Showers Clean Up

Simplicity is in when it comes to showers and tubs, with a move toward fewer body sprays and optional features, clean lines and a roomier feel through creative design. Products that are easy to install and maintain, tub-to-shower conversions and freestanding tubs are on the rise, say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“There is definitely a trend toward a feel of ‘less is more.’ A dedicated showerhead, either wall or ceiling mounted, is the preferred function,” says Lou Rohl, CEO/managing partner of ROHL, based in Irvine, CA. Another common feature, he says, is a diverter to a handspray, either wall mounted or on a slide bar, particularly in a master bath. Body sprays and rain bars are losing status, he adds. “The shift to a dual function showerhead/handshower from three or more function options has become prevalent in recent years,” he adds.

“I always have requests to make the bathroom look and feel like a spa,” says Travis Rotelli, senior interior designer at Kohler Co. in Kohler, WI. “That typically leads to a clean, simple design that isn’t too busy. People want to wake up in the morning and come home after a long day of work and be put at ease when taking a shower or preparing for the day.”

Products that offer a good value, and are easy to install and maintain are also popular, say manufacturers. “Customers, especially through the recession, were looking for less expensive, less painful ways to remodel the bathroom,” says Dean Hartley, sales director for Design Imaging, LLC in Orem, UT, which manufactures Sentrel, a composite material that uses digital imagery to replicate the look of natural granite, marble and travertine in the shower, tub and wet wall areas – without the higher maintenance of natural stone.

Shower Shift

Many manufacturers say they are seeing a move away from tub/shower combinations and toward either a shower only or, if space allows, a shower with separate freestanding tub.

Dave Wilson, director of marketing at Bathwraps by Liners Direct in Roselle, IL, says the firm’s business has shifted from bathtubs and liners to aging-in-place products in the past five years. “People have really turned away from tubs and liners because most people do not spend time taking baths,” he says.

Stacy Zar, director of marketing and new product development for Aquatic in Anaheim, CA, agrees that time constraints are a factor when people are deciding to replace a tub/shower combination with a shower only. “They’re saying ‘I just want to get in and get out and get on with my day,’” she says.

Hartley explains, “The idea of a bathtub is not what it used to be.” These days, he says, people are looking for a larger shower that is easy to clean and easy to step in and out of.

In the master bath, says Rohl, a separate shower and freestanding tub are becoming typical specifications. Often, people are looking for a larger shower stall that can accommodate two, and a freestanding tub with matching tub filler, he notes. “Offering a wide array of tub filler options – traditional, transitional or modern – is a key demand from our clients,” he adds.

Larry Chen, visual merchandising manager for Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA, also sees demand for freestanding tub fillers, particularly in contemporary designs with a single-hole body and spout with attached hand shower. “Based on that trend, it would be safe to assume then that freestanding tubs would also be sought after by designers,” he says.

In addition to the time factor, accessibility issues and consumers’ desire to stay in their homes longer as they age contribute to bathing trends, with a shift toward walk-in tubs and showers with benches, along with lower thresholds and accessories designed to assist the bather, such as grab bars.

“Many of my clients are pulling out their bathtubs and putting in walk-in showers. Benches in showers have become a great request as well,” says Rotelli. He cites Kohler’s new Tresham seated receptor, which has a bench that sits at “Comfort Height,” which is closer to chair height, making getting up and down easier, and still providing an all-in-one design for easy installation, he says.

Rick Hirschhaut, senior v.p. at BCI Acrylic Bath Systems, Inc. in Palatine, IL, says that his firm is seeing many remodels where the homeowners’ needs have shifted. “Our most popular solution now is removing the tub, and putting in a shower base with corner seat,” he says. “One of the basic needs of people staying in their homes is [the ability to] safely bathe themselves,” he says. Grab bars are also on the rise for the same reason. People who may not have included these accessories in the past are now doing so, and those who would have already are putting in multiple grab bars, he adds.

People want as much space as possible in their wet area, and if the footprint is small, designers are tasked with creating the illusion of more space. In many remodels, manufacturers say the area allocated for a tub or shower is not changing.

Wilson has seen a rise in demand for custom, barrier-free showers. “The consumers would like the biggest space possible,” he says.

Zar notes that consumers are keeping the same footprint in their wet area, but these spaces seem roomier because they are not completely encased. The popularity of clear shower doors contributes to this, as does a lower threshold when the area is transitioned to a shower only, she adds.

Conservation Legislation

Conservation issues have an impact on trends in showers and tubs, particularly in states where new legislation is guiding what is allowable in shower fixtures. In California, for instance, multi-function diverters are no longer allowed, says Rohl.

Manufacturers are developing products that address these conservation concerns without sacrificing the overall showering experience. Kohler, for instance, has developed spray technologies that allow for less water usage but consistent performance, says Rotelli, who cites the new Katalyst spray as an example. “A simple design allows air into the water stream, which allows for larger water droplets to emit from the showerhead, but also be sprayed out with great pressure, as to not affect the user experience. We are removing a half gallon of water with our Katalyst 2.0 GPM showerheads and the user cannot tell the difference,” says Rotelli.

