Therapeutic Sanctuaries

A three-pronged trend toward larger bath quarters, a greater number of bathrooms per house and an increased interest in luxury, spa-like amenities has meant good news for the whirlpool market, with consumers increasingly looking toward whirlpools to provide a luxurious and therapeutic centerpiece to their bath havens. The growing desire for a "bath retreat" has also led to an increased interest in a variety of high-end whirlpool features, according to manufacturers interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

"One of the biggest trends we’re seeing today has to be how the bathroom continues to grow in size," says Jeannette Long, v.p./marketing for American Standard, in Piscat-away, NJ. "Homeowners want bigger, more comfortable bath quarters, so they are building new homes or remodeling current ones with master bathrooms that often rival the master bedroom in size." With all that extra space, whirlpools are a natural choice to provide a visual centerpiece and a therapeutic "relaxation center."

This ties into the second trend Long is seeing, that "homeowners are relying on their bathrooms as an escape – a place where they can retreat to." While she sees these trends as "still in their infancy," she believes they mean good news for the whirlpool industry, filling a need with today’s multi-featured whirlpools – which not only provide visual appeal and therapeutic benefits, but also help to enhance the overall sense of the bath as a luxurious getaway retreat.

"The most important aspect has to be the focus homeowners are putting on their baths," Long notes. "They’re starting to create bathrooms that meet their wants and needs while providing them with a little personal luxury."

Charles Scott, director of marketing for Walnut Creek, CA-based Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath agrees. "There are more bathrooms in homes these days, [so] homeowners want larger master baths with all the amenities – along with bathrooms for almost every member of the house." This means consumers are not only demanding more whirlpools, but whirlpools in a variety of sizes, from opulent master bath models to smaller versions for secondary and tertiary bathrooms. However, regardless of size, everyone wants a feeling of luxury, so upscale features such as multiple jets and hydromassage remain popular in all price ranges.

Scott notes that there is also a trend toward buy-it-yourself jobs, driven by remodeling sales. "These are jobs in which the consumer buys the product from one individual and gets another to install it. This bodes well for luxury products like whirlpool tubs and shower systems."

Ken Piper, national sales manager for Aquatic Industries, Inc., in Leander, Texas says, "Adding baths has always been popular for two reasons; they not only increase a home’s value, they also provide added convenience. We see this trend continuing. Bathrooms are becoming more elaborate with new, high-end products [such as whirlpools]."

Tubs vs. showers

However, not everyone interviewed by K&BDN seems to agree that there is a dramatic increase in the demand for whirlpools. "There’s a shift in the bathroom from an emphasis on whirlpool tubs to a focus on the shower," explains Dan Reinert, v.p. for Long Island City, NY based Sussman Lifestyle Group.

"Tubs are still being installed, but they are getting smaller, whereas showers are becoming much larger. With the added emphasis on the shower, homeowners, designers, and architects are putting more emphasis on accessories in the shower henceforth the growing use of steam units."

Reinert adds, "Going forward, the focal point of the bathroom will be the shower, and because of this, there will be more multi-gang showers and steam units sold along with upscale shower doors."

John Gunderson, sales and marketing director for Woodinville Washington based Amerec Sauna and Steam agrees. "Current trends are headed toward showers only in bathrooms. People are now aware that they do not take baths as often as they take showers. Large whirlpool baths drain your hot water heater, and the water will stay warm for only a short time in these tubs."

"The bath market in general seems to be headed in two divergent directions," explains Katherine Adams, president of MTI Whirlpools, in Sugar Hill, GA. "Track builders are installing increasingly cheaper units into vast numbers of homes, and large home centers are featuring that same quality and sometimes even lower quality of tub. The result is downward pressure on the market – especially in the low- to mid-range quality. While one may guess that the winner is the consumer, that is not the case. Prices are dropping, so manufacturers are forced to find less expensive and usually poorer quality raw materials in order to make a profit. The result is definitely a poorer quality unit [being installed into] most American homes."

"On the other hand," she continues, "discriminating consumers are requesting more and more in the way of options and features for their tubs and showers. At the upper end, the prices are edging higher, as consumers demand better quality, more elaborate models."

All about comfort
Comfort features continue to experience a growth in demand, according to manufacturers. "The ‘cocooning’ trend where the home is made into a luxury retreat is certainly apparent in the bathroom," says Adams. "The size of the bathroom, along with the showers and tubs within are larger than we would have believed. Consumers are also treating themselves to "little indulgences" such as expensive bath oils, candles, etc. A soaking bath can be easily made into an indulgence!"

"Massage and therapeutic systems are hot right now," says Marie-France Poulin, executive v.p. for MAAX Inc., in Sainte-Marie, Québec, Canada.

"Hot features in the whirlpool group include built-in heaters, programmable whirlpool settings, foot jets, back jets, pump location choices, trim finishes and bigger bathing wells," says Jacuzzi’s Scott.

