Instant Spa Vacation
New innovations in tubs and shower enclosures bring the spa
concept to new levels of luxury, while acrylic expands its
By Daina Darzin Manning
With the evolution of the shower and tub market, a plethora of
upscale bathing choices have become available. From combination air
bubble and water-jetted tub, complete with chromatherapy colors, a
massage pillow, shiatsu massage and fashionable cement surround to
the two-person super shower with electronically controlled
multi-shower heads, body sprays and steam, today’s bathroom offers
the ultimate spa experience.
On the other end of the scale, it’s now possible to have a
snazzy-looking acrylic tub liner and shower surround installed in
one day, for around $2,000. So, whether your clients want a
complete luxury overhaul, or a simple update, there are plenty of
options, according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen and
Bath Design News.
The whirlpool has long been a staple of the mid- to high-end
bathroom but now, soaking tubs are making a resurgence, along with
innovative new concepts such as Kohler’s “Sok” tub, reports Diana
Schrage, interior designer for the Kohler Design Center, in Kohler,
WI. “It’s a hybrid between a bathing, soaking experience and a
whirlpool,” she notes. The Sok features a unique jetting system
with a champagne bubble effervescence. “It speaks to the home spa,
wellness, healing, your bath as a respite,” says Schrage.
Similarly, whirlpool tubs that combine jets plus air are a hot
item, says Tawnya Quiet, director of marketing for Aquatic
Industries, Inc., in Leander, TX. Jets have grown more
sophisticated in their placement, she notes, providing authentic
shiatsu massage patterns. Aquatic’s tub also features an innovative
massage pillow: “A large, comfortable, pulsating jet pillow with a
large membrane in the middle, with a 12″ jet which rotates,”
elaborates Quiet. “It’s a giant jet behind your neck that massages
your neck, but it’s a dry massage.” The pillow is removable,
attached by industrial Velcro.
Kohler’s Sok tub also employs chromatherapy, the new buzzword in
“Chromatherapy is a movement through the color wheel, allowing
the customer to stop at any value that’s appealing,” explains
Schrage, adding that this approach plays into the emotional
reactions people have to different colors. She elaborates that this
has a scientific explanation having to do with the way your retina
focuses on different colors.
In the Sok bath, four ports within the tub permeate the water
with color, and enable the bather to stop at any color in the
spectrum he or she finds soothing particularly effective in a
A very deep soaking tub is another trend, Schrage states; it
adds to a relaxation vibe by allowing bathers to immerse themselves
in water clear up to their chins.
Chromatherapy can also be used in a shower environment, notes
Alex Bieri, marketing manager for Hansgrohe, Inc., in Alpharetta,
GA, via a backlight that provides mood lighting.
Similarly, Ondine offers a chromatherapy light shower, explains
Ari Zieger, v.p./sales and marketing for Ondine by Interbath, in
City of Industry, CA. “It combines fiber optics with your shower,”
Additionally, an electronic system for tubs allows consumers to
preset the level of their tub fills, with an automatic stops at the
optimum spots. Without it, “people spend a lot of time watching the
tub fill, babysitting [the] thing,” Zieger notes.
More traditional soaking and jetted tubs also have new bells and
whistles, manufacturers report. Hot trends include a bath that
takes its cues from vanities and kitchen sinks with an undermount
tub in a large Roman bath-style surround.
“It’s a very clean, sophisticated look,” says Quiet.
Granite and marble are the top high-end choices, manufacturers
report, though Schrage says cement is an up-and-coming, innovative
adventure pick. Rick Bowman, sales and marketing manager for
Century Marble, in Westfield, IN, also cites granite looks in
cultured marble as popular for Roman tubs and surrounds.
The claw foot tub has also been a steady seller, says Schrage,
and now features clean-lined looks that go beyond the traditional
antique approach. “If you have a claw foot tub, it doesn’t mean you
have to have a Victorian environment,” she explains.
