Ease of use, low maintenance keys to bathroom design

Hands-free is the latest trend in public bathroom design. And it doesn’t apply only to those using the lavatories. In most cases, hands-free is exactly what hoteliers want when it comes to maintenance. In other words, the best equipment is of the low- to no-maintenance variety.

“When it comes down to it, the owners want something that’s easy to maintain,” said John Cairo, vice president of commercial and hospitality for Delta Faucet Co. “They want to keep construction costs in line, but they don’t want to end up three to five years down the road with something that’s difficult to replace or difficult to repair.”

The tricky part comes into play when the goal is to balance cost with form and function. That’s what a number of hoteliers discovered during the past decade as they realized the trendy and stylish fixtures they had selected for their public washrooms were soon old and tired. Remember the olive green and harvest gold fiasco of the late ’60s and early ’70s? It was deja vu all over again. Builders and owners who jumped on the Euro-style bandwagon of the mid-’90s learned the hard way that pretty faucets aren’t always practical faucets.

Recognizing a need they could fill, Delta created a product to solve the problem. The result is a line of European-style fixtures built to U.S. standards. The result is Delta’s decision to reintroduce its “Select” line–this time as a designer brand dubbed Brizo. “A designer look that’s easy to maintain; that’s what we’re doing now,” Cairo said. “It’s Brizo, crafted by Delta. Designers and consumers know the brand and like it. This line gives them something with a little more panache.”

The new premium review brass kitchen faucet launched at the 2004 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in April in Chicago features a combination of graceful curves and geometric angles. It is designed to be more fashionable than trendy, in a style that’s meant to endure the ebb and flow of designer whims for years to come.

That’s the same test Peggy Dye relies on when she specs fixtures for hotel bathrooms: Will they withstand the test of time? Dye, a designer who works closely with Louisiana-based InterMountain Management, recently began specifying granite in properties across the board, including InterMountain’s Fairfield Inn by Marriott properties.

The reasons? Granite looks great, wears well and due to current market conditions, doesn’t cost much more than Corian or other more common materials. “Granite has become so affordable today,” Dye said. “The prices are extremely competitive. And for that price, you know you’re going to get a good, hard surface.”

A look at the cost of outfitting an average guestroom bath offers a good benchmark for comparing granite to other materials. Dye said a granite countertop, including apron and backsplash, costs about $400–about the same as Corian.

Because granite is likely to outlast other materials, it’s important to select classic colors that can be worked into updated decor as years pass. Dye advised sticking with tried-and-true varieties. “You can go with something unusual, like a blue granite, but to me that defeats the purpose,” she said.

Granite isn’t the only hard surface catching on in public restrooms these days. Advances in the technology used to create metallic finishes for faucets are resulting in more selection.

“It is extremely important that products be chosen from manufacturers that use the best and most current technology because equal may not indicate same,” said Marshall Williams, corporate accounts worldwide for Kohler Co. “Physical vapor disposition is a process that creates a super-hard surface that resists scratching, corrosion and tarnishing. Kohler uses Vibrant PVD on its faucets. The process bonds the color finish to the faucet for a lustrous surface that withstands intense use. Our polished and brushed chrome finishes are triple-plated for lasting durability and surface integrity. Is the technology available to others? Certainly, but few invest in it.”

Williams said Kohler recognizes the growing consumer preference for aesthetically pleasing bathroom fixtures. He described the trend as functional art, including products that lend a decorative visual interest, while transforming fundamental materials.

Williams also identified increasing public scrutiny of public washrooms–and a growing desire to conduct personal business without actually touching anything in the room–as a driving force behind the move toward a hands-free bathroom.

Michele Hudec, senior brand director for American Standard, agreed. Her experience suggests that not only are designers and owners going hands-free on everything from faucets to soap dispensers to paper towel racks to toilet flushers, they’re looking for inexpensive and convenient ways to retrofit existing fixtures.

So, in addition to debuting a line of fixtures designed to be aesthetically pleasing, American Standard is introducing a have-it-both-ways option–a mechanical-style faucet that can be adapted for electronic use.

“The general public has come to understand the electronic fixtures as typical,” Hudec said. “The other day I was in a movie theater. I was at the sink when a child, about 8 years old, walked up next to me and put her hands under the faucet. She just waited for the faucet to start itself.

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