Personal Luxury

Showers are stealing the show in the bathroom with the use of luxurious materials and finishes and fully customized options to create a truly personalized haven.

Designers have long understood the desire for a bathroom that acts as a private oasis, a place where people can go to relax and unwind. And there’s no element in the bathroom that can help create this peaceful retreat quite like a shower, which can be designed to accommodate a host of special features – steam, aromatherapy, chromatherapy and more – with a primary function of promoting relaxation.

“In luxury bathrooms, expansive showers that create a spa-like environment with steam, two showerheads, multiple body sprays and room for seating is gaining in popularity,” says Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, v.p. of design for Piscataway, NJ-based DXV/American Standard, part of LIXIL.

The shower cannot be an afterthought in the bath; every detail must be considered while designing the overall space. “Showers are essential to the design of a bathroom. They are not only a functional space for quick and easy cleaning, but also a place of escape or invigoration,” says Eric Moore, interior designer at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, WI.

The addition of special features that customize the shower for each individual user is one key trend in the industry. Other trends include health and wellness features, digital controls and technology that add convenience and function, water conservation and finishes and materials that create texture and warmth. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

With a growing focus on health and wellness in our culture, it’s no surprise to hear these elements are important in the bathroom as well.

According to Céline Marcotte, business development manager for Graff in Milwaukee, WI, “The bathroom has become a refuge for wellness and rejuvenation.”

Benjamin Fix, senior director of thermostats and showers at GROHE, based in Germany, and also part of LIXIL, agrees. “The prime area for evolution in the bathroom is related to health and wellness,” he says. “If you look at what consumers are doing today with technology and wearables, it’s a natural evolution that, at some point, you will be able to collect some really important data from your smart bathroom products.”

Ryan Ramaker, director of product development for Hansgrohe, based in Alpharetta, GA, says the shower itself has become a retreat. “Many people are now treating their showering time like they would treat their workout/gym time; with a set-aside time period each day for relaxing, deep massaging or a powerful clean before a long day at the office,” he says. “Today’s showers offer all of these experiences, typically in an overhead shower, a rain head shower or a hand shower.”

Additional features that promote wellness and relaxation are also on the rise. The addition of steam is just one example. “Many homeowners are beginning to see steam showers as a necessity, not just a luxury,” says Martha Orellana, v.p. of marketing and sales at Long Island City, NY-based Mr.Steam. “They are focusing on natural, non-pharmacological ways to improve their health and well-being, and are embracing steam as part of their wellness lifestyle.” Building these wellness features into the bath is a trend they don’t see slowing soon, she adds, noting that demand for a home wellness experience in the steam shower is being addressed “by adding aromatherapy, chroma lighting and music therapy – which are becoming ‘must haves’ for a healthy bathroom environment.”

Customization is essential in every area of the home; today’s consumers have clear ideas of what their space must include, and how these elements should function. And with multiple users in each home, versatility is critical.

“Customization in the shower is the most significant ongoing design trend, and one we’re paying a lot of attention to,” says Marcotte. “This trend has taken off largely because more customizable products have come to market, allowing designers to create a bathroom that truly reflects the design scheme in mind.”

“When thinking about showerheads, designers should consider personal styles of homeowners,” says Michael Poloha, senior product manager for Moen in North Olmsted, OH. They also need to know what functions their clients need most, in order to choose the best options.

Moore says that consumers want easy updates that improve their existing shower, allowing them to create a custom dream shower with multiple water delivery ports, steam and music. Paying attention to each person who will be using the shower is also important. “Most of my clients come in as couples and express a need for different things within the shower, so the number of water delivery ports is not to maximize, but personalize the shower experience for each person,” he says.

Other considerations, such as aging in place and multi-generational users in one household, also play a role in customization. “A move toward low- or no-threshold showers is on the rise, as that configuration is suitable for both young and older generations of users. Incorporating hand showers mounted on a slide bar is another popular option, as it is easily adaptable to users of all sizes, and works whether standing or sitting,” says L’Henaff.

Showers are claiming more attention in the bath, manufacturers say, both taking up more space and claiming a space of their own, separate from the tub.

Today’s bathrooms have a “shower-centric focus,” according to Ramaker. While particularly true in the master bath, he says this is also becoming more common in secondary baths, especially if multiple users are vying for time in the space. “Showers are more efficient than baths, provide hotter water for longer than baths, and have a lot less clean-up at the end. This saves time, money on heating and water bills and gets everyone out the door to work and school more efficiently,” he states.

Greg Weyman, v.p. of marketing at Basco Manufacturing Co. in Mason, OH, says that while square footage of a bathroom isn’t necessarily changing, the size of the shower area is growing significantly in most bath remodels. This increase creates a need for larger enclosures. “While 48″ and 60″ openings still dominate the market, the adjustability of those sizes for a precision fit is a product innovation we continue to work with at Basco,” he says. As for height, he says, most enclosures are at least 76″ tall to take advantage of popular floor-to-ceiling tile designs.

On the other hand, Tim Schroeder, president of Duravit USA in Duluth, GA, says that as many Americans move toward a tub for soaking and a separate shower, they see more compact shower sizes. The firm is also seeing a trend toward creating a “wet room,” with very little enclosure but a larger tile space that includes a bench and open storage for showering.

