Both the practical and the sensually appealing were on display at the 2000 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show held in April in Chicago. The show drew 40,565 attendees and featured more than 3,725 booths by 626 companies.
The healthy economy is enabling consumers to pamper themselves with luxury items that now are being offered in sizes, materials and price ranges that make them available to more people.
Manufacturers are trying to make things easier, more convenient and comfortable, while maintaining a sense of style, says Boyd J. Miller, group product manager at Bemis Manufacturing.
"The bathroom has become a dominant room in the house," says Gary Harris, vice president/sales and marketing at Fluidmaster. "People are willing to spend money on designer cabinetry, pedestal lavatories and low-profile toilets."
Vertical whirlpoolsMulti-head showers serve as customized spas, providing sensual pleasures in an efficient and practical environment.
Kohler's WaterHaven showering system operates from a shower tower with hand shower, two showerheads and multiple adjustable body sprays. Hansgrohe's two Pharo shower temples also include overhead halogen lighting.
Maax's Rainforest shower system has an overhead canopy, which collects water and then lets it fall like raindrops. The unit also has a built-in seat, steam generator, a speaker that connects to an optional sound system and rotating colored lights.
The growth of showers is outpacing that of whirlpool tubs, says William Tracey, marketing manager at Symmons Industries. "Showers are getting bigger enclosures and are fitted with multiple heads."
Customization of showers is expanding, says Linda Halfmann, product manager for showering products at Kohler. "Consumers are looking for a big shower space, up to 46 in. in depth."
Moen's custom shower system, which it calls a vertical spa, includes the new ExactTemp valve that keeps water temperature and flow constant. Grohe offers custom showers with its Relexa Plus showerheads, body sprays and interchangeable personal hand showers and accessories.
Hansa America says it introduced the Hansanovajet as an economical alternative to higher-priced shower systems. The series includes a hand shower with three spray settings, three showerheads and accessories.
Interbath/Ondine has shower systems that combine hand-held showers, showerheads, valves and body sprays with storage products. Its newest offering is a system that provides the experience of multi-heads from fewer fixtures.
"It's a look at the future," says Ari Zieger, vice president/sales and marketing. "Various flows can be controlled through fewer heads."
Design and artistryManufacturers are partnering with artists and designers to develop products with visual flair. Hansgrohe's Axor bath collection bears the stamp of designers such as Philippe Starck and Phoenix Product Design.
Duravit USA is introducing its Happy D collection of ceramic bathroom fixtures by Sieger Design. Each piece alludes to the letter D.
Kallista has a Michael S. Smith-designed collection inspired by the cinematic architecture of the 1930s and 1940s.
Transolid has introduced Transcendence, a line of designer bath furniture that can be customized by the client. Five new designs of vanity tops on legs include the Chantille, which complements a Victorian décor; Metro, a classic and simple shaker-style; Terafina, with elegant curves; Canella, for a bold, contemporary look; and Circolare, intended for clients seeking originality and luxury.
Porcher by American Standard has introduced the Cirque lavatory with a steep-walled basin shaped like a Roman amphitheater. Its modern styling features a hint of art deco.
Altmans, which has been acquired by St. Thomas Creations, offers luxury faucets shaped like a dragon, a swan or a dolphin. St. Thomas Creations has spun-pottery vessels supported on wrought-iron legs.
Finish as fashionWarm metallic finishes are gaining attention. New finishes for plumbing fixtures include black matte, oil-rubbed bronze, French gold, earthenware and biscuit.
"There's a trend to earth tones, neutral shades, stone and tile for a warmer-looking kitchen," says Joanna Bauer, marketing communications coordinator at Price Pfister.
Price Pfister and KWC have introduced faucets or sprays with a black matte finish.
American Standard offers a new velvet chrome faucet finish with a matte texture that resists water spots and fingerprints.
Elkay Manufacturing is offering brushed nickel on new faucet models. Also, Elkay has a stainless steel "veggie sink" to use as a secondary station for food preparation.
"Stainless steel is still timeless," says Alan Danenberg, Elkay's director/marketing services. "It represents at least 75% of the kitchen sink business."
Consumers are interested in matching the style and finish of the faucets in the tub and lavatory with other metallic items in the room, such as the pressure balance valve, says Tracey of Symmons.
Geberit has 15 finishes for whirlpool drains, the newest of which is oil-rubbed bronze. "It's a living finish," says Frank Rossi, product manager. "When you first buy it, it is black. Over time it changes to more of a brown hue."
Gerber offers brushed nickel trip levers for its toilets. Having a chrome lever on a toilet adjacent to shower, tub and lavatory fixtures with a different finish is like wearing socks that don't match, says Ron Grabski, senior vice president/sales and marketing.
Hansa America has introduced Hansadesigno, a collection of faucets for the kitchen and bath with interchangeable decorative parts and individual design accents to complement the room's color scheme.
Moen's Asceri Collection includes coordinating plumbing fixtures and accessories. Ceramic accents are offered in shades such as pebbled cream and seaspray.
Wrought-iron finish is expected to gain wider appeal, says Pete DeMarco, a team leader at American Standard. "It's eclectic. It complements any look."
Kohler's new earthen white color, a double-glazed, milky hue, is available on select vitreous china fixtures.
