authors Elizabeth Richards | March 10, 2020
Rising stress and hectic lifestyles have made creating a relaxing refuge in the home a high priority in recent years. The bathroom is the perfect place to create this respite from a chaotic world, and heat and hydrotherapy products are a critical component to that peaceful, wellness-focused refuge.
Though showers are often preferred for the simple task of getting clean, these other therapeutic products – including jetted tubs, soakers, steam and sauna – are essential to creating the deep relaxation necessary to rest and rejuvenate.
Bill Strang, president of corporate strategy and eCommerce at TOTO USA, Inc. in Morrow, GA says that while the shower culture continues to be dominant in the bathroom, the opportunity to decompress and disengage is also becoming an important part of the space. “Sometimes that disconnecting/disengagement from the digital world around us isn’t as effective in a shower as in having a nice tub you can get into, relax and really let the stress of the day drain away,” he says.
“Relaxation and refuge continue to be drivers for consumers to seek out bathing – both hydrotherapy and soaking options,” believes Seth Megahan, Bathing and Showering Product Marketing Director at Kohler in Kohler, WI. “Our market insights indicate that nearly half of homeowners use their newly renovated master bathrooms to unwind and around two-thirds of those users identify soaking in the bath as a bathroom feature that helps with relaxation. We are seeing the average number of baths per week continuing to increase, with millennials at the helm.”
With the strong trend towards hydrotherapy as a relaxation tool comes demand for products that address accessibility issues, allow for personal style, offer a contemporary look that complements the overall bathroom design and incorporate technology that enhances the experience for the user. So say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Access for All
An aging demographic brings the need for accessible products to the forefront, particularly as more homeowners choose to age in place. When designing the space, attention to both current and future needs of those in the household is important.
“Accessibility is huge; perhaps the greatest issue in bath and shower design,” says Don Clarke, president at Clarke Products, Inc. in Colleyville, TX. At KBIS 2020, Clarke introduced a new solid surface accessible shower and bath, the Clarke One, which has an outward opening door and wide entry with low threshold that allows for the whole range of hydrotherapy options.
Megahan says that safety is an absolute must in the bathroom space. “Bathers need to be able to get in and out of the tub [safely], so understanding the appropriate style, size and installation is key to a great bathing experience. We offer soaking and hydrotherapy options on a variety of installation types to allow bathers of varying mobility to select the right experience and bathtub.”
European styles are finally being more accepted in North America, notes Erica Moir, v.p. of product and engineering at Jacuzzi, in Chino Hills, CA. This includes features like floating vanities, beautiful shower seats and integrated aspects like grabs on baths and storage caddies that double as a grab, she says. “Thoughtfully integrated design for accessibility is often the most subtle and the most accepted by consumers. We need more companies developing products with style and thoughtfulness.”
“It’s important to consider those who are less mobile when picking the right tub,” concurs James Walsh, v.p. of product management at Piscataway, NJ-based American Standard. “American Standard never sacrifices form for function. We’ve developed bathroom products with on-trend designs, while also ensuring comfort and safety to provide the whole family with the confidence they need to continue living independently,” he says, citing his firm’s tubs with molded neck and arm support that help those with limited mobility get in and out of the tub with ease.
Incorporating steam into the master shower or lower-level terrace baths is often considered by designers that Duravit works with for accessibility concerns, says Galen Stump, v.p. of technical sales for Duravit USA in Duluth, GA. “In creating a luxurious bathroom that will age in place, Duravit offers products from comfort- or ADA-height toilets to ADA-height sinks – yet afford the dweller designer bathroom products that capture a timeless look that will be appropriate for all stages of life,” he adds.
In saunas, it’s important to keep rooms at 84″ high and ensure there is both a lower and an upper bench to address accessibility, adds John Gunderson, national sales manager for Amerec in Woodinville, WA.
Freestanding Focal Point
Though shower systems are often a must, there is still demand for both soaking tubs and jetted tubs, manufacturers say. Freestanding tubs, which allow for more flexibility in design, have increased in popularity in recent years, and this trend continues. Often, these freestanding tubs are used as a centerpiece to the bathroom space.
Megahan says, “Freestanding bathtubs continue to be the fastest growing segment of bathing. Primary drivers of this trend are avid bathers and homeowners seeking a ‘statement piece’ to complete the design of their space.”
Strang agrees that there is a little more trend toward freestanding tubs, as well as more bold designs for a jetted tub or a deep soaker going into the space.
Clarke says therapy tubs continue to trend down, and soaker sales are flat or down, with the exception of freestanding soakers. These are increasing in both solid surface and acrylic, he notes.
“Duravit sees a shift to big, spacious soaking tubs that are simpler in style – no frills, no system – just a simple, comfortable, expansive space to indulge and relax in,” states Stump. “This includes freestanding bathtubs with tub fillers, often being utilized as a jewel of the bathroom in luxury bathroom design.”
Moir believes that, with the trend toward freestanding tubs, the popularity of soaking baths has expanded. “They have given freedom to designers who want to maximize the space in a bathroom and not lose the bath,” she explains, adding that, “Freestanding baths have even moved into the ‘wet space’ to allow for a large shower area.” She further notes that people are also asking for products focused on a silent hydromassage experience that is easy to maintain and available in freestanding installation.
A range of products is essential to meet the demands of consumers who want to express their individuality and incorporate products that satisfy their unique requirements.
