Cleansing Sanctuaries

The bathroom has long been looked at as a room for relaxation and stress relief, with the shower or tub playing a key role in how that respite is achieved. After all, what can be more soothing than the waterfall sounds of a multi-jet shower, or the feel of warm water swirling in a soaking tub?

Indeed, with the job of cleansing both body and soul, the shower or tub is essential to creating a bath that is both restful and efficient, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN.

“The overriding theme for the master bath is still in-room spa,” says David McFarland, director of marketing for Lasco Bathware in Anaheim, CA. However, that doesn’t mean you need to install a jetted tub to create that spa-like feeling.

Rather, McFarland is seeing a shift toward jetted shower systems and separate soaking tubs as the latest, greatest bath fixtures.

Edward Taylor, president of Victoria & Albert in Charleston, SC, agrees: “The bath is more of a sanctuary, a place to relax. Wellness continues to be huge, but I see more people looking for peace and tranquility of a soaking tub, not energy-consuming whirlpool tubs with huge capacities. People want to take a soak without feeling guilty about wasting so much water.”

Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing for Danze, Inc. in Woodbridge, IL, sees the bathroom evolving from a very functional room to one of retreat from the day-to-day chaos. “Homeowners want unique, beautiful designs in shower systems that offer a relaxing shower experience. From a product standpoint, this includes fun showerheads, hand-held shower options and body sprays. In many cases, people are mixing/matching these products to create their own personal shower,” he says.

Health and wellness issues – as well as Universal Design – are becoming more important as the population ages, manufacturers note. “Barrier-free or accessible showers and hydrotherapy tubs are just two examples of products that are specifically designed to meet the needs of homeowners who are aging in place,” says McFarland.

Detgen adds: “As a significant percent of our population ages, Universal Design continues to be a hot topic. Manufacturers are sensitive to ensuring their products are accessible and easy to use. Hand-held showers are growing in popularity, among other shower components,” he says.

Super Sprays

One of the biggest trends manufacturers see is a focus on improving shower spray modes. “Ensuring excellent spray performance is more paramount than ever – whether looking at a full shower or massage sprays, they have to work well,” says Jason McClain, marketing communications manager for Hansgrohe, Inc. in Alpharetta, GA.

Amy-Mae Miller, director of marketing for Graff Faucets in Milwaukee, WI, concurs: “Water delivery from any direction in many different intensities and patterns continues to be the focus.”

As important as functionality is, it must go hand-in-hand with style and design, manufacturers say. “Design has risen to the forefront and manufacturers have finally moved away from the very utilitarian, functional showerhead with boring design,” says Detgen. “More and more designs and styles are available in shower products and are offered in more finish options.

Styling and designs are varied. The more options you offer, the more customized and personal they can make their bath,” he says.

Personal Experience

If the bathroom is to be the ultimate retreat, the space must be designed with the client in mind. “Today there is no such thing as a standard, one-size-fits-all bathroom,” says Taylor.

McClain agrees. “Consumers want a space that looks customized, even if [it’s] just the fixtures that make the room unique,” he says. “In the shower, the trends toward larger showerheads and adding body sprays reflect consumers’ desire to create a custom shower experience that focuses on comfort and relaxation. After all, in today’s hectic world, your morning or evening shower is one of the few times you have just to yourself.”

Dawn Robinson, showroom specialist for VitrA USA in Suwanee, GA, says: “People aren’t afraid anymore to be different. They are willing to try new things and think “outside the box” in order to satisfy their needs – whether those are ADA concerns, green concerns or simply style- and function-focused concerns.”

Flexibility is key when working to create a personal space, manufacturers note. “However optimal water delivery occurs – whether it’s by calming rain shower or invigorating body sprays – the faucetry must be flexible enough to tailor each experience,” says Miller.

Options in design, size and color are just as important for enclosures, allowing bath design professionals to create a variety of looks that can fit in baths of every size, style and configuration. According to Jane Skeeter, founder of UltraGlas in Chatsworth, CA, UltraGlas meets this challenge by offering tiles in a number of standard sizes as well as panels up to 5' by 9', which can be used to surface shower walls and coordinated with the UltraGlas shower enclosure and tile.

Shower panels are one way to get a customized shower more economically, according to McClain. “They feature all the elements of a custom shower in a single unit, replete with showerhead, hand shower, body sprays and thermostatic valves,” he says. “Consumers just mount the panel onto the wall and attach it to the hot/cold connections that already exist.

Homeowners don’t have to hire a plumber to go behind the wall to change out valves or reconfigure pipes. Once installed, they are stylish, easy to clean and multi-functional,” McClain says.

While agreeing that customized spaces are in high demand, Miller feels the American market lacks in one area. “Better education about thermostatic showers is still needed at the installer and showroom levels. Until everyone understands the difference between thermostatic and pressure-balanced valve technologies, shower options will lag behind the desire to personalize the shower experience,” she says.

Natural Designs

Manufacturers are increasingly seeing a “bringing the outdoors in” influence, with colors, patterns and even hardware designed to look like natural elements.

Robinson says, “This [trend] is one that seems to enjoy almost constant popularity, although it can shift from region to region. Markets like Arizona are always looking for really nature-inspired creations and finishes.” She cites a recent shift in design that reinterprets nature designs in more modern ways. “This [ranges] from shower tiles that use nature-inspired patterns in modern finishes to faucets that are almost futuristic reinterpretations of a pebble and twig,” she says.

Skeeter agrees that natural elements are still a very large design influence – including elements that evoke a water feel, such as textured glass, which can create a natural feel, such as that of moving water.

Wood is another element designers are using to create nature-inspired baths. “Teak floors are an example of a feature that brings nature into the shower, while evoking luxury for the homeowner,” says McFarland.