Biscuit is a new color available on Delta's Signature and Waterfall pull-out spray faucets. Delta also has introduced pearl nickel finish on its Innovations electronic hands-free lavatory faucet.
Wood is being used in the kitchen and bath for products other than cabinets. St. Thomas' Parisian lavatory has mahagony legs. PS Craftsmanship has a bathtub made of iroko wood, and lavatories with wooden counter tops and wooden bowls.
Beauty is only skin deepIt's not enough to be beautiful; kitchen and bath fixtures also have to be clean and germ-free. To that end, manufacturers are touting products with antibacterial and antimicrobial features. Both Aqua Glass and LASCO feature Microban antibacterial protection on their bathware. Aqua Glass has introduced ClearView packaging that protects the tub between factory and installation.
Toto introduced SanaGloss, a glaze applied to the ceramic during the manufacturing of the toilet to create a surface that repels stains and bacteria. A 1.6-gpf toilet protected by this glaze is cleaned in a single flush, says Newbold Warden, marketing communications manager at Toto.
Vitraclean, also a protective glaze, has been introduced by Vitra, a Turkey-based ceramic plumbing fixture manufacturer. The glaze repels water to prevent dirt and lime scale buildup.
Duravit's WonderGliss is a coating for wash basins, toilets and bidets that prevents deposits from adhering to the surface.
MTI's whirlpools have a self-cleaning Fill-Flush System that flushes the plumbing lines. Consumer interest in personal hygiene is addressed by the bidet toilet seats available from Toto, Bemis and Church. The Bemis bidet seat previewed last year is now in stock. "To build awareness we have created an educational brochure that speaks to different demographics and gives reasons why various people would want to buy a bidet seat," says Miller of Bemis.
More companies are offering this type of product, he adds.
The demand for clean and pure drinking water is addressed by American Standard's new ClearTap water filtering faucet; by Kohler Co., which has introduced its Aquifer water filtration system that can be installed under any sink; by Moen, which has expanded its PureTouch line of filtering faucet systems; and by Price Pfister, which offers an in-spout Pfilter Pfaucet.
Real lifeA sensual spa experience or artistically formed faucet may arouse delight, but the nuts-and-bolts activities of everyday living also require attention.
Two continuing trends observed at K/BIS address the practical side of life: commercial-style kitchens and universal access.
"Interest in the commercial kitchen has grown since last year and that trend will continue," says Timothy Mullally, president and general manager, KWC Faucets and Hansa.
"People are prepared to invest in their homes with high-end, highly functional appliances, sinks and faucets," says Achim Schreiber, CEO/domestic technology, Blanco.
Also, demand for universal access features in kitchen and bath products is growing in response to the aging population and enhanced awareness of the needs of children and the disabled.
But everyone can benefit from universal access. Mansfield, Gerber and St. Thomas are addressing the needs of people who have attained the average height of a male or female in today's world with taller toilets and pedestal lavatories. While ADA compliant, these fixtures carry names that stress their convenience and comfort.
Mansfield uses the name Haute Confort, which translates as elevated comfort, for its 171/2-in. high toilets, which can be partnered with a 5-in. higher pedestal sink.
"Most standard toilets are 13 in. high," says Mark Riggs, manager of marketing communications at Mansfield. The average man is 5 in. taller today vs. the 1920s, while the average height for women has risen by 6 in.
St. Thomas calls its 17-in. high toilets "enhanced height" fixtures. "The issue is comfort," says Reed Fry, a spokesman for the company.
Gerber has a pedestal sink built 4 in. higher, says Ila Lewis, executive vice president/sales and marketing. "We have always offered products at extended height because of the demand for ADA compliance," she says.
A wall-hung, siphon-action flush toilet from Geberit, designed as a space-saver, also meets ADA requirements because it can be mounted at a height of 15 in. to 19 in., says Gene Carpenter, product manager.
"Next year the baby boomers will start retiring," says Gilbert Allen, national sales manager at LASCO Bathware. "Their lifestyle and longevity has given them more resources."
Coastal Industries can build ADA-compliant shower doors with no bottom track, says David Herbert, vice president/marketing. "What you need is an egress of 36 in. There will be growing demand for that."
Sterling has a 63-in. roll-in shower in its line of ADA-compliant modular shower suites made from Vikrell, a material similar to acrylic.
Improving the 1.6-gpf toiletManufacturers continue to work on improvements to the performance of the low-flush toilet.
"Pressure-assist is growing," says Bruce Martin, president of WC Technology. "The basic toilet market has not changed in units or volume, but the pressure-assist market has grown from 90,000 units a year to about 600,000 units a year in 2000. There are still 5.5 million gravity-flush toilets."
WC Technology has applied for a patent on a direct-connect flush mechanism to replace the chain in the tank, Martin says.
Fluidmaster has introduced the VAC, a flush support system for 1.6- gpf toilets. VAC is an alternative to pressure-assist, says Harris of Fluidmaster. "It operates as efficiently as the pressure-assist but more quietly than some models. It uses standard valves inside the tank."
What's in the future? Both Grabski of Gerber and DeMarco of American Standard predict further growth for one-piece toilets.
The latest designs in toilets and other plumbing products will be unveiled at the 2001 K/BIS, April 27-29 in Orlando, Fla.