Bath time

15 Jun, 15

Leanne McCaffrey asks could we soon be taking the ‘bath’ out of the ‘bathroom’?

There has been much debate lately concerning the future of the bath and whether it will eventually give way to showering. CEO of Methven David Banfield kick-started the furore by predicting the end of the bath in 10 years, citing water-saving and suitability for a growing elderly population among his reasons. And he has been joined by Ann Boardman, customer services and marketing manager of Saniflo who says that “on the whole the British nation is becoming more of a showering than a bathing nation.” However, response to the suggestion of the decline of the bath shows the UK consumer is not ready to give up their love affair with the tub just yet. This, together with a raft of bath launches at ISH means the popularity of the tub is not in immediate peril.

Margaret Talbot, marketing manager for VitrA, comments that “although most people tend to prefer showering as its quick and great for busy lifestyles, many people will find it impossible to think of life without a bathtub. It offers the perfect space to unwind, and it’s also really practical too for families for bathing children.” Marketing manager for Laufen, Joanne Langton believes the reason for the increase in sales is the want of a spa experience in the home; “as bathrooms become more spa-like and luxurious we are seeing a return to form for the bath, with at least one bathroom in the home featuring one.”

Freestanding baths

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At the top end of the market, the consensus is that freestanding baths are on the rise. Laufen, Porcelanosa, Bette and Keramag Design all report to have seen their fastest growth in sales of their freestanding models. Porcelanosa’s Head of Marketing & Innovation, Jimmy DHeer comments that “freestanding bathtubs make striking, sculptural design features, but they also help to set the mood for rest and relaxation. They have become enormously popular. From a designer point of view, the freestanding bath is more than aesthetic – it is emotive.”

But how does the large-scale freestanding bath balance against the typically small British bathroom? Sabine Mané, head of marketing for Keramag Design, says that space is no longer an issue: “While more people are aspiring to a freestanding bath, many have previously assumed they didn’t have enough space. As there are now more freestanding baths which fit a standard bath footprint, consumers are able to opt for those models so they can still achieve the luxurious style even when space is more limited.” Leanne Martin, category manager at Ideal Standard, agrees saying “don’t be fooled to thinking you can’t get a freestanding bath in a small bathroom, design can be clever. You can put baths across corners to give you the width without practically using too much space.”

The boutique feel

Alternatively, to ensure they have space for a freestanding bath, designers have even explored outside the confines of the traditional bathroom. In luxury boutique hotels, the bath can be found within the bedroom. But could this be a trend that works itself into the mainstream? Marketing director at Victoria + Albert Baths, Jonathan Carter comments on this trend: “Clearly space is central consideration, and for those with it the format can make a fantastic statement, adding lots of value and freeing up the en suite for the more utilitarian day-to-day ablutions.”  

However, other industry experts disagree, not seeing this as a sensible option.  Barry Cutchie, Chairman of BC Designs says: “I don’t believe this is an increasing trend. It has been done for many years, but the amount of the moisture put into the air from a full bath in the bedroom is an important consideration.” And Sam Ball, marketing manager for Utopia, claims that “Visually, a freestanding bath in a bedroom may look stunning but realistically it’s a totally impractical idea for most domestic environments and for so many reasons.”

One size fits all

Whatever style a consumer may select, or where they choose to position a tub, mega trends affecting sales for the bathroom at home should be taken into account.  For the growing elderly population, a walk-in shower may be deemed to be more preferable than a bath as it is easier to enter and exit. However, Barry Cutchie of BC Designs suggests baths needn’t be out of the picture; “in terms of an elderly population thankfully over the past few years there has been some thought put into the designs of baths which incorporate entry doors. They no longer need to look like hospital appliances, and are not overly expensive. The introduction of see-through doors in these shower baths makes them pleasing on the eye.”

Experts also suggest the bath is preferable for those with young children too. Philippa Hemsley, product manager for Twyford, explains; “we have also seen more demand for our All family bath, which caters for users of all ages and abilities with features such as handgrips and a removable seat, as this potentially avoids the cost and upheaval of changing it at a later date.” She goes on to say, “A bath can therefore be a fun, lively space for children to bathe, somewhere to care for a relative, or a space for relaxing and unwinding and it’s important to give this the careful thought and planning it deserves to meet the customer’s current and future needs.”

According to research by Matalan, a third of households in London are multigenerational. With more generations having to live under one roof due to financial restraints, the bath’s future could be stable.

Green issues

Whether the bath is for the elderly or for the young, water usage is also a factor. Bath manufacturers have looked at how to counter eco-issues; Philippa Hemsley from Twyford says “we are seeing growth in demand for low volume baths in both steel and acrylic designs. These baths save up to 90 litres of water per bath so are very popular with consumers who are conscious of their water usage.” Sven Rensinghoff, head of marketing at Bette says “at Bette, we put a lot of focus on manufacturing our products in the most sustainable way possible, creating products that are made from entirely natural materials, are 100% recyclable and are so durable that they have a 30 year warranty – so their carbon footprint is far less than many less natural and less long-lasting products.”

Looking forwards

The general consensus appears to be that despite the growing popularity of showers, a home is not complete without a bath – it is called a “bath”room after all! Jonathan Carter from Victoria + Albert Baths says that it’s “interesting to note how in estate agent communications, branded freestanding baths appear more and more within the particulars of property adverts.” And Jimmy DHeer agrees with this, “Homeowners will consider that traditionally the rule of thumb for resale of your house is that you need a bathtub for a wider scope of potential buyers.”

So it’s not the end for the bath just yet. Faye Rainey, product and marketing manager for Clearwater Baths believes “there will always be a demand for a bath that offers the essence of well-being and luxury. Consumers appreciate a destination-bath, something they can look forward to at the end of a hectic day.” And Sven Rensinghoff claims that fast paced lifestyles benefit bath sales, as he comments, “the faster the pace of life, the more there is a need to slow it all down, and the bathroom is the ideal place to do this. This is one of the reasons we believe that bath sales will continue to be strong over the coming years, as there is a need for rest and relaxation in the bathroom, as well as the more fast-paced washing that showering can bring.”

So the future remains strong for bath sales…at least for now.

This feature first appeared in Kitchens & Bathrooms News May 2015 issue