The desire for a space in the home where serenity is top priority has driven the hydrotherapy market for years. Whether selecting from among the wide range of therapeutic bathing options, steam showers or saunas, creating a day spa environment in the bathroom is important to busy homeowners who just want to relax.
Recent years have seen the development of new therapy options, such as combination air and water jets, and other unique ways of moving water in the tub. At the same time, features like chromatherapy, aromatherapy and music have become more standard, and manufacturers are working now to consider what comes next.
“It’s a little bit more evolutionary,” says Stacy Zar, director of marketing and new product development for Aquatic in Anaheim, CA. “What companies are doing right now, what we’ve been doing, is investing in research and trying to understand what the next big thing is,” she says.
At present, elements important to designers and the customers they serve include smart technology, personal choice, multi-sensory stress relief and the opportunity for total relaxation. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
“The need for relaxation comes out first and foremost,” says Tracy Jaeger, director of marketing for Kohler bathing products based in Kohler, WI. “People are just so busy that when they actually have the opportunity to take a bath, to really just spend that time, it sometimes becomes less about functionality and more about the experience.”
There are multiple hydrotherapies that can get the end users to the relaxation they desire, Jaeger adds. Kohler has created a continuum with four technologies designed to get the bather from relaxation to revitalization. She says the most relaxing is the company’s VibrAcoustics, which transmits sound waves into the water through transistors on the outside of the tub, allowing the bather to both hear and feel the music.
Tena Dick, marketing manager for Jason International, Inc. in North Little Rock, AR agrees. “Everyone is under stress in today’s world and looking for ways to relax. A bath is its own little respite, right in the person’s home, and it offers us a comfortable escape from the day’s stressors.” In order to achieve this release, a bath must be a quiet, serene experience, she adds. “Homeowners want a quiet hydrotherapy bath, whether air or whirlpool, to allow full relaxation,” she says, citing Jason’s Quiet Design technology which reduces and dissipates sound.
Consumers are also looking for a therapeutic experience that engages several senses simultaneously. Designers can achieve this goal with the addition of lights, music, and scents to the tub, steam or sauna room, manufacturers say.
“More consumers are expressing interest in adding music and colored lights to their steam showers and saunas,” says Jim Hass, sales director for Woodinville, WA-based Amerec,
Dan Reinert, v.p./sales for Long Island City, NY-based Mr. Steam agrees. “We see consumers looking for alternative therapies – aromatherapy, chromatherapy, music therapy and steam therapy – in a much larger manner than ever before,” he says. “We believe that a steam generator in the privacy of the home easily delivers 40+ to the prospective user, making this a product that is being specified in an ever-increasing amount of new homes and remodeling projects.”
Mitch Altman, CEO at ThermaSol in Simi Valley, CA agrees that, “The biggest trends at present are chromatherapy, aromatherapy, music, and the holistic benefit they provide the bather.” He also sees items like Bluetooth and wi-fi technology being added to provide wider options for the bather, for those who like to check email, catch up on news or watch a favorite program while they relax.
Michael Kornowa, director of marketing at MTI Baths in Sugar Hill, GA says that interest in MTI’s Radiance system, which uses radiant heat to heat the interior tub surface, continues to soar, as more and more customers are looking for the “something extra” to enhance their soaking experience.
Zar says there hasn’t been a big change in the look of tubs – people still want clean lines and a sleek look. As for color, she notes that it’s really only seen in freestanding tubs, and even then, not often. When it happens, the pieces are treated almost as artwork, becoming the focal point in the bathroom, she explains.
Dick adds, “A lot of homeowners like a cleaner, sleek, modern appearance, with no fittings, a very transitional look, like our forma Collection.” She adds that white is the dominant color, but biscuit is also becoming very popular in some areas.
While Kornowa says there is a trend toward varying shades of warm grey, he agrees that white is still king. However, he adds that there is a trend toward adding smaller splashes of color to the bath, and as a result, MTI will soon be releasing a clawfoot tub that offers the feet in a variety of colors.
Kohler prides itself on its wide color selection, says Jaeger, and offers products to match across a wide variety of bathroom designs and color choices. “Excitement is generated around those bathrooms that stand out. A lot of those use color, that element of something different in the bathroom,” she said, which creates a lot of interest in color. That being said, she adds, the tub is one of the most expensive elements in a bathroom remodel, which sometimes sends people back to the standard white, biscuit or almond choices to avoid the need to change it out each time the room is painted.
While many homeowners opt for the full sensory experience in a home spa, there is always a flip side. Some consumers are shifting away from all the options, toward a more simplified set up. Above all, it comes down to personal choice, and the ability of designers to offer no more or less than exactly what the customer wants.
