HPAC Magazine

Luxury Baths – paradise for your bottom line

November 1, 2012 | By Andrew Snook

Digital designs and refurbished relics trendy for high-end bathrooms

We live in a digital age, so it is not surprising to see luxury bathrooms heading in that direction. From modern to contemporary and other unique designs, innovative technologies are helping transform bathrooms into a place of retreat and relaxation like never before.

“Our research shows that consumers look at the shower as a private sanctuary,” said Garry Scott, vice-president of wholesale marketing and brand development for Moen Canada. He said consumers are gravitating towards digital technology to add convenience to their bathroom experience.

“Sometimes it’s the only place in the home you can go to get away from everyone,” said Donna Church, Kohler Canada marketing and communications manager. “Combined with great design, it makes for a great retreat.”

Church added that multi-generational homes, new technology, and ready access to that technology, are driving forces in today’s designs.

Customers want the digital and higher-end bathroom products but what is in it for contractors? Jon Leeson, vice-president and general manger at Desco, said one advantage of installing and selling luxury bathroom products is that contractors can enjoy a little more profitability; particularly with products offered at showrooms exclusive to contractors that are not available through traditional retail outlets.

Superior showers

With digital shower products, consumers can maintain water temperature in their showers and baths, redirect water to various body sprays and save unique settings for different members of the household.

“It’s as close to computerizing your bathroom as you can get,” said Scott.

Homeowners use their showers as a place to get rejuvenated at the start or end of their day, according to Scott, who also noted that shower walls that incorporate jets are becoming increasingly popular.

One of Moen’s offerings to consumers looking to re-energize is its Flushmount body spray line, designed as a non-intrusive body spray that provides ample coverage while giving the bathroom a modern look. It is built to blend in with tile, slate and other premium bathroom shower-surround materials. Available in multiple trims and finishes, the Flushmount line is designed to appeal to a variety of tastes, but consumers are not the only people Moen was thinking about when the product was designed. The body spray line was designed to be roughed in easily and serviced from outside, without the need to break into a wall to service it, explained Scott.

“We find when we talk to tradespeople, they were asking for this type of (body spray) design but it created installation issues, which made it necessary to design it to make them easy to install,” said Scott.

Gary Uhl, director of design at American Standard, said there is a strong trend towards thermostatically-controlled showers for better control and improved safety, as well as improved accessibility as a design requirement.

“More people are living in apartments, condos or homes with more than one generation in place, so accessibility is becoming a bigger issue,” he said. “Boomers very much say they want to age in place.”

This has pushed a trend for more walk-in tubs, seated showers, higher toilets and higher vanities, explained Uhl.

Masco Canada Ltd.’s marketing brand manager Anita Griffin said another factor affecting shower and overall bathroom and home designs is the push towards greater water conservation. To help conserve water without having to sacrifice having higher-flow shower systems, people are also installing greywater systems and other water-saving devices.

Griffin pointed out that there are ways to install these types of shower systems and be environmentally conscious.

Uhl says delivering on water conservation without diminishing any performance or convenience of luxury products is a major challenge for manufacturers.

“If you ask people, ‘Do you want to conserve water?’ They all say ‘Of course I do,’” said Uhl. “If you then ask them if they are willing to give up any performance or convenience they’ll tell you, ‘No, I’m not.’”

Good vibrations

Griffin said one trend that is gaining popularity is the freestanding tub. She said uniquely designed freestanding tub fillers are becoming a sculpture within the bathroom.

The VibrAcoustic hydrotherapy tub from Kohler uses sonic rhythms that generate vibrations in the user’s body designed to offer them a soothing bath. The vibrations are generated from music played on a personal device that is plugged into the bathtub, or from one of four original compositions, that are sent through six speakers located within the shell of the tub.

“Those sound vibrations really penetrate you right to the core of your body when you’re in the bathtub,” said Church. 

Changing fixtures and accessories

For consumers who are not flush with cash, accessories and fixtures provide an opportunity to make bathrooms feel a little more posh.

“You can always change up the accessories, it’s worth putting some thought into,” said Griffin.

“Replacing showerheads to improve the bathroom experience is also an option for consumers,” said Scott. “That is probably the easiest change someone can make to make it feel like a premium shower without adding the whole expense of renovating the bathroom.”

Installing a grab bar with a similar design can also add to the look of a bathroom, while improving safety. Scott said giving all the faucets a similar look is another way to give a bathroom a premium look.

Reduce, reuse, redesign

While technology-driven modern and contemporary designs are increasing in popularity, the old ways of crafting luxury products are also on the rise, being reborn through a unique, green-inspired niche market.

California-based Native Trails creates a wide variety of artisan hand-crafted designer products for the kitchen and bathroom. The company has won several awards for its unique designs, including back-to-back Innovative Product of the Year awards from the Decorative Hardware and Plumbing Association in 2011 and 2012.

Naomi Howard, CEO and founder of Native Trails, said green design is important for many consumers, particularly when it does not mean a trade-off for great design. “Aesthetics, style, and functionality are usually most important, and when a great looking or unique bath vanity is also made from sustainable materials, like bamboo or salvaged wood, it’s a tremendous plus,” said Howard.

A variety of vanities

Howard said people expect features like soft-close drawers and dovetail construction with higher-end bath vanities; however, customers are often pleasantly surprised to see soft-close drawers in her company’s rustic-themed Chardonnay and Cabernet vanities made from reclaimed winemaking materials.

“Solid wood construction is very important for true longevity,” she said. “We see a bath vanity as a piece of furniture that should last as long as any heirloom quality piece of furniture, thus solid wood and high-quality construction are essential.”

Howard said there has been a big surge in demand for distressed finishes, especially authentic reclaimed wood.

“It’s interesting that vanities made from salvaged materials are being used often in quite contemporary designs, whereas in the past we would see them going into primarily rustic spaces,” she said. “Now the contrast between old and new, rustic and modern is part of what gives many designs character, a feel
of authenticity.”     

Although master baths typically require more storage, a minimalist look with open shelving is also popular, accordi
ng to Howard. She said the minimalist trend and movement toward clean, simple lines has opened up the market recently for wall-mounted vanities.

Trends change, so choose wisely

Although keeping up with the latest trends may seem important when remodeling or building a luxurious bathroom, Griffin reminds contractors that there is a more important factor to consider. “The bathroom is an area your customers go to for privacy and retreat and unwind before bed, so make sure they love it,” she said. “You want it to be an investment they will enjoy for years to come.” < >




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