authors Elizabeth Richards | March 5, 2021
With health and wellness solutions for the home in the spotlight, soaking tubs, jetted tubs and saunas are in high demand. COVID-19 has increased the focus on personal wellness, and more time being spent at home is inspiring homeowners to accelerate the schedule for renovation projects to create the personalized refuge they desire.
“People have found, again, the value in bathing,” says Michael Kornowa, director of marketing at MTI Baths in Sugar Hill, GA. For a number of years, he adds, there was a strong movement towards showers, which are more convenient for daily hygiene tasks. “With this wellness movement, there has been a renewed appreciation for the benefits of bathing,” he observes.
“Fortunately, the trend for some time has been to turn the bathroom into a sanctuary of wellness and integrating more and more complementary and alternative care rituals in your day,” offers Erick Kristian, marketing director for BainUltra, based in Quebec, Canada.
Self-care and stress reduction are becoming higher priorities, Kristian adds, prompting BainUltra to promote an “End of Stress” campaign with Dr. Kenneth Redcross. “More so in the past year and continuing this year, the importance of taking just a bit of time each day for a personal wellness ritual can make a world of difference. The power of a Hydro-Thermo massage is transformational,” he says.
Demand for residential saunas is at an all-time high, adds John Gunderson, national sales manager for Amerec in Woodinville, WA. “People miss using the saunas at their gym, so they want something to use at home,” he remarks. “Driving this is the health benefits of heat bathing and using the sauna several times a week.” While saunas in the bathroom are in demand to create the home spa feel, he notes they’re also being installed in other spaces, such as exercise rooms, garages, spare bedrooms or even outdoors.
“The bathroom is increasingly changing from its traditional form into a comfortably appointed room with an appealing ambience,” reports Tim Schroeder, president of Duravit USA in Duluth, GA. “As a corner version, bathtubs fit perfectly into the room, while as a freestanding option they become the center of the room and create a unique spatial effect.”
Freestanding tub options have been on the rise for several years, a trend that continues. Other top trends include an emphasis on personalized style and options, attention to accessibility, increased integration of complementary therapies, and interest in organic, natural materials. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
On Their Own
Freestanding tubs continue to be in the spotlight this year. While some freestanding tubs are designed to accommodate therapeutic jets, soaking tubs are a more frequent choice, manufacturers say.
“We see a diminished demand for jetted tubs and an increased demand for soakers,” stresses Stephen Barry, CEO of Laufen USA in Miami, FL. “Bathrooms are getting larger to allow more room for freestanding baths and to serve as a restful sanctuary space, rather than a utilitarian space.”
In the past five to 10 years, freestanding tubs have played a significant role in the bathroom industry, says Mark Wolinsky, president at Quebec, Canada-based Wetstyle. “People have been increasingly choosing luxurious freestanding designs over the traditional built-ins or jetted bathtubs,” he reports.
The popularity of freestanding tubs is due, in part, to people recognizing that “the bath is the crown jewel of the bathroom,” Kristian notes. “It is a centerpiece, a work of art. It brings aesthetic beauty, and nothing does that quite like a freestanding bath.”
“Freestanding bathtubs have had quite a run lately,” agrees Naomi Neilson, CEO and founder of Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA. “We can hardly keep our copper and concrete tubs in stock. With an unprecedented amount of time being spent at home during the pandemic, there is more demand than ever to make the home truly a sanctuary from the stress and challenges brought on by 2020. People tend to view a freestanding bathtub as a peaceful, relaxing element in the bath – and they want to take advantage of their extra time at home to enjoy that luxurious soak,” she says.
Design that allows customers to express their own unique style and taste is expected in the luxury market. Manufacturers say flexibility to personalize the space is essential.
“One of the joys we have as a manufacturer is seeing all the unique ways people love to customize their baths,” says Kristian. “We offer a wide variety of ways to customize your tub, many collections, accessories and therapies you can build into your dream bath,” he states. “When we introduced the Scala – a modern twist on the clawfoot bath – we offered a variety of new finishes, in addition to more traditional ones, like Matte Black and the popular Satin Brass.”
“The new trends focus on achieving individuality through color and shapes,” Schroeder remarks. Duravit teamed up with sieger design to create the Happy D.2 Plus that offers all these elements, Schroeder says. “The Happy D.2 Plus bathtubs with the exterior in Graphite Super Matte or White give this series of bathtubs the opportunity to personalize the ambience with a contemporary and elegant style.”
A wide range of colors makes this individualization easy. “For us, the perfect color does not exist,” Verdi says. “The perfect color is just the one our client wants. This is why most of our bathtubs and bathroom furniture are freely customizable in terms of color, and are available in over 500 colors from the NCS range.”
While white is still on top, the interest in other shades is intriguing buyers. “Although white is still prevalent, two-tone tubs are gaining in popularity,” Barry says.
“After many glamorous years, it’s now time to say goodbye to polished surfaces and lacquered fronts and welcome what is probably the most important bathroom trend of 2021: the matte finish,” Wolinsky stresses. “We see that more people each year are choosing matte surfaces, with its tactile and warm-to-the-touch sensation and sophisticated look. We are also seeing increasing interest for natural classic colors such as concrete grey, slate and black,” he adds.
While size is often dictated by available space, some manufacturers say they see a move towards smaller tubs. Barry says the trend seems to be “smaller is better” for freestanding baths, but adds that the interior bathing well must be maximized for comfort. “This is a driving factor in the ‘thin-wall’ craze, which Laufen has mastered for years,” he stresses.