Super Shower Ideas
The “super shower,” replete with body sprays, multiple shower
heads, steam and special effects such as rain heads, has been hot
for several years, but the systems continue to be refined,
Hansgrohe’s Bieri notes that the extra-large two seater steam
shower is an up-and-comer. “We’ve found that people who want to get
that kind of high-end pre-plumbed appliance want to enjoy it
together with a spouse,” he notes.
Today’s super shower can even get rid of such little annoyances
as clogged shower heads. Larry Brodey, president and CEO of Jaclo
Industries, in Mountainside, NJ, mentions rain heads, with
four-inch to 12-inch heads, with rubber acetal nibs that break up
calcium and lime impurities. “When people are buying an expensive
head with little holes, and they get clogged, it really distorts
the spray,” he explains. The rain heads also work well in a retro
look, Brodey adds, citing 1920s showers that include extra-large
In addition to all the other ways showers have evolved, valves
and electronics are a new consumer desire. “Consumers are getting
smarter,” says Bieri. “They visit Web sites and learn more about
what they want. Increasingly, they’re more educated on the type of
valving they want. They’re beginning to understand the value of
thermostatic valves, and they’re used much more widely.”
Temperature control is only one function, he adds. There’s a child
safety feature; additionally, the water temperature can be set to
one’s optimum level, so “tomorrow, when you turn the water on, as
soon as the hot water reaches the valve, you have the same
temperature you had yesterday.”
“You have the ability to control the hand shower, overhead
shower, body spray. You can pre-set the time of the shower, the
temperature and the frequency interval of the pulsation of the body
jets,” adds Zieger about Ondine’s electronic shower. “It’s a
customizable program for up to three users.” The Ondine system
takes all of the hardware off of the wall and replaces it with a
single decorative control module with a brass substrate that’s
available in chrome, brushed nickel and other finishes. The system
is also available with a steam control function, Zieger adds.
Easy adjustment of body sprays is another new advantage via
Kohler’s Water Haven system, which features an open track on the
wall, enabling family members to easily adjust the body sprays to
their height, Schrage adds.
Overall, Zieger emphasizes that flexibility is key, giving clients
the exact shower function they desire.
Doors to Luxury
In terms of design, glass treatments are giving shower doors a new
look, manufacturers report. Fred Adams, v.p./marketing for LASCO
Bathware, in Anaheim, CA, cites floral treatments on glass as well
as “different glass textures to obtain obscurity yet increase the
value with more attractive looking glass surfaces.”
Hansgrohe’s Bieri also mentions sandblasted glass, which
provides a milk glass look. “We see glass doors that are more than
just plain, with some sort of partial etching or sandblasting to
give a feeling of dimension as well as a little more privacy,” he
explains. His company has also recently introduced nano-technology,
a coating that makes water pearl off a glass door without leaving
Metal finishes are also key to an effective shower look. Adams
notes that powder coating on aluminum frames allows consumers the
same range of options pewter, nickel, bronze, etc. for their shower
door frames as they have for their faucets.
Decorative finishes are now available for nearly every metal
item in a bathroom, from shower heads to decorative trim such as
traps and valves for under glass vessel bowl sinks, reports Brodey.
“We’ve been doing multiple shower systems, multiple body sprays,
all in decorative and matching finishes. Satin nickel is hot
everywhere,” he adds.
“Polished nickel and oil-rubbed bronze are starting to get
Finish preferences are also regional, Brodey believes, with
polished and satin nickel hot on the East Coast, oil rubbed bronze
in the Northwest and Midwest and polished chrome having a
resurgence on the West Coast. The latter works particularly well
for contemporary looks, 20th century vintage designs such as Art
Deco and Mid Century Modern, as well as older, British antique
looks. Antique brass and copper are gaining in popularity again as
well, says Brodey.
However, Bieri emphasizes that, when it comes to shower systems,
most consumers will choose “functionality over design.” They’ll
pick the best shower system even if it doesn’t match the oil-rubbed
bronze faucet on their vanity, especially since the shower system
is behind a door that can have an obscuring texture, if needed.
