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K/BIS scours the industry for rising trends

K/BIS 2007 The Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference featured new industry trends at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

LAS VEGAS —Tomorrow’s bathtub is a walk-in model, with sliding or swing-out doors for easy access. It has an ergonomically placed headrest, built-in storage shelves and temperature controls. For the next couple of years, at least, style may dictate white porcelain with wood trim.

All these products and themes could be found at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference (K/BIS), held last month at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Environmental consciousness also worked its influence on many product categories, showing up in faucets (motion activated to save water), range hoods (energy efficient) and laundry appliances that promise to eliminate the need for hot water or bleach.

But the walk-in bathtubs and spas on display at the event spoke to another trend in the home improvement market. The Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, in a report issued earlier this year, has identified “aging in place” retrofits as an opportunistic niche for remodelers and their suppliers. Aging baby boomers are installing shower grab bars, wider doorways and other necessities for independent living, according to “Foundations for Future Growth in the Remodeling Industry.”

Judging from the crowd at the AKW MediCare booth, specialty retailers have also noticed the trend. The United Kingdom-based firm showed brightly colored bath fixtures and touted its “barrier free” showers that could be easily installed in existing bathrooms. Other manufacturers exhibited fold-up bathtub faucets and black and white toilets, the latter designed to assist with diminished depth perception.

For those determined to slow the aging process, ProSun SunShower, a St. Petersburg, Fla., firm, updated its “tan while you shower” system with an optional LED panel that offers skin rejuvenation therapy. Other innovative products in the new product pavilion included the PermaFlow self-cleaning P-trap, a transparent pipe with a paddle that can be turned to clear drains. A shower door by Fleurco that glided on an overhead track drew numerous compliments from retailers for its design.

“Green Building/Energy Efficient” was its own product category in the K/BIS show directory this year, although the definition varied widely. Range hoods, heated floors and granite countertops all wore the green mantle. But energy conservation stopped at the refrigerator door, with several manufacturers showing brightly lit interiors. Miele displayed a patented lighting system with 16 halogen bulbs, not counting the lights in the bins and the freezer. “No matter where you put your food, you’re going to find it,” said a Miele spokesman.

Outdoor appliances have become their own subcategory, and manufacturers showed al fresco versions of most major appliances. Viking Range, which had a separate area for its “professional outdoor series,” introduced a line of all-metal cabinets made by St. Charles Cabinetry, as well as cherry red interior cabinets. Chinese manufacturer Haier, which towered above the other exhibitors with basketball star Allan Houston at its booth, put a new twist on bottom mount freezers by adding an extra drawer that can act as a freezer or refrigerator, depending on the consumer’s preference.

Oil rubbed bronze, a popular finish at last year’s K/BIS show, reappeared with darker overtones for kitchen and bath fixtures. Hickory Hardware introduced two similar lines of door hardware for homeowners who want to carry the look throughout the house.

“We’re following the same trends with the dark finishes,” said Tina Payne Hunt, the company’s channel marketing manager. But the most popular items at the booth, Hunt said, were the lines of appliance pulls for trash compactors, wine coolers, dishwashers and warming drawers.

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