Federica Verdi, marketing manager for Devon&Devon in Florence, Italy, says there is growing demand for smaller tubs that are well suited to the small spaces of contemporary living. “Our customers do not want to give up beauty and comfort, but they want them increasingly declined to the extent of their spaces and their desires,” she says.
For saunas, Gunderson states that flexibility to custom cut to any size
room, as well as provide options in lighting, wood color and bench design, is an important trend. “The bathing experience is becoming more
of a retreat space. Close the door to the outside world, shut down technology and take time to really relax and enjoy the benefits from heat bathing,” he reports.
Enhancing the Experience
Customized features, complementary therapies and digital solutions are all important in enriching the bathing experience, manufacturers say.
“Tubs with edges or bathtub racks on which to place objects, books or candles are increasingly in demand,” Verdi says. “We have noticed a growing demand for comfort in domestic environments. Our customers ask for comfortable homes, with spaces where they can take care of themselves. And they want bathrooms that not only fulfill a function – they want a privileged place where they can enjoy a real sensory experience,” she adds.
High-tech features such as voice command controls and smartphone applications add value to the experience, as well. “Digitalization of the shower, sauna [and] steam by way of voice activation and touchless control are growing in popularity,” Barry observes.
In the sauna, WiFi mobile app controls that work with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa are popular, Gunderson says. The app allows flexibility, such as turning on the sauna from the golf course, so it is ready when the user get home, he explains.
Virtual applications that control bath settings and therapies enhance the bathing experience, Kristian says. For example, he notes, the BU-Touch app created by BainUltra allows the user to activate the heated backrest before entering the bath, set preferred options in advance, and program the drying cycle from a distance if you forget to do so after a bath. “This is a really nice way to customize your bathing experience,” he reports.
Integrated therapies, such as thermotherapy, light therapy, heat
therapy, sound therapy and aromatherapy are also a growing trend, he adds. These compatible therapies working together amplify their benefits, he offers.
Kornowa agrees that combining sensory therapies with various types of water therapy is on the rise. “People are looking for a more complementary, well-rounded assortment of therapies that they can mix and match depending on their needs and their wants,” he concurs.
He adds that therapeutic choices – including whirlpool, air jet, soaking, and the gravitation towards microbubbles – are made based upon specific needs. Chromatherapy has become a major industry, he says. Using chromatherapy while bathing enhances the whole therapeutic experience, giving you “double bang for your buck,” he offers.
Manufacturers say materials are a key component in the decision process for consumers, who are looking for top quality and production. “Our customers greatly appreciate the investments in research and development of innovative materials,” Verdi says. “This is demonstrated, for example, by the success of our White Tec Plus, an eco-sustainable material that combines extraordinary aesthetic quality, a surprising sensory experience and innovative biocompatibility characteristics. We are confident that this is not a passing trend, but an acquired and lasting sensitivity.”
“Choosing the right bathtub is about much more than the actual shape: how it feels against the skin, its anti-slip properties, or how easy it is to maintain or install are also decisive criteria,” Schroeder remarks. Duravit’s DuraSolid caters to these needs, he says, and allows for new design possibilities. “Thanks to the Duravit material DuraSolid, the smallest details of Philippe Starck’s design were realized: extremely thin bathtub rims, organic forms and gentle integrated curves,” he adds.
Kornowa says people are gravitating towards organic materials and shapes. Their SculptureStone is a thin, 70% organic material that, when used, is like adding a sculpture to the bathroom, he notes. “People who like the finer things in life are gravitating towards SculptureStone.”
“People are still purchasing the more organic shapes,” he adds, with ovals – whether symmetrical or asymmetrical – being the most popular.
Neilson notes, “We are seeing tremendous demand for natural, organic materials and finishes.” NativeStone tubs combine concrete with natural jute fiber, and their copper tubs are made from 100% recycled copper. “People are really identifying with these less conventional bathtub materials that create a strong sense of connection with nature,” she observes.
When planning a luxury bathroom, climate protection, sustainability and zero waste play an increasingly important role, Wolinsky reports. “Quality and sustainability are gaining in importance, and we see a wider range of customers willing to pay higher prices for environmentally friendly materials,” he says. Wetstyle’s WETMAR BiO, a 2015 Green Good Design winner, is “an eco-friendly thermo-insulating composite material that displaces the petro-chemical additives in heavy use in the industry with a recipe composed of Mother Earth’s natural ingredients – soy and mineral stone,” he adds.
Universal Design and consideration for consumers who are staying in their own homes longer is an important aspect of bathtub design. Heights are being adjusted for easier entry and exit. Manufacturers are also finding ways to accommodate different needs while keeping the tub stylish.
“Recently, accessibility has become more of a concern in bathroom Universal Design,” reports Barry. “Many tubs are being reduced from 21″ or 22″ in height down to 18″ or 19″. This trend isn’t necessarily a factor in the luxury bath or freestanding bath sector, but it is abundantly clear in the alcove tub choices,” he states.
“Accessibility and design have become an important attribute for the aging baby boomer generation. They want to stay in their homes longer, but still look for something that is on trend,” Wolinsky observes.
“There is a demographic swing occurring with aging in place,” agrees Kristian. “As the population ages, more and more people look to find products that help them live healthier lives at home. In terms of baths, we see a lot more drop-in or undermount installations being done for this reason, as it allows for easier entry and exit in the bath.” Accessories cater to these needs, as well, he says, such as the armrests and grab bars BainUltra offers on most models.
Gunderson says ADA requirements should be considered for residential sauna room designs as people plan for aging in place. These requirements include a 5′ turning radius for wheelchairs, as well as the size, location and height of bench construction. ▪