Instant Spa Vacation

Instant Spa Vacation

New innovations in tubs and shower enclosures bring the spa concept to new levels of luxury, while acrylic expands its functions. 

By Daina Darzin Manning

On the other end of the scale, it's now possible to have a snazzy-looking acrylic tub liner and shower surround installed in one day, for around $2,000. So, whether your clients want a complete luxury overhaul, or a simple update, there are plenty of options, according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen and Bath Design News.

Fabulous Tubs
The whirlpool has long been a staple of the mid- to high-end bathroom but now, soaking tubs are making a resurgence, along with innovative new concepts such as Kohler's "Sok" tub, reports Diana Schrage, interior designer for the Kohler Design Center, in Kohler, WI. "It's a hybrid between a bathing, soaking experience and a whirlpool," she notes. The Sok features a unique jetting system with a champagne bubble effervescence. "It speaks to the home spa, wellness, healing, your bath as a respite," says Schrage.

Similarly, whirlpool tubs that combine jets plus air are a hot item, says Tawnya Quiet, director of marketing for Aquatic Industries, Inc., in Leander, TX. Jets have grown more sophisticated in their placement, she notes, providing authentic shiatsu massage patterns. Aquatic's tub also features an innovative massage pillow: "A large, comfortable, pulsating jet pillow with a large membrane in the middle, with a 12" jet which rotates," elaborates Quiet. "It's a giant jet behind your neck that massages your neck, but it's a dry massage." The pillow is removable, attached by industrial Velcro.
Kohler's Sok tub also employs chromatherapy, the new buzzword in relaxation methods.

"Chromatherapy is a movement through the color wheel, allowing the customer to stop at any value that's appealing," explains Schrage, adding that this approach plays into the emotional reactions people have to different colors. She elaborates that this has a scientific explanation having to do with the way your retina focuses on different colors.

In the Sok bath, four ports within the tub permeate the water with color, and enable the bather to stop at any color in the spectrum he or she finds soothing particularly effective in a darkened room.

A very deep soaking tub is another trend, Schrage states; it adds to a relaxation vibe by allowing bathers to immerse themselves in water clear up to their chins.

Chromatherapy can also be used in a shower environment, notes Alex Bieri, marketing manager for Hansgrohe, Inc., in Alpharetta, GA, via a backlight that provides mood lighting.

Similarly, Ondine offers a chromatherapy light shower, explains Ari Zieger, v.p./sales and marketing for Ondine by Interbath, in City of Industry, CA. "It combines fiber optics with your shower," he notes.

Additionally, an electronic system for tubs allows consumers to preset the level of their tub fills, with an automatic stops at the optimum spots. Without it, "people spend a lot of time watching the tub fill, babysitting [the] thing," Zieger notes.
More traditional soaking and jetted tubs also have new bells and whistles, manufacturers report. Hot trends include a bath that takes its cues from vanities and kitchen sinks with an undermount tub in a large Roman bath-style surround.

"It's a very clean, sophisticated look," says Quiet.

Granite and marble are the top high-end choices, manufacturers report, though Schrage says cement is an up-and-coming, innovative adventure pick. Rick Bowman, sales and marketing manager for Century Marble, in Westfield, IN, also cites granite looks in cultured marble as popular for Roman tubs and surrounds.

The claw foot tub has also been a steady seller, says Schrage, and now features clean-lined looks that go beyond the traditional antique approach. "If you have a claw foot tub, it doesn't mean you have to have a Victorian environment," she explains.

Super Shower Ideas
The "super shower," replete with body sprays, multiple shower heads, steam and special effects such as rain heads, has been hot for several years, but the systems continue to be refined, manufacturers report.

Hansgrohe's Bieri notes that the extra-large two seater steam shower is an up-and-comer. "We've found that people who want to get that kind of high-end pre-plumbed appliance want to enjoy it together with a spouse," he notes.

Today's super shower can even get rid of such little annoyances as clogged shower heads. Larry Brodey, president and CEO of Jaclo Industries, in Mountainside, NJ, mentions rain heads, with four-inch to 12-inch heads, with rubber acetal nibs that break up calcium and lime impurities. "When people are buying an expensive head with little holes, and they get clogged, it really distorts the spray," he explains. The rain heads also work well in a retro look, Brodey adds, citing 1920s showers that include extra-large heads.

In addition to all the other ways showers have evolved, valves and electronics are a new consumer desire. "Consumers are getting smarter," says Bieri. "They visit Web sites and learn more about what they want. Increasingly, they're more educated on the type of valving they want. They're beginning to understand the value of thermostatic valves, and they're used much more widely." Temperature control is only one function, he adds. There's a child safety feature; additionally, the water temperature can be set to one's optimum level, so "tomorrow, when you turn the water on, as soon as the hot water reaches the valve, you have the same temperature you had yesterday."

"You have the ability to control the hand shower, overhead shower, body spray. You can pre-set the time of the shower, the temperature and the frequency interval of the pulsation of the body jets," adds Zieger about Ondine's electronic shower. "It's a customizable program for up to three users." The Ondine system takes all of the hardware off of the wall and replaces it with a single decorative control module with a brass substrate that's available in chrome, brushed nickel and other finishes. The system is also available with a steam control function, Zieger adds.

Easy adjustment of body sprays is another new advantage via Kohler's Water Haven system, which features an open track on the wall, enabling family members to easily adjust the body sprays to their height, Schrage adds.
Overall, Zieger emphasizes that flexibility is key, giving clients the exact shower function they desire.

Doors to Luxury
In terms of design, glass treatments are giving shower doors a new look, manufacturers report. Fred Adams, v.p./marketing for LASCO Bathware, in Anaheim, CA, cites floral treatments on glass as well as "different glass textures to obtain obscurity yet increase the value with more attractive looking glass surfaces."

