ISH Spotlights Global Bath Trends

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—America has been no stranger to extreme weather conditions in recent years, and it appears where the States lead in that arena, Europe follows. During one of the most important show dates in the European bathroom calendar – the ISH exhibition – heavy snowfall in Frankfurt, Germany very nearly stopped the event. Delays, diversions and cancelled flights meant there were visibly fewer visitors on day one of the show.

However, by day two, it was back to business as usual. And, according to the show’s organizer, more than 2,300 exhibitors and 190,000 visitors did manage to breach the Bavarian border to attend the ISH exhibition and experience the latest in European bathroom architecture – providing a global preview of up-and-coming bath design and product trends.


This year, the show seemed to focus on improving consumers’ ‘experiences’ when using the bathroom. In fact, Ideal Standard used the show as a platform to reveal findings of its recent study into how changing household demographics influence how people use their bathroom space. The company carried out 4,000 surveys across Europe to research attitudes and needs for bathrooms. To get even more information, the survey embraced the use of motion cameras, heat sensors and mapping technology in eight homes that included: a single person, a family with young children, an all-adult and a couples households.

The results were similar to trends evident in the U.S. Aside from the families with young children, the bathtub was rarely used as part of the daily cleansing ritual, with most adults opting for time-saving showers instead. The survey also revealed that families were the most discontent with their bath space, as it was used for a wide range of conflicting interests. However, it also revealed that, in the 50+ age demographic where the children had left home, the homeowners had largely reclaimed the space and were enjoying it as a sanctuary.

Interestingly, the users who were most content with their bathroom space were couples, who shared similar values, and had plentiful and systematic storage.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the products displayed throughout the exhibition halls at ISH picked up on these key themes. Products were clearly designed to enhance the consumer experience, with many focusing on sensory appeal. Even those that on the surface didn’t obey these rules looked to the comforting use of storage and improved usability with Universal Design tubs and showers.


The products on display made it clear that manufacturers had embraced the senses, creating items to appeal to sight, sound and smell, right through to the feel of “linen-effect” furniture finishes or textured ceramic for sanitaryware.

Hoesch showcased accessories to tailor its tubs for personal preference using underwater lights and invisible sound systems, Kaldewei and Kohler also adopted the use of music with their Soundwave tub and Moxi shower, respectively. Dornbract introduced the Sensory Sky shower, inspired by the weather, to create water patterns like rain or fog, and combine them with fragrance and light. One show stand out was the Laufen Kartell suite, designed by Roberto Palomba, featuring a bath that produces an aromatherapy mist on the surface of the water.


Stylish, personalized storage was a huge trend evident at this year’s ISH, and this was particularly evident in the Laufen Kartell collection, which combined the fine lines of its new generation Saphir Keramik sanitaryware with the visual lightness of transparent acrylic storage. Freestanding and wall-mounted storage modules formed part of the collection, along with an accessories ledge on the faucet, in a choice of four see-through colors.

Again, picking up on the trend toward highly sensory-oriented products, Duravit and Roca both opted for furniture that appealed to the touch, using textural linen effects on their furniture. Duravit used it as an external finish on its Happy D2 line and Roca opted to use it as an interior effect.

Another company showcasing storage, Burgbad displayed its Conceptwall, a “wall in front of a wall” preplumbed model of “floating” furniture in closed or open fronts, tall and half-height cabinets, washbasin and lighting, where designers can mix and match units for customization. It also displayed its rc40 freestanding modules to create islands in the bathroom, with the steel skeleton serving as the rear wall, side wall or sub-structure console.

While some of these concepts may be too European for many American baths, the growing interest in providing additional storage options without expanding the footprint of the bath may stir U.S. designers to look to their European counterparts for creative space-saving storage ideas in the bath.


While personalized storage was a hot trend at this year’s ISH, storage wasn’t the only thing getting personal at the show. Indeed, Universal Design was a hot trend, as manufacturers focused on creating products that meet the needs of users of all ages and abilities, with ease of access showcased across the show.

Bette and Artweger both showcased walk-in baths, while VitrA, HSK and Kermi all boasted enclosures that opened up to create large wet room spaces. In fact, Kermi scooped the Universal Design Award and iF Product Design Award for its Pasa XP and Raya enclosures. Kaldewei also looked to the importance of Universal Design by displaying its Xetis shower tray with integral in-wall drainage, offering level access for showering.


When it comes to style trends, displays seemed to reflect two very different aesthetics, with both classical, timeless looks and contemporary asymmetry hot tickets. British manufacturers Victoria + Albert, Heritage Bathrooms and Samuel Heath unveiled classical styles for sanitaryware, alongside roll-top slipper baths, and Art Deco-inspired brassware. Likewise, Grohe’s Global Senior V.P. of Design Paul Flowers showcased the Grandera line of brassware, which features a classical, upscale style.

Joining these ageless styles were asymmetrical designs that provided a coveted, contemporary look. Architect Daniel Libeskind illustrated this trend with the preview of an asymmetric mineral cast bath, with matching washstand and mirror, for Hoesch. But, asymmetry was also shown in arguably more accessible forms in the irregular positioning of furniture units, and countertop basins placed to one side, rather than centrally, on vanity tops.

While ISH in 2011 focused on safe but sellable design, 2013 saw the return of slightly edgier styling. Combined with products that appeal to the senses, enable personalization of the space and improved usability, this will indeed provide designers with additional tools to enhance the consumer experience in the bath – and that’s a trend that will appeal to designers and consumers worldwide.


Philippa Turrell is the editor of UK trade magazine Kitchens & Bathrooms News and has been writing about the industry for the past 15 years. An award-winning writer, she has won the National Home Improvement Council’s Journalist of the Year Award and Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) Trade Journalist of the Year Award. Under her leadership, Kitchens & Bathrooms News has also won the BMA Award for Best Bathroom Trade Magazine. Turrell has appeared on TV and radio to discuss kitchen and bath trends, and she has spoken and chaired panel discussions at various kitchen and bathroom trade exhibitions.