“Depending on the design of the bathroom, the tub can either be a complementing piece to the overall design or the centerpiece,” says Walsh. “On-trend design options from drop-in and freestanding to alcove tubs allow designers to create the bathroom to match [their clients’] individual style.” There’s a shift toward a contemporary look,
Strang sees a move away from the conventional clawfoot cast iron tub to something that is more contemporary or transitional in design. “It’s a little bit more dramatic in its look and feel,” he notes, adding that there’s been a small shift in color, with natural colors coming in. The cultured marble look is also gaining traction, he points out. “There’s a trend for trying to give that bathroom space a little bit more of a pop, and not have it be so traditional,” he adds.
“Bathroom spaces continue to evolve and have been redefined by the renovation trend of melding old and new together,” Stump notes. “We are seeing a variety of sizes and shapes hitting the market. And black is a popular color as we enter this new decade.”
“Size, shape and color are really dependent on the bathers and their preferences,” Megahan adds. “Size and shape tend to be a marriage between the overall bathroom layout and real estate given to the bath as well as the bather’s typical or desired routine.”
“Color really is dependent on the overall aesthetic of the bathroom,” he continues. “While white has typically been the leading seller among bathtubs, we see a strong desire in some homeowners and their designers to use the bath as a focal point in the space, and often this opens up the conversation for bold color statements.” Megahan also sees customers seeking to blend their tub into the overall design, which makes the ability to color match other bathroom fixtures important.
The demand for individualized options extends beyond aesthetics to the features and technologies selected for the products installed.
“Speaking to the customized experience, homeowners often are interested in multiple hydrotherapy experiences,” Megahan says. “Kohler offers combination hydrotherapy options to allow bathers the freedom of choice – providing personalized bathing experiences that can vary with each use, or from bather to bather.”
Walsh says American Standard offers three different types of jetted tubs: Air Bath, Whirlpool and Combo Massage. “The Whirlpool mixes air and water through high-powered jets for a hydro-massage effect, while the Air Bath model uses warm air bubbles for a gentler experience. The combination massage tub offers both features,” he explains. “Aside from the bells and whistles, we’ve also noticed that people are seeking deeper soaking tubs, which we’ve made sure to incorporate with options like the Studio S Freestanding Tub, which has a 17″ soaking depth.”
In saunas, Gunderson sees increased demand for the firm’s sauna/infrared custom cut rooms. “Pretty much all of our Sauna Infrared packages are customized to the dimensions of the room that you frame,” he notes. These can be located in bathrooms, for easy access to showering, or in other areas of the home, such as space bedrooms, rec rooms or basements.
The size of these saunas varies depending on the type of technology selected. “While a traditional sauna can be just about any size, the combined heat sauna/infrared rooms need to stay under 425 cubic feet,” Gunderson states.
Technology and Innovation
Hydrotherapy products are about relaxation and escape from the pervasive technology in daily life, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t important technological advances. In this case, technology isn’t about screens and entertainment, but functionality and comfort.
At TOTO, Strang says, the company is working to enhance the experience of bathing through technology and innovation, allowing people to step away from the constant flurry of information they receive. TOTO’s luxury floatation tub with ZERO DIMENSION technology has gained traction, he notes. “It’s really bringing into the space a different look and feel, and a technology that wasn’t there before,” he explains, noting that the firm has also introduced a more budget-friendly line of floatation tubs. “It doesn’t have as many of the features on it, but still has that same look and feel, and that aesthetic, as well as the deep soaking experience,” he states.
Easy maintenance is important, and technological advances that contribute to simpler upkeep are in demand. “Cleanliness and convenience continue to be important considerations in our consumers’ ever-busy lifestyles,” says Megahan. “We see consumers gravitating toward technologies that provide them with a desired experience with minimal maintenance, such as Kohler’s Heated BubbleMassage, which provides thousands of heated bubbles to cushion and massage the bather. This technology does not require the same maintenance as whirlpool tubs traditionally do, due to the use of heated air, and not water, to provide the massage experience in addition to an automatic air line purge feature to remove any residual water.”
Advances in technology also offer a better experience than in the past, manufacturers agree. “Jetted tubs have evolved into more of a specialty product. In the past, many manufacturers put jetted baths into their offering just because they thought they should. Unfortunately, that often meant poor consumer experiences. With technologies now available, the experience has been elevated,” says Moir.
“People are looking for more wellness-focused experiences in their homes,” she adds. “That trend drove the development of our new pump that is compatible with Epsom Salts and allows the user to benefit from the magnesium rich water as well as hydromassage jets.”
Efficiency and energy consciousness also drive new innovations. “American Standard’s revolutionary EcoSilent technology, found in our selection of whirlpool tubs, makes relaxing and unwinding a more peaceful experience throughout [with] quieter jets that also use less energy,” says Walsh. “With a cultural trend toward efficiency and sustainability, this technology saves 45 percent more energy and provides a 50 percent quieter spa experience.”
Infrared technology is the biggest advance in saunas. “The ultimate sauna experience must be ‘infrared’ now,” says Moir. “The benefits of infrared technology on relaxation, circulation and detoxification are being touted by many wellness professionals and medical journals. For many people, the high temperatures of a traditional sauna are just too much to handle. An infrared sauna can offer the benefits of a sauna without the extreme heat.”
Gunderson adds that the sauna/infrared systems offer options. They can be set at the traditional sauna heat of 180 degrees, or a
lower temperature of 130 degrees can be selected for a more direct infrared heat. ▪