Hansgrohe's Bieri also mentions sandblasted glass, which provides a milk glass look. "We see glass doors that are more than just plain, with some sort of partial etching or sandblasting to give a feeling of dimension as well as a little more privacy," he explains. His company has also recently introduced nano-technology, a coating that makes water pearl off a glass door without leaving water spots.

Metal finishes are also key to an effective shower look. Adams notes that powder coating on aluminum frames allows consumers the same range of options pewter, nickel, bronze, etc. for their shower door frames as they have for their faucets.

Decorative finishes are now available for nearly every metal item in a bathroom, from shower heads to decorative trim such as traps and valves for under glass vessel bowl sinks, reports Brodey. "We've been doing multiple shower systems, multiple body sprays, all in decorative and matching finishes. Satin nickel is hot everywhere," he adds.

"Polished nickel and oil-rubbed bronze are starting to get hot."

Finish preferences are also regional, Brodey believes, with polished and satin nickel hot on the East Coast, oil rubbed bronze in the Northwest and Midwest and polished chrome having a resurgence on the West Coast. The latter works particularly well for contemporary looks, 20th century vintage designs such as Art Deco and Mid Century Modern, as well as older, British antique looks. Antique brass and copper are gaining in popularity again as well, says Brodey.
However, Bieri emphasizes that, when it comes to shower systems, most consumers will choose "functionality over design." They'll pick the best shower system even if it doesn't match the oil-rubbed bronze faucet on their vanity, especially since the shower system is behind a door that can have an obscuring texture, if needed.

"Sophisticated buyers are enjoying contrast and blending," as opposed to everything matching, adds Schrage. "It has to be well done. But, it allows the user to have a statement piece or statement finish."

For door styles, the frameless door remains a top upscale choice, while advances in sealing technology make the issue of leaking a thing of the past as well as eliminating yellowing seals, a consumer complaint in the past. Adams notes that a frameless fabricated unit is less likely to have a leaking problem than a custom installation, and adds that the real problem is often "dripping when the doors are open [after a shower]. That's almost impossible to avoid."

Acrylic Options
For middle-income homeowners, advances in bathtub liners and shower surrounds provide a quick and economical solution, says John Heckenlaible, executive director of marketing, Re-Bath, LLC, in Mesa, AZ. "You know houses that have those avocado green bathtubs? Homeowners have the options of tearing it out, repainting it or doing nothing. If you repaint it, that will last one to three years and then it will peel. You can tear it out, which is a nightmare it takes three days, you have to redo your plumbing, your floor, your wall, etc."

Another option are Re-Bath's acrylic liners, which work off a selection of 700 bathtub liner molds. A liner mold is matched to the existing tub, and the company custom forms a sheet of acrylic to those contours.

"You don't have the tear out," notes Thomas H. Barzantny, v.p./marketing for BCI Acrylic Bath Systems, Inc., in Palatine, IL, whose company also manufactures liners and surrounds.

The liner system also can be applied to old tile, Heckenlaible notes. In addition to a plain, glossy surface, the liners are available in simulated tile, simulated marble or simulated granite. Shower bases can also be rejuvenated in this manner.
Heckenlaible adds that a variety of bathtub aprons, including a 1950s-style scalloped front, make this a good solution for those aiming for a retro look.

Usually, homeowners replace their shower door at the same time, Barzantny adds. "We offer so many types of glass beveled, hammered, smoked there's a number of designs they can get."

Acrylic's capacity to form inserts such as shelves and bench seats, as well as its appropriateness for steam enclosures, has marked that material's entry into the upscale market, manufacturers note. "Inserts are a trend in the marketplace," explains Adams, who cites foot rests and "columns where you can put in grab bars" as popular choices. "The industry is developing the acrylic modules into more of a suite environment, adding some enhanced features that give bathers more luxury."

Hansgrohe's Bieri notes that his company's shower temples, which are a modular unit installed with existing walls, usually are used with granite, tile or another natural material.
Schrage also cites acrylic as an alternative to glass shower doors for a fresh translucent look with a soft tint and easy installation.

In terms of design, acrylic enclosures are typically contemporary looking, but builders get around that by using more traditional style mouldings around the shower, notes Adams. He adds that obscuring, instead of clear glass, finishes on the shower door also serve to hide the contemporary look of the unit itself and make it appropriate for a traditional or antique look.

Satin finishes in acrylic are also likely to be introduced in the next few years, though currently, "the glossy finish is still the surface of choice," says Adams.

However, Rick Bowman cites matte finish cultured marble as an up-and-comer. "As soon as you sand cultured marble to a matte finish, you start getting the feel of solid surface," he notes.

Conservative Color
While consumers are more than willing to embark on flights of fancy with electronics, they remain cautious when it comes to colors, those surveyed agreed.

"Designers are being more creative with color treatment [via] wall covering and paints," thinks Adams. "It's a much easier task to change [those] than a permanent fixture."

White continues to dominate, though pale neutrals such as biscuit, almond and very light grey are also popular. Earth tones are also growing in popularity, especially in markets such as Southern California, where matte ceramic tile in tan and brown shades seems to be a popular pick for new construction.

Century Marble's Bowman cites his company's cultured marble product in a new color, Parchment, a subtle earth tone color with yellow tones and very subtle veining, as a hot seller.

Re-Bath also sticks to neutral colors such as white, biscuit, almond, orchid, pale grey and smoked marble. The wall systems come in similar colors, plus taupe granite.

Similarly, BCI's line comes in white, biscuit, almond and gray, plus marbleized silver white and almond white, reports Barzantny. Plans are in the works to develop a granite pattern as well.

Concludes Heckenlaible, "Neutrals create a lot of flexibility."