Showers Heat Up

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Today’s shower is taking center stage as designers strive to create individualized bathrooms with creative elements that reflect the personality and style of the homeowners who use them.
“Trends in the shower generally are focused on people wanting private wellness or some other type of unique experience in the shower,” says Larry Allen, CEO/managing director for Gessi North America, Inc. in Anaheim, CA. Multiple outlets with a body spray or a hand-held showerhead, for example, are preferred by customers to personalize their showering experience, he adds.
Emily Holle, trend & design specialist at MS International, Inc. in Austell, GA says, “We are seeing people getting edgier and more adventurous and trying to mix it up when it comes to their shower designs.” This is driven, she believes, by a move toward glass in the bathroom. Consumers are integrating texture, like pebble tile, as well as mosaics to add personality to their shower, she adds. “There are so many different options in the design world that you can create your own personality through your tile.”
While consumers and designers want a customized look and plenty of visual impact, functionality and performance continue to drive a number of key trends, including enclosures with multiple components, digital controls and attention to water conservation. Larger-scale showers and a nature-inspired, minimalist style are also trending. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Stand Out Appearances
The shower as a focal point is on the rise, whether tile or the fixtures are making the visual statement. No longer is the shower hidden behind a solid door or curtain – more and more often, an open look allows the shower to stand out.
One of the best ways to achieve this impact is with a lot of glass. Holle says that whether the enclosure is large or small, glass is at the forefront. This trend is opening up a lot of wall space, allowing the tile to shine. “The tile can be the hero, because you’re opening up visually and widening the space so you can see into those showers,” she says.
More and more frameless showers are in the marketplace and showing up in homes says Ziggy Kulig, president and CEO of GRAFF in Milwaukee, WI. “Frameless shower doors allow a bathroom to feel spacious, bright and sophisticated. Additionally, the clean, modern appearance of frameless doors can help ensure the shower is the focal point of the bathroom,” he says.
Exposed valves, popular in Europe, are becoming a design statement in the U.S. according to Cheryl Dixon, head of brand and trade marketing for GROHE America in New York City, and are often less expensive to install since they are installed on the outside of the wall. She adds that the design focus of the shower has shifted to the fixtures themselves rather than tile or other décor. “Frameless glass gives the bath a spa-like, open feel and perfectly highlights fixtures, and is thus becoming more popular, allowing for more light to be shed on their natural beauty.”
Finding unique elements to add to the shower also creates interest. “Shower design is becoming more artful and imaginative. Consumers are investing in shower components that make a huge visual impact in their bathrooms,” says Benjamin Newcombe, senior product manager for Alpharetta, GA-based Hansgrohe. One example is the Axor brand’s LampShower by Nendo, which features an LED light module encased in a solid brass showerhead with chrome finish, he says.

Simple Style
Bath design is taking a more minimalist approach, which impacts shower trends in a variety of ways, from a need to conceal plumbing for an uncluttered look to using finishes that complement the modern feel.
“With homeowners moving toward minimalist design, designers should focus on creating new and innovative ways to conceal plumbing within the actual design of the product,” says Kulig. “Our team is currently preparing to launch different accessories that seamlessly integrate with our products to help remove clutter in the bathroom. Fixtures and fittings are no longer just a necessity, but can be used to enhance the design,” he notes.
There is a move away from the traditional, toward a combination of transitional and contemporary. “In terms of style, showroom consultants have noticed customers looking for a ‘transitional-contemporary’ look – a sort of hybridized design with a reduction of sharp lines and geometrical shapes in favor of more soothing aesthetics and rounder edges,” says Larry Chen, product manager, visual merchandising for GINGER Newport Brass in Santa Ana, CA.
“The style of now is contemporary – clean and simple, yet organized and functional,” says Eric Moore, interior designer at Kohler Design Center in Kohler, WI. Though he says tile is the preferred material within the shower, he adds that Kohler’s Choreograph offers a clean look with no grout lines. This line includes a wide range of shower walls and accessories that can be easily customized to meet the desired style of the homeowner.
Holle sees porcelain thin tiles also being used. MS International has recently introduced Stile, a thin tile that can be used on shower walls and floors. Because it is one large slab of tile, there are no grout lines, and the thin profile makes it easier to move and cut, making installation easier, she says.
For colors, Holle says sees two trends: A range of white and grey tones are being paired with modern fixtures, or traditional curvy fixtures, for a classic looks, while brown earth tones are also being used frequently, sometimes mixing in metallic tones for a different look. “They’re still doing something fun and interesting. They’re not boring, it’s just not that high style that you’re getting from the white and grey palette,” she says.
Warm fixture finishes, such as copper, bronze, gold and unlaquered brass, are being paired with natural elements like wood and metal as part of a “French Industrial Chic” style trend, says Lou Rohl, CEO and managing partner for ROHL in Irvine, CA. “This mix of materials adds warmth to the bathroom,” he says. Additionally, a touch of glamour is being added to the bathroom as part of the rebirth of the Art Deco movement, he notes. “We’re seeing these same gold or what we call ‘Inca Brass’ finishes to add that pop of glamour often associated with the lavishness of the time period.”

