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04 Aug, 15

Leanne McCaffrey looks at shower enclosures to find out whether shape, glazing or colour could be the future

While we all know frameless enclosures are the most coveted look for bathrooms, in reality few consumers will have the budget or even the correct site conditions. After all, how many walls are perfectly plumb? So it’s no surprise that we reported last year ‘truly frameless’ were not yet living up to their potential (except at the very top end of the market). Instead, customers were opting for the semi-frameless enclosure, which offers a similar aesthetic but also provides adjustability for installation. But as interior trends become ever-more eclectic, will this outright minimalistic look continue to stay in favour?

Frameless trend remains

Shower enclosure manufacturers – across the board – have reported growth in shower enclosure sales. And of these, undoubtedly semi-frameless designs are key. Category manager at Ideal Standard, Leanne Martin explains: “When it comes to design trends, less is definitely becoming more. We’re seeing frame sizes reduced and components being concealed more cleverly.”

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In fact, such is the popularity of these semi-frameless designs, managing director of Roman, David Osborne believes “semi-frameless is very much where the mainstream shower enclosure sales lie and this is certainly increasing.” Putting some meat on the bones, Fraser Holmes, commercial manager at Simpsons, says the company has noticed the increased interest in semi-frameless models in its sales figures, commenting: “Our semi-frameless Design range accounts for 30% of our overall sales. Over the past two years we have seen a 14% increase without any range additions”. So the trend for frameless or frameless-inspired enclosures looks unlikely to waver, particularly as Aqata now reports these styles already form the majority of its sales. Managing director of Aqata Jayne Barnes points out frameless and semi-frameless enclosures “account for approximately 70% of our sales.”

Walk-ins and sliders

Unsurprisingly, the wetroom panel and the walk-in format enclosure have been the biggest component of frameless or semi-framed enclosure sales. The sleek, unhindered lines of these panels have been key to create the minimal look. Ian Parkinson, buyer for PJH group, comments that for PJH, “the fastest-growing enclosure types are the wet room and walk-in models that are experiencing steady sales at present.” However, unless they are being fitted as a bath replacement, wet room panels and walk-ins may not fit the typically small bathrooms. And Fraser Holmes from Simpsons agrees: “Sales have been stronger towards sliding doors and walk-in panels, backing up trends of larger enclosure requirements and bath replacements.”  He points out, the best-selling shower door for Simpsons is the Edge 1200 slider; “the Edge slider accounts for 5% of our door sales. Our overall sliders account for 17% of our sales.”  And David Osborne believes sliding doors play a significant role in his company sales too, adding: “quadrants, sliding doors and bi-fold door enclosures make up well over 50% of our sales.”

But that doesn’t mean consumers who are restricted for space and therefore opt for a quadrant, or even a bifold have to forgo the minimal styling. There are models that can mirror elements of the frameless or semi-frameless look, with more minimal styling. For example, Lakes has recently redesigned its single door quadrant to offer a more simple style. And Fraser Holmes adds: “We have just launched a semi-frameless slider with soft open and close in our design range. The initial uptake has been very positive.”

The thick of it

So, if consumer’s choice of shower enclosure is falling into two camps, governed really by available floor space, how can designers and retailers encourage consumers to trade up? Glass thickness looked to be a defining factor last year, as some experts suggested, at the top end of the market 8 to 10mm glass was becoming an industry standard. However, even then there was discussion between manufacturers over the importance of thicker glass. Interestingly, a year on, the majority of manufacturers are seemingly promoting enclosures which come either in 6mm or 8mm options. Sales and marketing director of Manhattan Showers, Gary Campbell comments “the majority of mid-market enclosures come with 6mm or 8mm glass thickness as standard.” Helping shed some light on this issue, Laura Knox, marketing executive for Roman, offers her  thoughts describing 10mm glazing as “more of a niche top-end frameless product within the retail market”.

Colour on horizon

So what can we expect of shower enclosures over the next two to three years? If the format, styling and glazing options are non-negotiable, does it mean the fashions will remain the same from what’s in favour now? Well, not necessarily, as bathroom experts believe colour and material will play a more significant role in future shower enclosure styling .

Gary Campbell from Manhattan Showers believes “enclosure designs that challenge the traditional styles and appearances of the last 10 years will begin to emerge, and will become very popular very fast!” These tradition-breaking designs could include “the use of more unusual materials” according to Edel Nicholson, marketing manager of Merlyn. The company has already launched a range called Colour, “designed to be as minimalist as possible but with the added pop of colour”, as Nicholson explains. It includes an enclosure with Gold accents, a colour that Aqata’s Jayne Barnes also predicts will make resurgence, as well as “mass customisation with frameless made and shaped to fit screens and more curved glass.” Michael Sammon from Frontline Bathrooms also predicts “coloured accents and mirrored panels have been appearing on an increasing number of enclosures,” so accomplished bathroom designers and retailers will keep an eye on this trend.

Certainly, the consensus seems to be luxurious finishes will make a play in enclosure design. And this, together with the trend for minimalistic bathroom spaces will continue to influence the future of enclosure fashion. Fraser Holmes believes this will cause more blurring between the semi-frameless and frameless enclosures, as he reports: “I see a development towards more minimal framed options. There are some good examples in the high-end market, but limited in the mid-market.” But is it all just a case of semantics as Merlyn’s Edel Nicholson reminds us “an actual enclosure by the nature of its design can never be 100% frameless!” So, there’s some mileage in the semi-framed model yet.

This feature first appeared in Kitchens & Bathrooms News July/August 2015 issue