BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
There’s no better place to see decorative plumbing fixtures and fittings than the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show, held April 11-13 in Orlando, Fla. If you’re simply a pipe and valve kind of person, K/BIS may be too frilly for you. You would still have to admit, however, that the show is loaded with unique ideas for making kitchens and bathrooms fun and attractive.
Among the most commonly seen trends at the show was a continued emphasis on products with nostalgic styling on the outside wedded to up-to-date technology on the inside. The improved performance of water-saving toilets, in particular, was in the spotlight.
Polished brass faucets and fittings are not nearly as prevalent as they used to be, replaced instead with new metallic finishes. Another trend of specific interest to contractors is the movement by manufacturers to make products that are easier to install.
In the bath
Like many faucet and fixture manufacturers, American Standard is reviving the classic bathroom fixtures first introduced in the Roaring ‘20s. The Standard Collection includes actual designs from 1922 that have been recreated to meet modern performance standards.
The Standard Collection offers three vintage-style lavatories, including a porcelain pedestal sink with oval bowl, a console sink that pairs a porcelain basin with metal legs accented with towel bars, and a self-rimming, drop-in porcelain countertop sink. The line is available in white.
To complement the lavatories, The Standard Collection includes a period faucet with porcelain-enameled handles, a bathtub, tub and shower fittings and a vintage-style toilet.
American Standard also showed a completely new “flush tower” toilet tank mechanism. Low-consumption toilets have suffered from poor initial flushing performance and, in addition, many 1.6-gpf toilets use 3-gal. or more after the original flush valve is changed out by the homeowner. As a way to solve both problems, American Standard’s new flush mechanism incorporates a 3-in. proprietary flush valve that delivers 1.6-gpf in 0.75 seconds through a 2-3/8-in. trapway. All water channels in the bowl are designed to create a “spike of energy” to move waste out of the bowl.
Mansfield has jumped right into the traditional and nostalgia market with its Windsor collection of retro-styled pedestal and wall-mounted lavatories, toilets and bidets. As the firm’s sales materials note, the product “reaches effortlessly out from its own era to capture the imaginations of the generations that follow.”
In a related move, Mansfield is bringing back harvest gold and avocado green fixtures in comfort height and water-conserving models for older couples that don’t want to completely remodel their older homes.
In line with the nostalgia trend, Kohler showed its Leighton ensemble, a 1930s style English country suite of bathroom furniture. Its Kathryn suite draws on 1920s designs.
Kohler emphasized its variety of spa experiences, including massage jets, air bubbles or “effervescence” and chromatheraphy, all available with floating remote controls. Kohler, in fact, launched its HomeSpa Whirlpools with a variety of product customization options called “experience packages” that include effervescence with chromatherapy, a spa package with jets, a massage package with backjets and neckjets, and a combination spa/massage package.
In-Sink-Erator introduced six new designer finishes for its Euro-style Series 1100 model hot water dispensers - polished nickel, biscuit, black, almond, mocha bronze and French gold. The hot water dispensers come with a recently introduced filtration system. “Filtration was a big step in the evolution of this product,” said Marketing Manager Lisa Engel.
Price Pfister introduced Marielle and Parisa kitchen pullout spout faucets. The spray head has push button controls that activate a choice of three separate sprays: a jet spray for thorough cleaning, a full spray for light rinsing and a gentle stream for everyday use.
Toto continues to manufacture products for which it’s difficult to find adjectives. When one walks into the bathroom containing the $4,500 Neorest toilet, sensors in the toilet lift the lid for you. If a man continues to stand in front of the toilet, it automatically lifts the seat too. The toilet contains Toto’s Washlet water spray with user changeable pressure and temperature settings and oscillating spray massage. The toilet also has a heated seat, automatic catalytic air deodorizer and warm air dryer. The toilet does not contain a tank. It relies instead on a “sequential valve” that splits the water flow into two streams released in three sequenced stages.
Toto also showed the Helix EcoPower faucet, a sensor faucet that uses water flow to power itself so it does not need batteries. The firm also showed several lines of air tubs and a square cobalt blue glazed china lavatory line. As a counterpoint, Toto showed its Baldwin Suite that is so traditional in its look that it would fit into any New England colonial house.
