Futuristic toilets and state-of-the art bathtubs are familiar trends at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), held last month in Chicago. This year, new colors and technological advances were two top highlights in the toilet and bath categories.
One of the most notable trends on the show floor was in bathtubs, particularly high-end models that played on the consumer preference toward more choice. Manufacturers including American Standard and Jacuzzi offered a host of new models with new choices in color and more varied functional controls. Others featured innovative—and sometimes novel—ways of looking at relaxation, including expanded lines of light “therapy” models from Kohler and TOTO.
At American Standard’s Porcher brand, a cast-iron tub offered an exterior that can be painted by interior designers any color to match a customer’s specifications. This tub, like many new models at the show, was a stand-alone model meant for soaking.
“Consumers tell us they would like a deeper soak,” explained Gray Uhl, director of design for American Standard. “This also gives the opportunity for a designer or decorator to paint the outside of the tub for a more dramatic effect.” In this case, the bathtub was painted black and presented in a black and white bathroom vignette.
“Black is on the rise. It’s something we see first in commercial applications that is moving into the consumer side,” Uhl said. That demand is carried through to other bathroom fixtures, including darker finishes on bath hardware and in porcelain items such as toilets.
Other companies at the annual event concentrated on introducing touch panels and other high tech features to the bathroom. Jacuzzi, which offers its line of products through Lowe’s and Fergus on stores, featured a number of new products, including a tub from the Fuzion collection that featured a combination of both air and water jets, as well as a control panel that operated in a way similar to the scroll wheel of an iPod. The trend of the circular-scroll interface was repeated in many other products at the show, from refrigerators to washers and dryers.
“It’s intuitive, and consumers are used to operating controls in this way, and they’re very familiar with the iPod. People are very used to this kind of technology, they’re comfortable with it,” explained Rose Boyd, product and strategy manager for Jacuzzi Bath Products.
The manufacturer, which is focusing on expanding its Italian-made line of bathtubs, toilets and showers in the United States, also shrunk its luxury Fuzion model to fit into a wider range of bathroom sizes. The company also introduced an ADA compatible walk-in tub, the Finestra, with a 256-color “chromatherapy” feature.
“Chromatherapy,” which integrates colored lamps into bathtubs and showers, has been a growing trend in both baths and faucet fixtures. Kohler has been no stranger to the chromatherapy trend—one high profile example has been its VTS line of fully programmable showers, which include a touch pad, chromatherapy controls, steam room and temperature controls.
Aside from the lighting features, Kohler has also carried the technology trend through to toilets as well this year—in that case, technology used to appeal to customers who are concerned with keeping the bathroom clean. Kohler introduced a hands-free toilet seat that automatically lifts up and down and includes an automatic flush feature.
On the lower-cost side of the anti-germ movement, Bemis Manufacturing introduced a new toilet seat hinge with no visible hardware or fasteners, meant to provide an easier-to-clean surface.
Easy-to-clean surfaces also were a selling point of new one-piece models from Jacuzzi, Kohler and American Standard. The streamlined look of one-piece toilets has been catching on with consumers, said Eric Moore, an int