pme interviewed GROHE Vice President of Design Michael Seum March 14 during the ISH trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, about bath-and-kitchen design trends. Born in America, Seum is an award-winning designer whose international design career spans large corporations; acclaimed design studios and entrepreneurial startup brands.
At GROHE, Seum is responsible for delivering insight-driven, meaningful solutions that capture the spirit and imagination of GROHE consumers throughout the world.
pme: Do you design products differently for the U.S. than you do for the European market?
MS: Yes, we have quite a few lines that are dedicated to the U.S. but when we design lines, we try for a global product. For example, when we design a line for a wholesaler, it’s for them specifically. We do that quite a bit. With me coming from the U.S., I have a deep understanding of the market there. At the same time, the brand has to be firmly rooted in the heritage of GROHE with a German-based approach to design. It’s a European design brand and we should be seen as a European design brand in the U.S., so we have to understand the needs of our customers.
pme: In the GROHE booth at ISH, I was struck by the phrase “sensual minimalism” to describe a line of products. Can you define that?
MS: You were looking at Lineare, which is a redesign of an existing line. The original line is beautiful and we wanted to treat it with respect. Minimalism in general can often be quite hard, harsh and a little cold. “Sensual” minimalism softens it up a bit, warms it up. Think about it in this sense: If you have a commercial kitchen and you try to bring the commercial kitchen into the home, it doesn’t often translate.
So we’ve taken minimalism and we’ve softened it with a bit more organic geometry. It still reads as a very modern clean line, with softer bends and more fluid touch points. It’s a really nice philosophy for us. The response to it here at ISH has been fantastic.
pme: Would this be an example of a product line you would design both for the European and U.S. markets?
MS: It’s such simple geometry that it will do really well in the U.S. when we introduce it later this year. I think it will translate globally, too. Lineare is basically a cylindrical rectangular geometry. It works well with round and rectangular basins. It’s a flexible line that’s very slim. I think we hit a sweet spot with this particular line.
pme: Does GROHE still see water conversation/green products as a major trend in the bath-and-kitchen space?
MS: Water scarcity is something we all should be concerned about. It’s not just from a design development perspective. It’s also: Where do our suppliers’ materials come from; are they getting high-quality materials or are they being good to the environment? As a brand, GROHE was nominated for a German government corporate social responsibility award, and we won. In the U.S., our sister brand American Standard has earned accolades from WaterSense. We have a true commitment to sustainability. As a designer, I believe the most sustainable products are the ones that last the longest. A quality product is something you invest in. It’s high-quality material, very well-engineered, it’s going to last and you’re going to experience the quality from day one. I think that’s the difference between buying a GROHE product or a store-brand product, so I think sustainability can be expressed in other ways.
Another example would be the GROHE Blue Home system. In Germany, bottled water consumption is very high, but it’s also very high in the U.S. If you took a bottle of water today and set it on the table, you have to realize it takes seven times the amount of water that’s in the bottle to produce that bottle. We want to change that. Our Blue system allows you to use 4.22 cups of water to consume 4.22 cups of water produced, not 29.5 cups. That’s really the power of the product. It’s completely safe. It’s un-bottled water you can drink safely from the tap — carbonated, filtered or chilled. It’s a really amazing product that is available in the U.S.
pme: Do you see any other trends that are uniquely American?
MS: From a trends perspective, for years we had seen U.S. consumers were very traditional in their design choices. All the data now shows contemporary design taking a much stronger role. As people are upgrading their bathrooms, they’re going from traditional to contemporary. This is a great opportunity for GROHE because we have a true heritage in the contemporary design space. I hope the American market can embrace some of the European design principles around the bathroom as well. I think it’s happening.
pme: What will be the next big technology advancement in baths and kitchens?
MS: The next big thing for us is to inject intelligence between water and enjoyment. So water, intelligence and enjoyment with GROHE. Intelligent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a digital product. It just means it can be a smarter solution. We continue to see this opportunity but also are launching a product that’s derived from safety and water security.
There’s a big opportunity to prevent water damage within homes. GROHE Sense and Sense Guard comprise an ecosystem or a family of products. The Sense product detects humidity and room temperature; if there’s a flood it will activate an app that will alert you. If you have both the products working together, the Guard goes into your plumbing and it will actually shut off the water supply. It works unattended. Think about the Nest thermostat from Google, only this is our equivalent for water saving.
pme: Do you see growth for GROHE on the nonresidential side of the U.S. plumbing market?
MS: We do a lot within residential and project-based business. I spend a fair amount of my time talking to architects. I’ve just met with a very important customer who designs larger hotels. I try to understand their needs and what we can do to better serve them. So we’re not just looking at residential. There are big opportunities for us with water safety and water management resources in large buildings and complex ecosystems.
pme: Is the perception of GROHE within the German plumbing industry different than it is within the U.S.?
MS: We just did a global brand study and I’m very happy to see we have such a powerful brand. What we have in the U.S. is the opportunity to drive the brand even further. Our ambition is to grow greatly in the U.S., and it’s a particular area that I’m very focused on as well.
GROHE is a brand people know at various price points. We go from the spa range all the way to the do-it-yourself range. In the U.S., the brand has more of a premium perception. Our market share is strongest in Germany, but that’s why the U.S. remains a big opportunity for us.