Danze, which focuses only on the custom home and remodeling market, has doubled its lines of showerheads and accessories this year, the company’s Linda Bendt says. The firm showed a collection of unusual showerheads such as triple heads and spinning showerheads. Oil-rubbed bronze and nickel are the hot finishes. The firm has also introduced a Victorian line in an antique copper finish. The company’s products are all brass with ceramic disk valving. Bendt notes that the company has a complete line of accessories to match every faucet and showerhead it makes.
In a separate booth, Danze’s new sister company, Gerber Plumbing, was displaying its line of water-conserving toilets among its other offerings. Both Gerber and Danze are owned by Globe Union America Corp.
Fluidmaster showed its newest surfactant toilet bowl-cleaning system and hopes to come out with both a chlorine product and a lime/scale inhibitor. The firm gets around the damage that chemicals might do to flush and fill valves by never putting the chemicals in the tank. Fluidmaster’s dispensers feed the chemicals into the overflow pipe so they flow directly into the bowl. Along the same lines, the firm showed an enzyme dispenser to keep septic tanks properly functioning.
A radiant floor might melt conventional wax rings. Fluidmaster, however, has a wax-free bowl gasket to take its place.
Fluidmaster used a Briggs Vacuity toilet to demonstrate its products.
Eljer has discovered that a 17-in. toilet doesn’t mean “handicapped accessible,” it’s just a comfortable height to many people, noted Frank Vullo, director of product management. Eljer, consequently, is producing its Century collection with a 17-in. rim height. The toilet uses the firm’s E-Force gravity flush system. The Newport 17-in. toilet with elongated bowl fits in the same space as a round-front toilet. And taking the 17-in. concept a step further, the Patriot 17-in. model now comes in a triangular model that fits into a corner.
Lavs are getting higher too. Marketing Manager Chris Miller pointed out that Eljer’s “men’s” lavatory is 36-1/2-in. high and comes with built-in towel bars.
Eljer’s unexpected hit of the show was a Primavera cast-iron kitchen sink in “slate,” which is actually just the cast iron covered with a clear enamel.
Swan Corp.’s Barry Towers showed off the firm’s seven granite colors of Varitek material for tubs and surrounds. Swan has also begun producing kitchen sinks in a gloss finish, not just its traditional matte colors. The sinks come in drop-in or under-mount models.
Sterling Plumbing believes it has about 80% of the pre-formed shower market covered with its Vikrell shower bases in 36-, 42-, 48- and 60-in. sizes, said Tim O’Connor, director of marketing. The bases can be used with either Sterling’s walls or tile. The company also sells a faux tile wall in its Ensemble shower.
Along with its new logo, Transolid displayed a new shower wall system. Even though the product is available at retail, about 85% of the shower systems are contractor installed because some cutting is involved, said Tripp Parker, sales and marketing director. Transolid also exhibited its line of bath furniture along with contractor-friendly natural quartz and solid-surface vanity tops that are made to order by the company.
Symmons is too often thought of as a commercial shower product, even though 50%-60% of its business is residential, said Marketing Manager Bill Tracey. Symmons displayed its Water Dance shower system, a 13-gpm ceramic, pressure-balanced shower valve that can run two- and three-wall shower systems. The heads, valves and body sprays come in chrome, satin nickel and polished brass.
Symmons’ founder invented the pressure balanced valve 60 years ago, Tracey noted, and today’s-low flow shower heads have made scalding a bigger problem because they tend to have a “damming” effect that exacerbates the impact of pressure changes. Consequently, Symmons has come out with a retrofit shower valve with a big plate that will cover up the holes in the wall from old two-handle shower valves.
If, for some reason, you don’t want a tub spout, Mountain Plumbing debuted a combination tub filler/tub drain with a built-in backflow preventer. The water flow can be controlled with any manufacturer’s handles. On the bottom side of the tub, Mountain has a waste and overflow that flexes so it’s easier to install. The company has a choice of 10 drains, including cable operated, toe tap, twist or lever trip. For lavatories, Mountain has lav traps in 35 decorative finishes.
Mountain is also active under the kitchen sink. It has a line of drinking water dispensers for both chilled and instant hot water, and the firm sells its own self-venting instant chiller unit. The drinking water dispensers are NSF and IAPMO listed.
