Don Arnold visited the ISH trade show in Frankfurt and offered his impressions on European plumbing trends.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of my treks over to Frankfurt, Germany, to take in the wonders of the European plumbing world. As usual, I heard comments from some that there wasn't much new this time, and as usual, I didn't agree. Once again, I felt that there were plenty of innovations. That's one of the advantages of an every-other-year schedule; in fact, it gives manufacturers space to work on the more significant product introductions rather than mid-term tweaks. Here are the trends I noted, and the high spots I found interesting this time.

  • Finishes and colors back to the basics. Fixtures were predominantly white, and faucets and hardware mostly chrome. This is in sharp contrast to what we saw for many years involving an endless spectrum of colors and finishes.

  • Continuing trend toward angular shapes. The era of jelly bean forms has faded in favor of squarish forms-some quite severe. In faucets, this is especially evident, with bodies that look like blocks and spouts that look like flat bands. A continuing trend is the use of flush-mount controls. By this, I mean that the cartridge is buried down below the surface of the fixture, leaving just the control component (handle, lever, etc.) projecting up from deck. (Before this, the conventional approach has been to have a housing for the faucet cartridge extend up from the deck or faucet base, and for the handle to sit atop that.)

  • More open channel lavatory and tub spouts.

  • "Two-peg"

  • More domesticated pre-rinse faucets, including some for the lavatory.

  • More cycling-type faucets. If you're not familiar with the term, "cycling"

  • Top-mount faucets. This is a concept we're beginning to see on both sides of the pond. The concept here is to install a "mounting platform"

  • Whirlpools on the decline? It seemed to me that there were fewer tubs with whirlpool or bubble systems than in years past. Has this type perhaps peaked in popularity?

  • Innovations in lavatory basin shapes and drain configurations. There are increasing examples of lavs without basins (flat or extremely shallow surfaces) and just slits or baffles over the actual drain outlets. You see similar creativity directed to shower receptors; rarely do you look down at a utilitarian grid drain anymore.

  • Stainless still hot. Stainless steel faucets (solid in some cases) and fixtures continue to gain momentum. There were many examples of hybrid lavatory constructions that use stainless for the basin portion, but another (often warmer) material for the basic fixture.

  • Radiating creativity. In the U.S., our ideas of a radiator design are pretty limited and dated. Europeans do some artsy things with theirs. One type I found especially clever was made in the form of architectural columns.

  • "Second Wave"

    One of the bigger buzzes at the show took place in the Hansa booth, where they demonstrated two new electronic faucets. One had an "American-type"

    Hansa also showed a hands-free version of their popular "glass spreader"

    Dalmer, Madgal and Technical Concepts (the latter a U.S. firm), demonstrated faucets using capacitance technology. In the case of these companies, the faucet is a simpler proximity on-off type, activated by bringing your hand near the faucet from any direction. Dalmer showed just spouts with water tempered through a mixing valve below deck. Madgal and Technical Concepts showed how any faucet could be converted to a hands-free type with the addition of their electronic components below. Temperature control in these cases is accomplished manually with the standard valving that comes with the faucets. Another firm with the capacitance concept was Villeroy & Boch, once again showing a lavatory with a red and blue dot on the back surface of the basin. When the user waves his hand near the blue dot, the water comes on full cold, if the wave is done near the red dot, the water comes on in a preset warm mode. Moving away from the fixture then turns off the water.

    There were two other interesting electronic innovations indirectly related to water control. Duravit has an arrangement in which lighting around the perimeter of a mirror turns on when the faucet below is activated. Kueco showed a telescoping shower column that activates by means of a control knob on the side (to adjust the height of the shower).

    Arnold's Best in Show

    There were a couple of offbeat candidates this year. I really liked a fixture series designed for small children. We have seen half-size toilets in our market, but these appeared to be about third-size, and included toilets, bidets and lavs.

    The other wasn't really a production item, but a whimsical entry from a competition conducted among Ukrainian designers (including students) on exhibit in the Masco building. (I think I know the guy who donated the Levi's for this, by the way.)

    Wacko Winner of '05

    I always have my eye out at ISH for something way out in terms of design or function. This year, I spotted something for steam bath and sauna purists who like the tradition of having a bucket of cold water dumped on them. It's a plumbed-in bucket on the wall that you simply tip for drenching. Between dousings, the bucket is automatically refilled by means of a toilet ballcock inside.