This year's edition of the ISH 2001 exposition in Frankfurt, Germany, had more exhibits (2,285)--and more people attending (200,000)--coming from more countries (100+) than ever. The international scope of exhibitors continues to expand, including a much larger representation of Asian manufacturers this year. The U.S. roster keeps growing as well, and 2001 saw Kohler exhibiting for the first time. The list of American participants also included Acorn, Bemis, Fluidmaster, Leonard Valve, NIBCO, Oatey, Olsonite, Sloan Valve and Watts Regulator.
Here are some of highlights from the show.
General Trends and Design Themes
- Stainless steel is a hot material for just about everything.
- Japanese styling was evident in fixtures and bathroom systems.
- An even broader range of materials is being used for plumbing fixtures, including concrete/translucent (sometimes backlit)/plastic/rubber/terra cotta/combinations.
- There is an even greater crossover between residential and commercial fixture designs--stainless steel toilets taking on the soft, rounded lines of china/electronic sensor faucets for the home.
- Personalizing of products with custom artwork and monograms has become a popular option (this includes china fixtures and toilet seats).
Let's move on to some of the trends I saw in specific product categories:
Faucets--One of the most evident mega-trends in faucets at the show was the joystick design. A joystick is a single-lever faucet but with a key operating difference. Instead of controlling it with a lever in a basic horizontal orientation (somewhat parallel to the spout), you control this type with a lever in a basic vertical orientation (perpendicular to the spout). However, many of the design concepts now are not really "stick like," which makes the joystick moniker a little less than descriptive. Some handles were cylinders or blocks matching the size and shape of the faucet body, for example. I also saw a bit of a trend toward smaller faucets, made possible by smaller valving mechanisms.
And here's a trend that has been triggered by a trend in another category: wall-mounted faucets for use with vessels and other types of above-counter lavatories. The idea includes two-handle valves, single lever and joystick varieties. There is another breed of faucets emerging for use with these lavs that is mounted on the counter, but made taller for reaching over the elevated rim.
The growing concern for water conservation is evidenced by a growing number of faucets that are equipped with "override" mechanisms, where the handle is lifted or rotated to the point where it hits a point of resistance that signals that going further will cause the use of more water and energy.
Tubs & Showers--Some whirlpool tubs are looking more like swimming pools these days, equipped with a perimeter grate covering a "gutter" overflow that feeds a filtered recirculating system. Freestanding tubs continue to grow in popularity, with a couple of firms showing models made of brass. Several manufacturers showed Japanese-style deep soaking tubs.
One company introduced a compact freestanding enclosure dubbed the "cocoon." In addition to its fitting shape, it also breaks ground with previous trends by having color (as opposed to clear glass). This same manufacturer showed a shower panel that adjusts up and down to the height of the user.
Lavatories--The "vessels" and related above-counter lavatory basins are the hot trend. What started as a "bowl set atop a counter" has evolved into a number of other variations on the basic theme in which the rim of the basin is elevated above counter height. In some cases, this means an extension of the same counter material. There are others that I would call "semi-recessed"--partly below counter level, partly above. Two trends actually merge here: the above-counter bowl and the ever-expanding range of materials used to make fixtures.
Another trend in lavatory design is a return to angular form, rectangles in particular. I also saw several examples of new ways to handle the drain in a lavatory. Instead of the traditional hole at the bottom of the basin, there were innovations involving a slit across the entire back bottom of the bowl. I assume the stopper was located in the connecting drain, like the system used on scullery sinks equipped with grid strainers.
New styles of freestanding lavs are becoming more popular. Instead of the traditional pedestal look, these are more integrated in form, often taking a basic cylindrical shape. They usually do not provide a place for a deck-mounted faucet, further feeding the growth of the wall-mounted variety.
Toilets, Urinals, Bidets--Now that water conservation is an "in concept" in Europe, so is the two-stage flusher for toilets (one button for a short flush, one button for long). Two manufacturers introduced "waterless urinals." With one concept, there is a gel-like fluid that is poured into the fixture periodically. This fluid allows urine to pass through, but acts as a barrier to prevent fumes from passing back up. The other concept involves a ball that drops by means of a sensor-activated solenoid when the fixture is being used, then pops back into its default sealing position afterward. On bidets, you see an increasing use of removable plastic rims for a more comfortable (and warmer) seating surface.
ADA Category Products--There were several good product designs in this category (although the Europeans don't know the term.) Two manufacturers displayed adjustable height toilets. One provided up and down positioning with a hydraulic system powered by the water supply. The other was motor driven and allowed the bowl to tip down a little to allow the user to get seated more easily. In this case, a support arm alongside contained electronic controls. This same manufacturer showed a motor driven adjustable-height lavatory with electronic controls imbedded into the front lip of the basin.