“Sophisticated buyers are enjoying contrast and blending,” as
opposed to everything matching, adds Schrage. “It has to be well
done. But, it allows the user to have a statement piece or
For door styles, the frameless door remains a top upscale
choice, while advances in sealing technology make the issue of
leaking a thing of the past as well as eliminating yellowing seals,
a consumer complaint in the past. Adams notes that a frameless
fabricated unit is less likely to have a leaking problem than a
custom installation, and adds that the real problem is often
“dripping when the doors are open [after a shower]. That’s almost
impossible to avoid.”
For middle-income homeowners, advances in bathtub liners and shower
surrounds provide a quick and economical solution, says John
Heckenlaible, executive director of marketing, Re-Bath, LLC, in
Mesa, AZ. “You know houses that have those avocado green bathtubs?
Homeowners have the options of tearing it out, repainting it or
doing nothing. If you repaint it, that will last one to three years
and then it will peel. You can tear it out, which is a nightmare it
takes three days, you have to redo your plumbing, your floor, your
Another option are Re-Bath’s acrylic liners, which work off a
selection of 700 bathtub liner molds. A liner mold is matched to
the existing tub, and the company custom forms a sheet of acrylic
to those contours.
“You don’t have the tear out,” notes Thomas H. Barzantny,
v.p./marketing for BCI Acrylic Bath Systems, Inc., in Palatine, IL,
whose company also manufactures liners and surrounds.
The liner system also can be applied to old tile, Heckenlaible
notes. In addition to a plain, glossy surface, the liners are
available in simulated tile, simulated marble or simulated granite.
Shower bases can also be rejuvenated in this manner.
Heckenlaible adds that a variety of bathtub aprons, including a
1950s-style scalloped front, make this a good solution for those
aiming for a retro look.
Usually, homeowners replace their shower door at the same time,
Barzantny adds. “We offer so many types of glass beveled, hammered,
smoked there’s a number of designs they can get.”
Acrylic’s capacity to form inserts such as shelves and bench
seats, as well as its appropriateness for steam enclosures, has
marked that material’s entry into the upscale market, manufacturers
note. “Inserts are a trend in the marketplace,” explains Adams, who
cites foot rests and “columns where you can put in grab bars” as
popular choices. “The industry is developing the acrylic modules
into more of a suite environment, adding some enhanced features
that give bathers more luxury.”
Hansgrohe’s Bieri notes that his company’s shower temples, which
are a modular unit installed with existing walls, usually are used
with granite, tile or another natural material.
Schrage also cites acrylic as an alternative to glass shower doors
for a fresh translucent look with a soft tint and easy
In terms of design, acrylic enclosures are typically
contemporary looking, but builders get around that by using more
traditional style mouldings around the shower, notes Adams. He adds
that obscuring, instead of clear glass, finishes on the shower door
also serve to hide the contemporary look of the unit itself and
make it appropriate for a traditional or antique look.
Satin finishes in acrylic are also likely to be introduced in
the next few years, though currently, “the glossy finish is still
the surface of choice,” says Adams.
However, Rick Bowman cites matte finish cultured marble as an
up-and-comer. “As soon as you sand cultured marble to a matte
finish, you start getting the feel of solid surface,” he
While consumers are more than willing to embark on flights of fancy
with electronics, they remain cautious when it comes to colors,
those surveyed agreed.
“Designers are being more creative with color treatment [via]
wall covering and paints,” thinks Adams. “It’s a much easier task
to change [those] than a permanent fixture.”
White continues to dominate, though pale neutrals such as
biscuit, almond and very light grey are also popular. Earth tones
are also growing in popularity, especially in markets such as
Southern California, where matte ceramic tile in tan and brown
shades seems to be a popular pick for new construction.
Century Marble’s Bowman cites his company’s cultured marble
product in a new color, Parchment, a subtle earth tone color with
yellow tones and very subtle veining, as a hot seller.
Re-Bath also sticks to neutral colors such as white, biscuit,
almond, orchid, pale grey and smoked marble. The wall systems come
in similar colors, plus taupe granite.
Similarly, BCI’s line comes in white, biscuit, almond and gray,
plus marbleized silver white and almond white, reports Barzantny.
Plans are in the works to develop a granite pattern as well.
Concludes Heckenlaible, “Neutrals create a lot of