Whatever the economy, renovating the bath is still very important to consumers.

The amount of money spent by U.S. homeowners on residential improvements, maintenance and repairs was an estimated $157.22 million last year, a 1.4 percent growth from the previous year, reports a study on the plumbing industry published by Business Trend Analysts, a marketing research firm.

About $9.96 million was spent on plumbing alone, including hired labor cost, materials purchased or renting tools; of that, about $1.99 million was spent on additions and alterations, and $2.96 million was spent on major replacements. This is second behind kitchen remodeling.

In a survey of 2,000 remodelers, the National Association of Home Builders reports that 59 percent of the jobs undertaken by remodelers in 2000 were bathroom remodeling; 51 percent were bathroom additions. Jen Renzi, editor at Interior Design Magazine, says research conducted with her residential and commercial design readers found that they work on an average of 17 bathrooms a year, with an average budget of $28,000. About 35 percent of those designers work on more than 20 bathrooms a year, and about half have worked on $1 million-plus homes.

All these facts and figures say the same thing: People are spending a lot of money, time and effort to remodel their bathrooms.

“We estimate that bathrooms are about a $10 billion industry, and fairly recession-proof,” says Renzi, who spoke at the 2003 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Orlando, Fla., this past April. “While people may not be building million-dollar homes right now, they are buying starter homes or renovating. With the renovation process, people start with a kitchen or bathroom, then they go on to the living room or bedroom.”

The NAHB backs that up, as results from its most recent Remodeling Market Index show that professional remodelers are reporting a busier beginning to 2003 and significantly improved expectations for the rest of this year, compared to a lull in residential remodeling at the end of 2002.

And as homeowners begin to extend their personalities to the bathroom, manufacturers are right there with the products to achieve those goals, as witnessed at this year’s KBIS show.

The Three Cs

Consumers today are approaching bath remodeling a little more confidently than before primarily because of the amount of information available to them, says Diana Schrage, interior designer at Kohler’s Design Center. “Sophisticated homeowners realize that by treating the bathroom space like the rest of the home, they can increase the value, the function and the beauty of the space. And they don’t have to totally gut the room to do it.”

The predominate trends in bath remodeling are what Delta calls “The Three Cs,” says Faye Adams, new product development manager at Delta: color innovation, customization and coordination.

  • Color Innovation -- People are looking to put color in unexpected places, Adams explains. They want to express themselves through color. Delta’s Botanical Bath Collection is one answer to that. It includes interchangeable color accents in the handles (red, blue, green, orange, white with hot and cold accents, or chrome). “They can change colors weekly, monthly, seasonally -- whenever they want to express different styles.”

    A different take on the color trend is Swanstone’s prairie color line, which highlights the colors and textures of nature.

  • Customization -- People are looking more and more to expressing their individuality by customizing the bathroom without spending a lot of money to do so, Adams says. Delta’s Botanical collection speaks to this also with its four different spouts and two handle options, which consumers can mix and match.

    “Clients want to customize their spaces; they don’t want to waste space on a particular room that only supports one function,” says Renzi. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen partitioning systems between bathrooms and master bedrooms, such as frosted glass and sliding doors. The bathroom has become a natural extension of the bedroom area, one continuous space that can be closed off if needed.

    “We’re also starting to see the bathroom come out of hiding, asserting itself into living areas -- not a separate room, but partitioned off showers and/or toilets to open up space. Or a closet being converted into a walk-in shower, a solution popping up more and more for small spaces.”

    This also ties into the home spa trend, where homeowners are transforming the master bath into an oasis of relaxation, away from the stresses of daily life. That is especially true today, with worries of terrorism and war vying with concerns of family and work.

    Bathrooms have gone from whirlpools to more spa-like accessories, such as custom showers with body sprays, jets and hand showers, as well as soaking tubs.

    “We’re seeing separate shower and tub areas as the popularity of the showering experience increases,” Kohler’s Schrage says. The multiple showerhead experience is enjoyed by both men and women, but with the popularity of aromatherapy and the healing properties of soaking bathtubs (such as Kohler’s sok tub) for the nation’s aging population, there are still fans of the bath experience.

    Delta has two systems for the home spa: the Total Escape System, which is a very high-end custom shower, and the Jetted Shower XO system, which is the middle ground between a standard shower and a custom shower.

