Experiencing spa-like pampering in the sanctuary of their own homes is high on the list of many homeowners, whose exceedingly busy lives beg for a place to relax. Hydrotherapy products – from jetted and soaking tubs to steam showers and sauna rooms – allow for total relaxation at the convenience of homeowners.
Relaxation doesn’t look the same for everyone, however, so flexibility of products and design tops the trends list. Simplicity in both design and use is also key for today’s homeowners, as are unique and customized experiences. Accessibility is also among the top and growing trends, as the age of the population and length of time people remain in their homes shifts. So say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
“We are seeing a revival of bathing with consumers. People are recommitting themselves to bathing as a way to relax and treat themselves to in-home enjoyment,” says Haley Davis, bathware product manager for Mansfield Plumbing Products, in Perrysville, OH. “The many opportunities to customize the bath experience, from whirlpool or air systems to chromatherapy mood lighting, make the in-home spa experience an achievable, enviable and enjoyable occurrence for consumers.”
With time-deprived lives, a tub is a luxury, says Michael Kornowa, director of marketing for MTI Baths in Sugar Hill, GA. The tub is a place to bask in a few moments of peace and quiet every now and then, while showers are being used for daily hygiene. “People are looking not only for a customized product but a custom installation; they want to make it truly unique and truly theirs,” he says.
Sometimes, the experience of just immersing oneself in hot water is more relaxing than all of the added bells and whistles of therapeutic tubs. “Simple soaking tubs – non-jetted bathing – is enjoying huge popularity today,” says Katrina Aure, marketing manager for Anaheim, CA-based Aquatic.
Freestanding soaking tubs are continuing to gain popularity in showrooms because of the striking look that can be achieved when making it the centerpiece of a bath, says Aure. But, in reality, smaller spaces may make that aesthetic harder to achieve. She stresses that most of the company’s business still comes from drop-in tubs, where the desired look can be achieved through the deck that surrounds it.
Eric Moore, interior designer at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, WI, concurs that current trends for tubs focus on the striking statement that freestanding baths make in the bathroom, and agrees with the issue of space constraints. “While there is a wide variety of bathroom sizes and layouts, sometimes homeowners hesitate simply for the concern of space,” he remarks.
Miranda Mars, in marketing and business development for Colleyville, TX-based Clarke Products, agrees that soaker sales are on the rise, and that the demand for freestanding units has increased significantly in the past several years. “Style is a key driver, as well as different master bath combinations,” she reports.
Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, v.p., design, American Standard Brands in Piscataway, NJ, adds that the demand for jetted tub and hydrotherapy products continues to decline. Several factors, including a desire for a cleaner design as well as the trend toward freestanding installation, have contributed to this trend, he reports. “As master bathrooms are becoming more common, freestanding soaking tubs are definitely the masterpiece that homeowners are seeking,” L’Henaff notes.
Versatile and Variable
In jetted systems, the ability to choose exactly the therapies desired is a huge factor, and these therapies must be flexible, adjusting to the specific user.
“Homeowners are looking more and more to new technologies in hydrotherapy that can offer unique, customized experiences,” says Moore. In the past, spouses with different preferences might not end up having an ideal experience. “Being able to now offer our combination hydrotherapy baths is really opening the doors to new and unique bathing experiences,” he says. This might include a whirlpool with the company’s Bask heated surface technology, or Bask along with its’ VibrAcoustic technology, which integrates music and vibrations into the tub.
Davis notes that there is a demand for adjustable jets that allow for the different needs of the bathers, from deep hydro massage to a soothing, relaxing flow like that offered by their Swirl-Way Venturi jet. “Features such as inline water heaters, chromatherapy mood light systems and ozone cleaning systems are allowing consumers to personalize their hydrotherapy experiences,” she adds.
While consumers are looking for variety, simplicity in design is also important. Nate Jensen, national dealer sales manager for Best Bath Systems, in Caldwell, ID, says, “The average user of these products tends to be part of our growing boomer population. The need for easy design, use and cleaning are important.”