Chen adds that there may be more movement toward WaterSense compliance as different states implement more water conservation legislation. For instance, in New York City, a law was implemented in 2010 to enhance water efficiency standards. “One specific that which came into effect July 1, 2012, was the requirement of the WaterSense label on all showerheads, private lavatory faucets and bath-specific fixtures. If water conservation and efficiency become more of a priority, then more efforts will probably be focused on technology to enhance the showerhead performance with the reduced flow rate,” says Chen.

Custom Controls

Though there are consumers who want a place to get away from the technology that surrounds them in their daily lives, there are also those who want the digital age to carry through to their shower and tub controls.

“The major trend in bathtubs and showers is the evolution of technology. Clients are looking for customized control, right at their fingertips,” says Rotelli. Kohler’s DTV Prompt system has a waterproof digital interface right in the shower that allows the user to control the water temperature and features with a simple push of a button.

In these digital times, there are consumers who have learned to do everything with their phone in hand. Rohl says, “As the digitally native consumer begins to age and remodel [his or her] home, it is expected that electronic technology, backed up by phone and tablet application, will be in higher demand.” These consumers feel disconnected, he says, if they aren’t able to use their phone in everyday life. “Therefore, operating options for showering connected to their phones is required and anticipated to grow. How much they will actually use this technology remains to be seen,” he states.

Wilson notes that consumers want a wide array of technological innovations. However, it’s not about technology for technology’s sake, but rather about comfort. To that end, he points out that Bathwraps RANE Walk-In Tub features provide aromatherapy, chromatherapy, air spa, and jets that allow for a rehabilitation setting in the home. “Consumers love having these different technological features that are consumer friendly for all ages,” he maintains.

Personal Style

Options have always been important in the bathroom, as people like their spaces to reflect their personal taste as well as their individual needs.

“Any time [consumers] are able to customize their own thing, that’s a good selling feature,” says Zar. She has seen a rise in subway tile in the shower, and says Aquatic will soon be introducing a family of subway tiles into its line. When it comes to style, she notes that tile is often chosen first for a remodel. “Even if they don’t do a tile-up shower, even if it’s just the backsplashes, that gives them their color palette to work from,” she says.

A desire for a natural stone look is also on the rise. Hartley says that brown tones are trending. Although white used to be considered the best choice for making the bathroom look bigger, he says the opposite is actually true. A darker color in the surround can help make the room look bigger since, for contrast, the rest of the drywall is painted a lighter shade. Some people, he says, are asking for a lighter color, but with patterns and a stone look, rather than stark white. Finishes are also changing, says Hartley, with the polished looks waning and Oil-Rubbed Bronze or Brushed Nickel colors rising.

Hirschhaut sees a developing focus on granite and stone looks in the bath. “So much of our business used to be white. Now, white is a very small part of our business,” he points out.

Rotelli says he’s been using a lot of large-format porcelain in the wet areas. “A large 12"x24" porcelain tile material can give a nice seamless look of tile, but not come with all of the hassles of multiple grout lines and joints to maintain,” he says. In addition, he notes that warmer hues are popular, including Dune, a new warm grey color for Kohler Company. While Brushed Nickel is always popular, he adds, “The market is starting to really explode with requests for our Oil-Rubbed Bronze and Brushed Bronze.”

Wilson, on the other hand, says that Chrome fixtures are still the best seller for Bathwraps, followed by Brushed Nickel and Oil-Rubbed Bronze. “White walls have remained the most popular for a sleek and clean look,” he says. “However, there has been a huge increase in earth tone wall colors.” Bathwraps recently introduced two new earth tone colors, Tahiti Marble and Cliffside Marble, which have been met with a great response, he says.

Changing Economy

Economic shifts have an impact on the tub and shower markets and, in some cases, that means consumers are choosing fewer features and finding a more budget-friendly way to remodel the bathroom. While consumers still want quality products and good design,

“People are looking to be smarter with their dollars,” says Rotelli. However, he adds, “Personalization is absolutely essential when designing these spaces, because the clients putting design work into their kitchen or bathroom not only want to enjoy it themselves for the foreseeable future, but they want it to be striking and stunning when it comes to selling their home as well.”

Zar notes that, as the recovery continues, consumers are becoming more comfortable putting money back into their houses, adding, “[They’ve] been holding off for so long, people are dying to get back into it.”

A product like Bathwraps fits the needs whether the economy is in a dip, or on an upturn, according to Wilson. “When the economy dips, people stop selling their homes and they look for an inexpensive remodel because their bathrooms need an update,” he says. “When the economy is doing well and consumers are selling their homes, they also look for a fast, easy solution, which Bathwraps can provide with a one-day install,” he adds.

Hirschhaut says that even higher-end consumers are trying to be wise with their spending, which has helped BCI grow even through the economic downturn. “We can give them the looks they are looking for, long term, for a lower investment,” he says.

The economy has also had an impact on how many options are being used in showers, says Rohl. While consumers will still spend for features that have value to them, if consumers don’t see the benefits and cost return of the options, they are being reduced. “Spending [of] additional dollars on features such as body sprays is being impacted when [the features are not expected to be] used on a daily basis,” Rohl concludes.