Zar says that Aquatic conducted a research project in five major markets and found that people are doing a lot of research online, and want to design their own experience. “They want to be in control,” she said. She adds that there may be a shift to a “less is more” attitude. Too many choices can overwhelm buyers, she notes, explaining that Aquatic is consolidating their line to respond to this. Customers can take a tub, and then add the specific therapies they’d like. “It is really educating them on the type of experience, and letting them choose it from there,” she explains.
Kornowa notes, “We continue to see a real dichotomy in the tubs ordered. On the one hand, we are receiving many orders for tubs fully equipped with ultra-therapy packages including whirlpool, air bath, micro jets with Tsubo massage, chromatherapy and aromatherapy. At the other end of the spectrum, we are receiving many orders for simple freestanding soaking tubs with chromatherapy and Radiance.”
Designers can tailor the experience for their clients when they make certain they are choosing exactly the right type of therapy for their clients’ specific needs. New technologies are adding to the range of therapeutic options it’s no longer simply a choice of water or air jet. Rather, options in today’s marketplace include sound vibrations, microbubble therapies and softly circulating water.
Often, what a designer selects will come down to education says Zar. Aquatic’s Driftbath, for example, features technology that circulates water over the motor rather than using loud air or water jets, creating a quiet, spa-like experience, reminiscent of a babbling brook.
Jaeger says that bubble massage generates the most interest, capitalizing on the fact that it’s perceived to be a cleaner technology, as well as the ability to use oils and create a different experience with this technology. With Kohler’s air bath technology, the user has control over the different zones, and an ability to turn off the bubbles at the top. This can allow for experiences that the bubbles could make difficult, such as reading a magazine while bathing, she says.
But whirlpools still have their place, she adds, offering a more targeted massage to specific muscles when needed. Kohler has recently launched combination hydrotherapies, which offer the best of both worlds, she notes. “The best benefit is the flexibility of usage,” says Jaeger. With a combination tub, multiple users in the household can still get exactly the experience they desire.
Dick says that consumers are looking for a “natural” experience in everything from personal care products to organic foods to new ways to stay healthy naturally. This trend ties into Jason’s new MicroSilk, in which “tiny micron-sized bubbles raise oxygen levels in the bath, as well as reach gently into pores to cleanse, exfoliate, and hydrate the skin.” These bubbles implode rather than explode, she says, which maintains a warm water temperature, and releases therapeutic levels of ions into the air.
Though the sensory experiences must be plentiful, the need for easy controls over these functions must also be considered. Consumers are used to touch screens and smart technology throughout their daily lives. It stands to reason that they would expect this technology to extend to their bath, particularly when that’s where they are heading to relax.
“We’re technology-driven consumers,” states Charlie Snider, project sales director for Diamond Spas in Frederick, CO. He says that control systems, phone apps, Internet access and Bluetooth sound systems are all important to the home spa experience.
Altman adds, “The touch screen is the new item bathers want for ease of use. All touch screens are presently mounted to the wall like traditional steam shower controls. Thermasol, however, went a step further with a tablet control which puts the bather in the seated relaxed position for any adjustments in all the steam showers features.”
Reinert says, “What is becoming second nature in our lives is now moving into the shower. Touch screen controls that are impervious to moisture and heat, such as the I steam control released by Mr. Steam in 2013, are now becoming must have items for the steam shower.” He adds that the ability to control additional wellness add-on therapies is easier than ever, allowing the steam bath user to transform their shower into a sensory spa.
Hass also sees manufacturers starting to adapt smart phone technology to steam and sauna controls. “Apps to turn the steam and sauna on are gaining interest,” he says. “We're also getting requests to connect the steam and sauna to SmartHouse systems,” he adds.
Steam and Sauna
Rising awareness of water conservation, and new laws that limit water consumption mean that some people are moving away from body sprays and jetted baths, says Hass. “Steam and sauna are viable alternatives that use very small amounts of water. A 30-minute steam bath consumes less than two gallons and the only water required for a sauna is to "sprinkle" water on the heater stones,” he says.
Reinert agrees: “We believe there is a trend towards water conservation in the home and, in particular, the bathroom. A steam generator is a true water conserver as a typical unit for an average-sized shower will only use one gallon of water for every 20 minutes of use.”
Altman sees a shift due to environmental factors as well. “The use of tubs is declining and shower systems’ water flows are being ever restricted due to water concerns. The steam shower is the true environmentally friendly product for total relaxation, and cleansing of the body without using more than a few gallons of water,” he says.