Mars emphasizes simplicity of choice as another important aspect in jetted systems. “The use of intuitive technology continues to grow in many facets of consumers lives,” she says. “We believe those consumers who use hydrotherapy and jetted systems want products that are both intuitive and can function in a range of ways.” Clarke Products recently introduced the YourSpa system equipped with many premium options and interactive control pad.
There can be some perceived shortcomings to jetted systems, Aure reports, including noise and coolness that results when air is introduced into the water. When systems are tailored to address these issues, such as in Aquatic’s Driftbath that moves water with water, the soaking experience receives an extra special touch. “It’s taking advantage of the trend of simple bathing, and if you want to introduce a system to it, enhancing that experience,” she says.
There are some technologies that are increasingly important, such as inline heaters to keep water warm during a long soak, and surface heaters to keep a bather warm when filling or draining a tub. At the same time, the technology must add value to the room. “Technology that enhances and adds comfort or efficiency is important,” says Moore. “Technology for the sake of technology isn’t really worth the time.”
Simplicity extends beyond features and options to impact the color, shape and size of bathtubs on the market.
Most consumers stick to white or neutral tones for their tub, though they are introducing splashes of color in the overall bathroom design. “We’re still seeing that the palette is white and muted beige, and grey is coming on strong as the new neutral,” says Kornowa. From there, accents are being added in art, pillows, towel or trim, he says. “We’re seeing a lot of creativity in splashes of color in the bathroom.”
Moore says that white is still the most popular color for tubs, but he is starting to see the consumer bring more style and personality into the space by experimenting with warmer tones, like biscuit, sandbar and dune.
Jonathan Carter, marketing director at United Kingdom-based Victoria & Albert Baths, says that they only offer bathtub and vessel basins in classic white, which is by far the most popular. At the same time, he says, they offer a material, ENGLISHCAST, rich in volcanic limestone that works for home customization. Several projects have seen the designer commission special paint finishes on the outside of the tub, he says, to act as a visual accent in the room.
Preferred tub size varies depending upon the space available, but many manufacturers are finding that smaller to mid-sized tubs are currently more in demand. Aure says the 66”x36” size is gaining in popularity for the master bath. “It’s large enough to feel like a luxury item, but still not too big or ostentatious,” she says. If the tub is going into a hall bath rather than a master, she adds, a smaller 60”x32” is more often selected.
“Tubs that are smaller overall, but are deeper than standard tubs are growing in popularity,” Davis reports. The reason, she says, is two-fold. “Conscientious consumers who are concerned about water conservation are choosing smaller rather than larger tubs. And, there’s a growing need for tubs for remodeling projects and these smaller tubs fit in the existing spaces better than larger-sized tubs.”
Jensen says that a mid-sized tub is the most popular choice for Best Bath Systems’ customers. “This allows a variety of users to experience a comfortable bathing option, and does so without significant modification to the home or plumbing,” he says.
Carter adds that the industry is experiencing a change in the way people think about freestanding tubs. “More and more homeowners are realizing that, while a freestanding tub looks great in a large room, the room doesn’t have to be oversized. In fact, small bathroom spaces can often benefit the most from a small freestanding model, as it does not box in previous wall and floor space.”
Design and materials are also following the clean and simple philosophy, resulting in a number of unique, but unfussy, looks. “The beauty of a number of the materials being used resides in the freedom that the designer has to create very unique shapes. We see a lot of geometric (rectangular) design, as well as completely organic and soft shapes,” says L’Henaff.
Aure notes that modern design is still a trend, but the meaning of modern has shifted. While clean lines and streamlined design are still popular, she says, people don’t want that look at the expense of comfort. “In the past rigid, straight, ultra modern was a big deal. While the clean look is still important, people don’t want to be uncomfortable when they sit in it, and they don’t want it to look uncomfortable, either,” she says. This has resulted in lines being softened, with the inclusion of added features such as arm or back rests. “Even just looking at these tubs, you can tell they are more welcoming and inviting,” she says.
