. “Overall, it seems that original designs, the ability to scale units to an appropriate size, cost and the advancement of technology are all integral factors to how much (or how little) consumers will yield to these trends,” he says.
Teresso sees the size and shape of bathing products changing dramatically. “Consumers seem to be favoring differently proportioned showers and tubs, like preferring a freestanding shower rather than a drop-in mold. Homeowners who are downsizing seem to favor taller showers and narrower tubs,” he says.
In enclosures, consumers are looking for more interesting designs than the smooth walls that dominated the industry 10 year ago, says Charlie Kopplin, associate product manager for the Sterling brand, based in Kohler, WI.
ACCESSIBILITY WITH STYLE
Even when consumers require features such as a walk-in tub or grab bars, they still want a stylish design. “The trick is to deliver both aesthetics and functionality, but it is very difficult,” says McFarland.
McFarland notes that Aquatic designed the Ava tub with this in mind. The best feature of the Ava tub, he says, is the patented drainage system, which evacuates 70 gallons of water in under 30 seconds, eliminating the need for users to get cold waiting for the tub to drain before getting out.
Mike Schulze, president of Home Living Solutions in Temecula, CA, agrees that with more Americans aging in place, there’s a growing need for accessible tubs. Most of these are in the remodeling sector, he notes, which creates some challenges – and some design limitations. “When dealing with remodeling, you can’t get too crazy with your [tub] designs,” he says, noting that tubs need to be able to be transported into a house, often up stairs and through hallways, which can limit options.
He does see a demand for customization in walk-in tubs, but says this comes mostly on the therapeutic side.