Miller also sees wood making a strong statement in high-end bathrooms. “Starting with light fixtures, I think we’ll see more wood appearing in shower rooms soon. With the advent of the Brazilian hardwoods on the bathroom scene in addition to teak, choices in grain and color are more varied than ever before,” she says.

It’s not just colors and materials that are reflecting this aesthetic – some manufacturers are seeing an emphasis on the shower itself becoming more like actual rain. “The larger showerheads are designed to make users feel like they’re in a rain shower,” McClain offers.

Options, Options

As varied as the designs and styles are, so too are the finishes used. “Oil-rubbed bronze and other dark finishes are in high demand,” says Miller. “Split finishes are making an appearance in contemporary designs and this will be a trend for the foreseeable future,” she adds.

McClain says, “Chrome is still king [in terms of overall national dollar volume], but the fastest growing finish in terms of sales is brushed nickel.” Having a variety of options, regardless of the popularity of any one, is important, he adds, since this ties into the growing desire for options to help personalize the bath.

Detgen agrees: “Finish popularity is very diverse. Many homeowners are moving toward more subdued, softer finishes like brushed nickel. Others prefer the darker, warmer finishes like oil-rubbed bronze. Again, the decor of the room often directs the styling and finishes selected in the shower. Designers and homeowners are definitely matching the shower components to fixtures in the rest of the room whenever possible.”

As for tubs and enclosures, manufacturers are seeing a large demand for free-standing tubs, and more open shower areas.

“Free-standing is huge,” says Taylor, “and the contemporary market has [taken] hold in even the most traditional states.”

He also sees innovations such as Victoria & Albert’s blend of volcanic limestone and high performance resins gaining real ground. “They have a more durable and natural feel to them than regular acrylics which are not suited to certain applications like freestanding [tubs]. Customers are staying away from traditional material like cast-iron because it’s so heavy to install and very unfriendly to the environment to produce,” he says.

McFarland says that “size and shape [of tubs] are usually defined by available space, however overall, the trend is for deeper soaking tubs that allow the user to be fully immersed.”

In enclosures, designers are using touches of bolder colors, such as poppy, orange or purple. “Especially in contemporary designs, people are using a splash of color to accent,” says Skeeter.

Frameless enclosures are still in high demand – so much so that Skeeter says 99% of the enclosures made by UltraGlas are frameless.

Robinson has seen an increasing demand for showers and tubs that are less restricted. “The typical American bathroom has either a tub or separate shower space designed to be completely enclosed and separate from the rest of the room. Water from the bath and shower is meant to be completely contained within the unit. This is a bit different from the European standard which often features a more open concept,” she says. “I’ve seen more spaces being designed as ‘wet rooms’ – spaces that allow for a drain in the main area of the bath so that shower areas don’t have to be so enclosed and confined.”

Conservation Concerns

The paradox between designing a personalized, bathing experience and the desire to be eco-friendly creates new challenges for shower and tub manufacturers. “Water conservation is top of mind with most designers, builders and homeowners,” says Detgen. “Building green and living green are on people’s minds. Ironically, people still want a relaxing, drenching shower experience. There’s a balancing act that must go on.”

Tub manufacturers are also seeing an awareness of conservation issues impacting the market. “People are looking at the huge capacities of the old two-person whirpool tubs and thinking twice. Victoria & Albert has a number of models in the range that offer deep bathing without wasting lots of water getting there” says Taylor.

Miller sees the push for conservation as cyclical. “It is ‘in’ for a year or two and then falls by the wayside. Currently, it’s ‘in’ for mainstream manufacturers due to the current state of affairs in California and other parts of the West.”

“In the shower, the move toward water savings is not new,” Mclain says. “but again, the move toward more trendy products that are also water-saving is new, however.”

“Combined with this desire for style options is the issue arising from poor performance. No one wants to sacrifice comfort, after all,” he says. Hansgrohe introduced EcoAIR products this year, which use air-injection to deliver the feel of regular water volume (2.5 GPM), while only using 1.6 GPM.

Environmental awareness goes beyond just water conservation concerns in the bathroom, manufacturers say. “Green design is only going to become more important to manufacturers, builders, architects and consumers, especially as compliance standards are set in stone,” says McClain.

Not all manufacturers are seeing a trend toward green design, however. “Green and the bathroom do not go hand in hand, especially as much of the industry’s products are made in countries with little or no environmental policy,” says Taylor. “Green is a hot, but from an environmental aspect, I don’t see anything ‘real’ happening,” Taylor adds.

Market Demands

The main difference between the mid-level market and the high-end is primarily one of design and materials chosen, manufacturers quickly point out. For instance, contemporary designs are more popular at the high-end, and products are highly customized.

Miller offers: “The design focus continues to be for modern and contemporary styles in the high-end market with a transitional version thrown in here and there on occasion for [a little bit of] variety.”

“In my opinion, the primary difference [between mid-level and high-end markets] is one of scale,” suggests McFarland. “At the high end, there is often a heavy design focus with the intention of designing a spa-like retreat for the client. Materials are custom. There are separate tubs and showers, and with that, typically, lots of available space. At the mid-level, however, we see demand for a lot of the same features, but put together in a smaller package. Combination tubs and showers [along with] mainstream materials are much more prevalent in this segment of the market.”

To that end, McClain sees a trend toward making new technologies more affordable for the customer.

“After a high-end product makes a splash, we looked into how we could make that technology affordable,” he explains.

“You can see this trend across many consumer categories, like BMW coming out with mid-range cars over the past decade or iPod coming out with three or four levels of their products to cover every consumer segment from an economic standpoint.”

He concludes: “In these cases, as with manufacturers in the plumbing industry, the goal is to build on the core competencies of design and technology in order to bring everyone better products that they can afford.”

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