Chicago Faucet is getting back into the residential market thanks to new parent Geberit. The firm will offer both brands with residential and commercial offerings. Chicago Faucet also has a combination tub waste/tub filler unit with a built in backflow preventer. The unit will deliver 18-gpm but you would have to find a faucet valve from another manufacturer that allows 18-gpm flow.
Hansgrohe showed the latest version of its Axor line of quarter-turn faucets that mixes round and square shapes in chrome and platinum finishes. The newest faucets were designed by architect and designer Antonio Citterio. The Axor line now includes eight different collections, including those designed by Philippe Starck.
Hansgrohe also debuted its oversized Raindance 240 10-in. showerhead that actually feels like rain. The showerhead has a hole in the center that aspirates air through the showerhead, creating a true rain-like flow.
The show was full of vessel sinks, many of them pricey except for one - Oceana Glass Lavs made by a little company called Jeannette Specialty Glass. The vessels are poured Pyrex and sell at about $250. President Mike Monsour showed an amber round vessel that wholesales for $149. An opalescent round vessel, which recreates the process used to make Tiffany glass, wholesales for $299. Monsour said he can produce as many as 700 sinks a day in any color ordered. He envisions them being installed in hotels, condos and casinos. For example, a hotel could order a private label, private mold sink as an exclusive.
Zehnder America is selling electric towel-warming radiators from Switzerland. The firm sells the products directly to plumbing contractors, said Barry Stephens, national sales manager. The towel bars are room heaters, producing 450 to 600W, and are controlled by a seven-day/eight-heat-settings programmable controller. Stephens said the towel bars are popular even in Florida because people want warm towels regardless of the season.
In the kitchen
Delta Faucet’s themes for the show were customization, color and coordination, represented by a huge array of choices. Delta displayed its Saxony kitchen pullout spout faucets in five colors, available with or without an escutcheon. The pullout has a reach of 38 in. The faucets are available in matte black for consumers who like a touch of the dramatic. Trevi wall-mount faucets were shown in polished chrome and brushed nickel for the kitchen, in a new roman tub edition, and in colors for lavs and vessels. Delta also presented its Riviera line of European-influenced roman tub sets available with or without a hand shower.
Moen showed its new Aberdeen line of pullout spout kitchen faucets that install with water supply connectors that use the Hydrolock quick-connect system. The Hydrolock has worked so well and proven so popular that Moen plans to extend it to its other kitchen and bath faucets. The company notes that its Puretouch line of filter faucets has won American Dental Association approval because it does not filter out fluoride. Also in the kitchen, Moen introduced its under-mount stainless steel and Lancelot under-mount stainless sinks with Sound Shield, a sound-deadening product adapted from the automotive industry.
Swiss faucet maker KWC exhibited its Systema commercial/industrial look for the residential kitchen, including items such as a semi-pro pot filler with a lower height to better fit into a home kitchen. The firm has had a reputation in the kitchen, but it now wants to be known for its bathroom faucets and sinks, said the company’s T.J. Mullally. Among its offerings was a remake of its 1922 faucet with a 9-in. or 7-in. reach that works for a lavatory, vessel sink or kitchen sink. The QBix and the Vesuno line of faucets started in other applications — the Vesuno was a bar faucet, for example — but now come in a complete line for the bath.
For the kitchen, Kohler showed its Undertone Trough sink that almost isn’t a sink. The trough would fit into an island or room divider. The shallow sink with varying depths, available in sizes from 20 in. to 46 in., is the type of sink that one would fill with ice and stock with beverages or shrimp when entertaining.
Elkay has its own version, a meandering trough sink that it calls the River Sink. It comes with a countertop that covers it when not in use. Elkay now has nearly 100 models of under-mount sinks, said Marketing Manager Alan Danenberg. The selection of sizes, shapes, colors and finishes is extensive, including finishes such as copper, brass and hammered stainless.
Franke displayed its stainless steel sinks as food preparation areas with accompanying bowls, grates, cutting boards and strainers. The pop-up for the sink is on the deck so the user need not put his or her hands in dirty water. Franke has also partnered with Villeroy & Boch on a line of fire-glazed apron front kitchen sinks.
Blanco is investing heavily in the U.S. market, with four production lines in Germany dedication solely to U.S. products. The company showed 80 new stainless steel sink configurations and 28 new faucets.