    “The Jetted Shower gives consumers a little extra luxury when they don’t want to go all out, tear their walls out and spend the money to completely remodel or put in a big system,” Adams notes.

  • Coordination -- The trend toward coordinating fixtures with accessories is an increasingly larger trend as people are becoming smarter as to what design means and what good design is. Manufacturers feed this trend with the introduction of suites or collections.

    “You can’t just be a faucet manufacturer; you need to be a plumbing products manufacturer,” says Jeff Pratt, vice president of sales at Danze. “We want to be able to give a total solution to the consumer. The consumer or builder now has the ability to buy suites of products that all go together. It’s an easier buying decision for everyone, and it takes the guesswork out of what to buy.”

    Danze has come out with nine new accessory styles with four or five different finishes, all with matching faucets. Not only does integrating accessories with faucets and fixtures make consumers more relaxed, Pratt explains, it also allows plumbing wholesalers to cross-sell merchandise.

    “Today’s consumers want to make changes but are afraid to make mistakes,” says Gary Uhl, American Standard’s director of design for the Americas. The suite option, such as the company’s Standard Collection, allows them to have a coordinated bathroom without all the anxiety.

    Kohler added a faucet and matching accessories (towel bars, towel ring, toilet tissue holder, robe hook, soap dish, shelf and tumbler) to its Devonshire suite, originally introduced in 2001.

    Also adding to collections is KWC Faucets, which expanded its Vesuno stainless-steel faucets to include shower and tub products -- thermostatic shower systems and trim kits, wall tub spouts, sliding wall bars, showerheads, hand showers and hand shower holders.

    In addition, the company introduced a complete suite of artistically-designed products in the Qbix and Qbix Art line -- several faucet styles, towel bars, towel/robe hook, cup holder, soap dish holder, liquid soap dispenser, shower sponge/soap dish, as well as tub faucets and a sliding wall bar for a hand-held showerhead.

    And don’t forget shower doors: Coastal Industries has developed a platinum finish for its Paragon shower door, in addition to the brushed nickel, allowing homeowners to coordinate their shower doors with their fixtures and accessories.

    Additional Trends

    There are two additional trends in bath remodeling that plumbing contractors should be aware of, Uhl says: nostalgia and the desire to have furniture in the bathroom.

    “Consumers are not looking for products that represent today’s world,” he explains. “It used to be that people, Americans in particular, were very optimistic about the future. However, at the moment, we’re a little wary of what the future is going to bring. And the bathroom is a place where people go to close out the world and to feel secure, especially women. Pulling references from the past helps them achieve that feeling.”

    American Standard has answered that trend with its Standard Collection, which has a 1920s influence, and the Porcher Marc Newson line, which hails back to the 1960s. Uhl adds that nostalgia is a trend in many product categories today, such as electronics, appliances, automotive and home furnishings.

    Adams agrees: she says there is a major swing toward traditional styles, as illustrated by the huge popularity of Delta’s Victorian line. Danze’s Opulence series is its No. 1 seller, says Pratt.

    Both Adams and Pratt are quick to say that contemporary isn’t out, as Delta and Danze have successful products in this area. And Kohler’s Laminar faucet has the clean, simple lines that speak to the contemporary side.

    And furniture? Uhl says that furniture in the bathroom is another extension of the home. Retailers like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have shown consumers how to use furniture to decorate their bedrooms, living rooms and family rooms. Now consumers want the same warm, inviting environment in their bathrooms.

    “Furniture gives consumers an opportunity to bring more styles and materials into the bathroom, as well as more useful space and storage,” he notes. Woods can warm up an environment, giving it a more luxurious feel.

    And there is no question that consumers are looking to upgrade to more luxurious surroundings, Pratt says, but they want luxury at an affordable price.

    “We can make it cost-effective to have those luxury items, and people are surprised how little space it takes to have that major change in lifestyle,” Schrage says. (Check out Kohler’s virtual bath and virtual shower planners at www.Kohler.com.)

    “People are definitely looking for their bathrooms to be more luxurious,” Adams adds. “It’s not just a place to shower, shave and get out; it’s a place to relax and get away from everything going on around you.”