"More activities are occurring within the master bath and master suite, which explains the bigger room sizes," says Diana K. Schrage, Interior Designer, Kohler Design Center, Kohler, WI. "Everything from exercise equipment and amenities similar to hotels (wet bar, coffee maker) to personalized his-and-her lavatory grooming areas with appropriate storage and seating requirements are being added."

"We believe that baby boomers will continue to pamper themselves with luxurious bathrooms as they become empty nesters," notes Scott, who sees this leading to a growing demand for whirlpools. He adds that a growing number of "adults 40+ years old will experience aging parents moving into their homes, which triggers remodeling for safety and accessibility," which will also have an impact on whirlpool features in demand.

Features & options
Despite the increasing attention given to luxury amenities, most manufacturers agree that whirlpools remain popular with consumers largely because of their therapeutic benefits. "We’re seeing a resurgence of interest in whirlpools for hydromassage," says Kohler’s Schrage. "More customers are seeking hydromassage therapy for the neck tension and back pain that comes with busy lifestyles and advancing years."

Philip J. Klement, v.p./sales and marketing for the Coppell, TX based SANIJET Corp. notes that, "Consumers want greater functionality. They are demanding features that help them personalize their bathing experience."

Klement sees an increased interest in health and sanitary issues driving the trend towrad pipeless whirlpool systems such as SANIJET’s patented pipeless whirlpool bath, which he notes is unique because it "eliminates the unsanirary, hidden maze of piping and channels on the conventional piped systems," where the piping is "inacessible for scrubbing and disinfecting."

"Air systems are a big item," notes MTI’s Adams, though she believes that, "There is a distinct difference in the therapy produced by air systems as opposed to the traditional air/water systems. The better feel is a matter of individual preference, therefore, we sell both systems." But she believes that, "For deeper hydrotherapy, traditional whirlpool systems, mixing air and water, are necessary."

"Deeper, sloped-backed styles with comfortable armrests are our most popular tubs," continues Adams. "At the same time, there is concern for water conservation among some consumers and elderly bathers do not like stepping into the deeper tubs, so there is another trend toward the shallow models. Heaters, factory-installed, hand-held showers, accent lights, higher-powered pumps and other special add-on features are also very popular."

"The depth of a whirlpool bath is becoming more important to consumers," says Piper. "People want to be totally surrounded by water and hydrotherapy, and many consumers are asking for more jets and different kinds of jets." Piper notes that Aquatic Industries is responding to this consumer demand by introducing a new series in the first quarter of 2001. "This new collection will feature a computer controlled shiatsu back jetting system, full-size hydrotherapy jets and a pulsating neck jet pillow."

"Homeowners are looking for products that are comfortable and reliable," explains Long. To that end, she points to the popularity of such "comfort" features as "a built-in raised headrest, molded-in armrests, lumbar support and body massage jets."

Color & materials
When it comes to color, there is no mistaking the market leader. "White, white, white, white," says Poulin. "And a little bit of biscuit!"

"White remains the most popular fixture color, however light shades such as American Standard’s Day Dream and Spring have also started to see increases," notes Long. "Homeowners look for colors that will remain timeless over the years, and white and off-white hues often seem like the safest choice. "

"We find white to be far and away the most popular color, with Oyster and Almond capturing a small portion of the business," agrees Scott. "Non-traditional colors such as teal, green and raspberry are on the decline."

"One trend on the increase is ‘less is more’ – less clutter, simplicity in an elegant presentation," notes Schrage, who sees this trend playing into current color choices. "What [used to be] thought of as ‘neutral’ colors actually include a wider range of colors than in the past, and more in the mid-range." For example, she notes, "Kohler offers an array of whites, including Earthen White, a classic, cool-hued white, and White Satin. There are also warm neutrals, like Almond, Biscuit, Sandbar, Cream City, Stoneware, Almond and Sunlight."

When it comes to materials, Scott notes that acrylic dominates the whirlpool tub category.

"High-gloss finishes are still hot," notes Poulin.

However, mixing materials in the bathroom is a trend that continues to grow, and Long notes that, "We’re seeing everything from glass, chrome, wood, china and metal finishes in the bath."

"We are seeing more interest in granite, marble, solid surface products, upscale china and valves," says Piper. "This is seen in the successful, high-end Expo stores where magnificent bath displays are selling faster than ever."

"Today’s consumers want choices – a variety of different looks and materials to choose from so they can find a look that is all their own," explains Long. "Our European line, Porcher, provides homeowners with high-end fixtures [that offer a variety of materials and features to choose from]."

Notes Michael Chandler, marketing manager, Sanitary Products, Artist Editions and Color, for Kohler, "As more homeowners trend towards transforming or creating their bathrooms as ’retreats’ rather than necessities, [bath design will focus on] providing an appealing and effortless accompaniment to current bathroom fixtures." KBDN