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Some trends were unmistakable at the first Kitchen/Bath Industry Show since last Sept. 11. The events of that day have had an impact on manufacturers’ product designs, consumers’ buying habits, and homeowners’ feelings of security in their own kitchen and bathrooms.
This year’s K/BIS, held April 5-7 in Chicago, exhibited products that reflect Americans’ interest in spending more of their time these days at home. While several product designs appeal either to the nostalgic whimsy or the spiritual side of homeowners, other products on display carry the hard-headed practicality of a water-filtration system for people concerned about the safety of their drinking water.
“Traditional design hit a plateau in the ’90s and remained there until 9/11,” says Gary Uhl, American Standard’s director of design. “Traditional is coming back again. Everybody wants so much to cut to the past. When it comes to the home, one way to get away is to feel secure in the bathroom.”
Alan Danenberg, Elkay’s director/marketing services, adds: “People are not cocooning as much as they’re feeling the home is a safe haven, a secure place to be. They’re not changing their lifestyles, but they feel more comfortable staying at home and entertaining at home. They’re putting more money in their homes not just because of 9/11 but because they don’t trust financial investments. It’s safer to put their money in their home.”
While many K/BIS products may remind consumers of a simpler era, most have been updated with modern finishes, materials, styling flourishes or performance criteria.
“I call this ‘future nostalgia,’” Uhl says. “Models that remind you of the ’60s and ’70s.”
Traditionally designed plumbing fixtures and faucets could be found all over the K/BIS show floor, including American Standard’s own Town Square suite. Toto USA, which has been known for its contemporary designs, introduced its more conservative Plymouth toilet.
“Everybody associates Toto with modern,” Toto representative Esther Perman says. “A lot of people are looking for traditional, however. We’re seeing more conventional styles than ever.”
Other examples from the show floor include Delta’s Victorian Collection kitchen faucet, Price Pfister’s Marielle kitchen faucet, Kohler’s additions to its Kathryn Suite and Crane’s new offerings in its Nostalgia Collection.
Finishes that recall the past include antique pewter on Blanco’s Madison IV kitchen faucet, antique copper on Elkay’s Victoria kitchen faucet and brushed bronze on Kohler’s traditional faucet lines. Bill Tracey, marketing manager of Symmons Industries, says he sees a trend away from painted finishes such as white and almond in the bathroom.
Minimalists share space
Much more contemporary-looking products were on display at K/BIS as well — frequently in the same booth with the more classic styles. Although the two design trends may appear to be contradictory, they share a common appeal to consumers who are paying more attention to their surroundings.
“For people staying more at home after 9/11, a minimalist design brings more space into the house,” says Todd Weber, senior communications specialist at Kohler, which introduced its Purist Suite featuring a bathroom cabinet with a built-in faucet. The suite creates an “emotional sanctuary” within the home, according to Kohler.
“A clean, minimal design doesn’t take away from the flow of water,” Weber says. “It’s the whole idea of zen and feng shui with clean planes where the real star is the flow of water.”
Another company showing a “European, minimalist design” is Hangrohe. With a thinner, smaller design, models in Hansgrohe’s Interaktiv series target the “Echo Boomer” generation. These people are between 25 and 34 years old and earn an average household income of $75,000, which they want to spend on “hip and new” products, says Chris Marshall, president.
Hansgrohe, like Kohler and American Standard, also displayed more traditional designs too, but not as “over-decorated or bulky” as models from some other manufacturers, Marshall says. Other companies showing more contemporary styles include Symmons, Dornbracht, KWC and Grohe.
Whether a product is classic or modern, it likely will be part of a coordinated look in the bath or kitchen. K/BIS exhibitors emphasized suites and collections — complete with accessory items such as towel racks, door stops and toilet paper holders — over individual fixtures and faucets in their booths.
“Our collections support a look for the entire bathroom, not just the toilet,” says Dick Klaess, Crane’s national sales and marketing manager.
Mansfield unveiled 12 suites intended for the mid to high end of the market; six are being sold under the traditional — and British — sounding name of Windsor.
Jacuzzi’s booth touted the company as “the new choice in bathroom suites.” Its collections include the Gianni China suite and Bellavista China suite.
A spokesman for Price Pfister at K/BIS says its Treviso family of matching products is the biggest initiative for Price Pfister in 10 years.
Blanco was showing new custom accessories this year to complement its faucets and sinks.
“The accessories are in response to customers who may look at one of our products and say, ‘This is great, but I want to complete the package,’” Blanco representative Betty Alsip says.