As the population ages, issues of safety and accessibility are moving to the forefront of design, particularly since there is a big shift toward people staying in their homes as long as possible. “One of overall trends that influences the bathroom is aging-in-place and how Universal Design fits in with that,” Kornowa says. “A lot of people are adjusting their homes so that their homes can adapt to them as they get older.”
Consumers are becoming more thoughtful in their selections, looking ahead to what they might need in years to come. But, at the same time, they don’t want to sacrifice style for accessibility.
Manufacturers offer many solutions that provide easier access to the tub – from grab bars to wider decks to walk-in tubs with doors. “Safety and ease of use are still of the utmost importance,” says Aure. She stresses that there are subtle changes that can be introduced, such as a grab bar or reduction of tub height when set into a deck, that makes access easier. “It doesn’t take anything away from the design of the unit, and it adds to that streamlined, modern aesthetic,” she says.
Jensen says the demand for accessible tubs and showers will rise as more of the market ages. “It is necessary for both the public to place emphasis on the need, and for manufacturers to design and build products that are aesthetically beautiful and functional for accessible purposes,” he says.
Kornowa agrees. While some consumers are selecting showers rather than tubs for accessibility reasons, he says, “You can get certain therapies from the tub that you cannot get in a shower. It is really dependent on the needs and desires of the individual.”
When mobility becomes a larger issue, consumers are turning to walk-in tubs, and many manufacturers see this segment of the market growing. “Walk-in tubs continue to be popular choices as baby boomers age,” says Davis. There are many features that are considered when selecting a walk-in model, she adds, including low thresholds for easier entry and exiting, ease of operation and cleaning, and inline or surface heaters to make the walk-in experience more appealing.
L’Henaff has seen some progression in the walk-in market. “Consumers are accepting walk-in tubs more and more. As the Boomers are settling into a new chapter of their lives, they are becoming more accepting of a different paradigm,” he comments. At the same time, he says, the product still carries a certain amount of stigma, and many designs are still too institutional.
A walk-in tub definitely serves a purpose, Kornowa says, but is often a last resort due to the impracticalities of how it works. There are ways to compensate, such as high-flow fillers, quick drains and radiant heat that make a walk-in more appealing, he adds. “If somebody truly needs or wants a walk-in tub, we’ve done everything we can think of to make it as comfortable as possible,” he assures.
In addition to therapeutic bathing, there is a rising interest in both home steam systems and sauna rooms. Jim Hass, sales director for Woodinville, WA-based Amerec, notes that recent trends are stable in this area, and budget is often a determining factor in whether or not the product is added to a space. “Although there seems to be growing interest in steam, project budgets are so tight, steam often gets cut,” he says. “Sauna demand seems to have grown some, but it’s still a relatively small market,” he adds.
Martha Orellana, v.p. of sales and marketing for Queens, NY-based Mr. Steam says, “The fact that there is more interest in home steam showers is, in itself, a trend. Our showrooms are finding that they can get their clients excited about bathroom amenities that enhance a wellness lifestyle.” She adds that many people are surprised at how attainable home steam showers can be when installed as part of an overall remodel.
When steam is selected, she says, hot trends include beautifully designed and intuitive swipe-touch controls, simplified plug & play installation, and easy care and maintenance, all designed into the products.
There are many reasons people choose steam, and many benefits to be gained from the product, says Orellana. At Mr. Steam, she says, they believe that the best steam systems incorporate many elements, including aromatherapy, chromatherapy, music therapy and body therapy into an overall experience, as with the company’s SteamTherapy line.
Moore believes steam is still a popular trend in the shower. When it comes to steam, he says, consumers want the right size generator, steam that comes quickly, and one control panel that manages all of the shower systems.
In the sauna market, Hass notes that infrared demand is greater than that for traditional saunas, primarily due to the ease of installation and portability of the infrared cabin. Glass elements and upgraded interiors are also becoming popular for saunas, he adds. “We’re offering oiled woods, custom interior benching, valance lighting and glass panels to provide upscale designed saunas,” Hass states.