When it comes to style, the clean lines that are in favor throughout the home show up in shower design as well. And while polished chrome and brushed nickel are still in demand, manufacturers say they are also seeing a demand for warmer finishes beginning to take hold.

“We see a lot of clean, simple looks that not only transform a space into one of elegance, they also make the space very easy to keep clean and maintain,” notes Ramaker.

Weyman sees frameless shower enclosures, with less metal and more clean lines, continuing to be in high demand. In many configurations, he says, features like glass-to-glass hinges eliminate the need for a metal header. “Heavy glass shower enclosures with a quality you can feel with every close is driving much of the market growth – in all shapes and sizes,” he adds. “Even in shower areas where it may be more typical – slider units or swing doors – the consumer is looking for the enclosure that will show off their premium tile designs – while still providing a designer feature in the shower area.”

L’Henaff agrees that clean, contemporary lines continue to be popular for their appealing styling and ease of maintenance. “More specifically, we see a movement toward pure, simple forms that provide elegant utility, offering truly functional spaces for the user. This lends itself to integrated modular design that discreetly incorporates organization and storage capabilities into the architectural aesthetics,” he says.

“The most popular colors for bathtubs and shower enclosures continue to trend toward white and off-white shades because they provide a clean look and suit the overall design trend toward clean, contemporary styling,” L’Henaff explains.

But Schroeder sees interest in something different as well: “After years of very stark, white bathrooms, people are exploring color through tiles and shower trays.” He adds that people are exploring materials in a new way as well. “From black matte hinges and fittings to material innovation, consumers and designers alike are moving beyond the standard glass and chrome,” he states.

A touch of luxury is showing up in finish selections as well, as people branch out from polished chrome and brushed nickel. “In addition to smart technology, consumers want unique fixtures that make a statement in terms of style and design,” Poloha says. As matte black becomes more popular, Moen responded by expanding its portfolio of fixtures available in that finish, he adds. “The matte finish trend offers a contemporary look that complements a variety of décor choices, allowing designers and homeowners to experiment with fresh ideas,” he states.

Weyman says that at Basco, they’ve seen growth in niche finishes like black or wrought iron to complement the white subway tile look. “We’ve also seen a resurgence in gold finishes, with the rise in more muted or rose gold tones versus those of previously trending gold. In terms of glass, clear glass continues to dominate to showcase the tile within the shower area and to make the room feel more spacious,” he points out.

Kristen Baum, senior product manager for Brizo Kitchen & Bath Co. in Indianapolis, IN, says that the rise of gold, and even the “re-birth” of bronze, is currently influencing the industry. “It allows us to put that warmer finish on a contemporary product, and it takes it to a whole different design perspective,” she notes. “That’s what people are liking; the juxtaposition of those warmer finishes on more modern faucets and fixtures.”

Baum cites the incorporation of natural elements like wood and natural stone as trending. Bringing an element of nature into a man-made object really warms up the room, giving it some texture, she adds.

Technology that enhances and simplifies the showering experience is in great demand, manufacturers claim. Digital controls are emerging with new innovations all the time.

“A huge trend right now in showers involves the ability to provide a fully customizable shower experience through products that are intuitive,” says Fix.

“One upcoming trend in shower controls is the use of capacitive touch technology to enhance the user experience and simplify the functionality of shower controls, which is particularly useful when the user has wet hands as they operate the controls,” adds L’Henaff.

“Steam showers that integrate seamlessly into homeowners’ technology-driven world are in high demand,” adds Orellana. “Wireless, touch screen, intelligent controls, innovative steam dispersion and precision temperature control are becoming necessities. Choosing Smart Home compatible systems is also trending. Even homeowners who are not incorporating Smart Home systems now are planning for the possibility of adding one later,” she says.

Connectivity is something that manufacturers are tracking. Millennials who have been exposed to digital technology from birth are coming into the market, looking for less visual clutter, Baum believes. “They will spend more money on those things that matter and provide a more functional benefit,” she notes. “That may mean operating your shower from your phone, or starting your shower and having it warm up from your phone; we’re tracking that,” she says.

Poloha adds, “At Moen, we know that consumers have a growing desire to be connected throughout their homes. We were determined to find a way to improve consumers’ experiences with water by adding the benefit of smart technology.” This led to the creation of the U by Moen shower, the first Wi-Fi/cloud-based digital shower on the market. “The incorporation of an app allows users to control their preferences, and customize everything from shower time to water temperature,” he says.

Water conservation is more than just a buzz word; it’s a serious consideration that impacts the way manufacturers move forward with products and design. Many regions throughout the country have specific regulations that manufacturers must consider, and even in areas that do not, consumers increasingly desire products that give them the experience they want without being wasteful.

“Even in areas unaffected by regulations, more and more homeowners are looking for high-performance, water-conserving faucets and fixtures that will reduce water use without sacrificing performance,” states Fix.

Moore agrees: “Consumers are aware of water conservation and want products that not only save water, but do so without sacrificing power and performance.”

“Water conservation awareness and regulations have had a tremendous impact on the industry, catalyzing the creation of products that
are not just effective in their aesthetic, but in their function,” agrees Marcotte.

“The continuously growing interest in water and energy conservation is driving demand and innovation in eco-conscious products,” says Orellana. “In new and remodeled bathrooms, homeowners are often opting for the indulgence of steam over a soaking tub so that they can have luxury, relaxation and water conservation.” 

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