David Lingafelter, Moen’s vice president/marketing, adds: “The ability to accessorize allows homeowners to give their rooms an individual flair. They can do a remodeling project that doesn’t require a huge investment.”
Along with accessories, Moen showed new models in its M-PACT system, which allows consumers to change out handle styles and finishes from common valving in the shower or lav.
Similarly, Hansgrohe’s Proaktiv buying program allows contractors to order a common set of its Interaktiv faucet bodies and spouts along with a variety of handles and finishes.
The Delta Select Total Escape shower system gives users opportunities to mix and match traditionally styled showerheads, handles, hand showers, tub spouts and body sprays according to individual preferences. All the options can be used with the same thermostatic valve.
With consumers spending more time in their home, they’re paying more attention to products’ performance and durability.
“Performance is a trend,” says Michelle Hudec, American Standard’s senior brand director/residential bath. “Technology and educating consumers on how products perform — and how they should perform — are important for contractors.”
A new generation of low-flush toilet technology was on display on the show floor. Flushing systems include American Standard’s Aqua-force and Kohler’s Ingenium, both of which boast improved hydraulics.
Gerber is making a pilot valve standard in its competitively priced toilets. Gerber also is extending the warranty on its toilets’ mechanics from one year to five to match the warranty on the china, says Jim Dyer, purchasing director.
W/C Technology Corp. and Geberit announced a joint venture in an in-wall system using the PF/2 pressure-assisted flush. The new model promises not only a more efficient flush but also an extra 6 in. to 9 in. of legroom for the user. Since the wall-mounted unit doesn’t touch the floor, cleaning underneath the toilet becomes easier.
Ease of cleaning also is a benefit promised by Toto for its new Bridgeport and Forrester kitchen sinks, which are treated with its SanaGloss glazing process. SanaGloss, used already on Toto’s toilets, repels stains and bacteria.
Other sink manufacturers tout the durability of their new products, particularly for the kitchen. These models include Moen’s MoenStone Granite sinks, which offer superior chip, scratch and heat resistance, according to the company.
Several Blanco models are made from Silgranit, which is 80% natural granite. The material not only is durable but also less than half the weight of cast iron, making installation easier, the company says.
In the cast-iron category, Kohler points to the durability of its sinks, even in the models with decorative patterns.
Still, stainless steel dominates the kitchen sink category with new models at K/BIS from Elkay, Blanco, American Standard, KWC and Sterling. Blanco and Kohler displayed stainless steel sinks for the lavatory while Elkay exhibited stainless steel counter and sink tops. Elkay also showed some of its established products in new applications, such as a stainless steel sink at floor level in a home’s mudroom to clean dirty pets and children.
A number of the stainless steel sinks incorporate sound-deadening features. Several models also offer an installation system of pre-assembled, pre-attached clips to ease the work of contractors.
Grundfos Pumps Corp. unveiled its Comfort Series Instant Hot Water System, a retrofit recirculating setup that promises instant hot water and significant water savings to owners of existing homes.
“Previously, adding hot water recirculation to an existing home would require installation of expensive piping,” says Hans Kircher, HVAC segment manager for Grundfos. “The new system requires only a single pump and valve to deliver instant hot water.”
Consumers’ concerns over the safety of their home’s drinking water was evident from the number of filtration products and systems on display at K/BIS.
In-Sink-Erator introduced a new filter system in its hot-water dispenser models that alleviates any pressure drop when water crosses through the filter, says Dan Pedersen, director/hot water products.
In-Sink-Erator filter replacement cartridge Model F-201R addresses aesthetic issues of water’s odor, taste and chlorine content while Model F-501R is for applications that require a greater degree of filtration, Pedersen says.
Moen showed its PureTouch faucets for the kitchen and bath as well as its AquaSuite under-sink filtration system.
“We see more and more interest in filtration,” David Lingafelter says. “People want to take things out of their water.”
KWC unveiled its KWC- PUREJET that combines a faucet with a filtered water system.
Price Pfister, an early entrant in the filter faucet category, is moving away from that market, a spokesman says.
Among filter systems, Watts Industries has moved into that area with its purchase of Premier Water Systems a year ago. Watts showed its zero-waste reverse osmosis system, which is IAPMO certified and easy to install, says Bob Maisner, vice president/sales.
“Other systems send 4 to 6 gallons of water down the drain for every gallon of filtered water,” he says. “This system doesn’t waste the water but runs it back into the hot water line.”
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