Grand Scale
Showers are increasing in size as lifestyles dictate their popularity for both cleansing and therapeutic relaxation. Showers that can accommodate the preferences of more than one person are also in demand, making multiple components necessary. “People are customizing their showers very specifically to their own tastes and what type of experience they want,” says Allen. “There are all kinds of different ways to utilize the shower now and there are more different kinds of showering devices than ever to use,” he says.
Moore agrees: “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.”
Kulig adds that consumers are maximizing the square footage of their showers to accommodate spa-like features and developing technologies. “Creating a space marked with individuality and personal identity, custom-built showers with open, walk-in areas are becoming more popular,” he says.
“Larger showers are ideal places for relaxation and rejuvenation, and walk-in showers with oversized panes of glass, multiple water sources and oversized rainshowers are becoming increasingly popular,” adds Dixon. Because of the increase in size, she adds, designers are regularly including lighting as well as benches or seats in showers.
And it’s not just the square footage that’s getting larger; large-format tiles in a variety of sizes are also on the rise, says Holle. “We’re seeing the size of the tile grow, even on shower walls,” she states. Additionally, because of a trend toward steam showers, the tile now must go floor to ceiling, she notes, adding that the company is seeing a lot of micro mini mosaics used on shower ceilings.

High Function
Technology is everywhere, whether you can see it or not. In showers, most technological advances are directly related to the functioning of the shower, whether water volume, temperature control or digital controls.
A desire for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is also creeping its way into the bathroom, though some manufacturers think that the bathroom is one place people go to escape all that. “I think we’ve reached a point where the bathroom is probably the one area of your home where you can truly escape from smart phones, email and social media. Having that perfect shower experience is an opportunity to escape from technology and relax your mind and spirit,” says Rohl. He notes that consumers are looking for technology that relates to water management and conservation, helping to reduce the water used without sacrificing performance or design. “New shower technology needs to be impactful,” he says.
Controlling things digitally is a way of life for many, and the shower is no exception. Electronic shower controls are becoming more accepted, and driven by the younger Millennials who are looking for something a little more “techy,” says Allen. “They’re comfortable with it, they’ve grown up with it and it’s something they prefer when given a choice.”
Dixon believes that multi-sensory technology is also on the rise, enhancing the shower experience. “Today, steam, chromatherapy, music and custom shower settings all add to the sensory experience. Putting all of these together with a preferred shower spray setting means no part of the sensory shower experience is being ignored – from how the shower looks and feels on the outside to how it makes the individual feel on the inside,” she says.
According to Kulig, consumers and designers are incorporating more touchscreen controls and screens that offer Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to personalize their experience. In addition, he says, “Consumers are saying goodbye to basic shower controls and wanting to see more smart, user-friendly fixtures, such as thermostatic valves and valves that control multiple water sources. This gives the users more control over the water flow and the ability to create a consistent temperature of water.”
Chen notes that consumers and designers want a more minimalistic approach to the shower trim and systems, such as thermostatic valves with integrated diverters. “This allows more focus on the materials and set up used in the shower without the trim intruding on the design,” he says.
Noah Taft, senior v.p. of marketing and sales for Huntington Beach, CA-based California Faucets says that thermostatic showers provide a better experience than pressure-balance systems, but have been cost prohibitive for many. The firm’s new StyleTherm shower system offers the thermostatic technology at a more affordable price point. “It’s like getting an iPhone or Android for the price of an old flip phone. Both allow you to make calls, but one has features the other simply can’t touch. So if you can get the better product at the same price as the antiquated one, it’s a no brainer.”
Thermostatic technology that includes integral volume controls consolidates the temperature control and volume controls all on the shower plate, providing a less cluttered look and lower installation cost, he adds.

Conscious Consumption
A shower is all about water, but with regulations becoming more rigid and consumers becoming much more aware of why conservation matters, manufacturers are met with the challenge of creating great experiences while using as little water as possible. New valves, as well as products that allow for a variety of options, ensure that users still get the showers they need while being conscious of the water they use.
“As a California-based company, responsible water management is a part of our mantra,” says Rohl. “We work closely with our domestic and European manufacturers to deliver the perfect balance of performance, while adhering to, and in some cases exceeding, the strictest water regulations in the country. In January 2016, new water regulations will go into effect in California. We anticipate these regulations to have a significant impact on not just California, but our entire industry,” he adds.
Taft agrees that water conservation is an important factor, particularly in drought-stricken states like California. “As a result, some manufacturers are working hard to provide solutions that protect precious water resources yet at the same time not sacrifice the coveted spa-like shower experiences that are the hallmark of noteworthy bathroom design,” he says.
“Eco-Luxury is defining the plumbing marketplace,” says Newcombe. “Consumers are seeking high-end products that have the added value of being sustainable.” In response, the marketplace offers products that reduce energy bills, but are at the same time durable with high design, he concludes.   

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