Tapping into luxury: the latest in brassware
Fran Seden taps into the latest brassware finishes, style trends and innovations for 2023 and beyond…
At this year’s ISH bathroom trade show in Frankfurt, coloured, textured and metallic finishes dominated. Indeed, for this feature, it is warm gold tones, brushed brass and bronze that are hottest, with matt black, chrome and other finishes, taking a back seat. At the heart of this trend is a desire for luxuriousness and sumptuousness, which provides an antidote to the realities of the cost-of-living crisis.
The cost-of-living crisis and the need to save money on water and energy bills, along with the climate crisis dominating the headlines, means that water-saving functionality is also central now to most bathroom products. Although, this should never be at the expense of performance and some manufacturers believe it’s more about giving customers choice in the form of multifunctional products that can save water should they want to.
Brushed gold, brass and bronze are currently dominating brassware finishes as they add glamour, tactility and warmth to any bathroom design. Like matt blacks, these metallic finishes also can be paired with almost any other colours and, as Abode’s marketing manager Leanne Adamson notes, brass, even in its raw state, has an ability to be used alongside almost any material, such as marble and porcelain through to concrete and wood.
At the higher end of the market, Dornbracht AG’s chief executive Stefan Gesing notes a greater demand for specialist finishes – “products that offer an elevated, tactile experience and allow consumers to create their own interior look and feel”, as well as 22 and 23 carat gold finishes, which offer a talking point as well as an elegant finishing touch.
Most interesting from Dornbracht, though, is its new collaboration collection with Nature Squared, a sustainable brand that takes seashells, pearl shells and egg shells that would otherwise be discarded and turns them into inlays, in this case for the handles of its MEM collection.
Abode’s Adamson adds that if you are working with a small footprint, highly decorative brassware is a great way to introduce ‘decoration’ without overwhelming the space. While some consumers are currently enjoying the warmth of metallics, matt black is still very much the preferred choice for others and, in recognition of this Hansgrohe has expanded its range of products that come in that colour as standard.
All these finishes are timeless and won’t date a bathroom space – crucial in a room where products should stand the test of time. When it comes to technical innovation, consumers expect high performance, high functionality and sustainability, both at the level of the product itself and from the supplier and its manufacturing practices. Water-saving is top priority for many manufacturers and out of our contributors for this feature, nearly all are actively promoting this.
Hansgrohe has been working with Stuttgart-based design studio Phoenix to develop its ‘Green Vision’ bathroom concept. This concept reimagines the bathroom experience, with a 90% reduction in water and energy consumption, resulting in 90% fewer CO2 emissions caused by water heating. Its Pulsify Planet Edition shower considers the entire product lifecycle in the design. The handle of the shower is made from recycled plastic, made from end-of-life products and rejects, which are then shredded and cleaned. It also only has six litres of water flowing through the hand shower per minute, without compromising on showering comfort, the brand says.
Dornbracht’s FlowReduce hand shower saves up to 54% of water usage compared with a regular one. And the company is keen to stress that this lower flow rate doesn’t compromise the quality of the water delivery – the nozzles are no smaller in diameter and the droplets are “plentiful and powerful”. Flow is simply reduced and droplets are 100% water – no air.
Grohe, meanwhile, has iEcoJoy, which it says provides a 50% reduced water flow without compromising perfor mance. Water-saving options for showers can reduce consumption to as little as 7.5 litres per minute, the company claims, offering significant water savings while maintaining high quality showering.
Also from Grohe are its infra-red capable models, which minimise water wastage by dispensing water only when needed. Cold-start taps improve energy efficiency, while advanced technology in water saving products ensures an excellent experience.
Finally, Armera says its taps and showers come with regulators that significantly reduce water usage, with no negative impact on the user experience.
Of course, sustainability isn’t only about water saving, but about the sustainability of materials used and Crosswater’s 3ONE6 is a case in point. This sustainable brassware collection is said to have all the excellent qualities of 316 grade stainless steel – durable, extremely resistant to corrosion, hygienic, non-toxic and antibacterial, actively self-healing, endlessly recyclable – combined with a pure, timeless design, the company says.
RETAILER VIEW: CP Hart designer, Hannah Bardwell It is essential to have a diverse selection of brassware examples that vary in size, finish, and design in our showrooms. Selling brassware based solely on images in a brochure is challenging. Customers value experiencing the product’s quality, weight, texture, and finish first-hand when making a decision – especially in one of our curated bathroom room sets. Manufacturers need to keep us informed about unique features. Customers are interested in the design concept and the worth of their investment, especially with designer ranges at higher price points.
For consumers though, perhaps the broader interest is in control, according to Aqualisa head of channel marketing Jessica Clarke, who says that being able to precisely control and manage the shower experience is highly appealing.
“From an environmental perspective,” she adds, “Aqualisa smart showers offer a number of benefits, including the ability to set the shower in ‘Eco’ mode on installation (decreasing water flow by up to 33%).
“Users can also create personalised showering profiles to set their preferred temperature, flow and shower times. Water usage can be tracked in the Aqualisa app, helping to keep an eye on household bills, and the duration of showers can be limited in advance. In addition, the smart showers come with water-saving handsets that provide excellent performance while reducing water consumption.”
But how do manufacturers recommend retailers display and sell their products? How important is demonstration? What incentives do suppliers offer?
For Hansgrohe, showcasing brassware in showrooms, along with demonstrations of showering technology, is essential to create an immersive customer experience in which customers can experience the possibilities available.
In-situ displays, in conjunction with working water demonstrations, provide customers with a realistic idea of how our products will look and perform. Head of product marketing for Hansgrohe UK, Sarah Evans says: “By creating an entire bathroom concept within a showroom space, retailers are also able to incorporate value-added items such as matching accessories and ceramics that help to sell the complete bathroom experience to customers. With varying design preferences, from the sleek modernity of matt black to timeless chrome, displays help to cover a broad range of design aesthetics.”
But while demonstrating brassware and showers with running water might be the most ideal way to properly sell these water-using products, most suppliers accept the fact that it is not always possible or practical. But marketing material including videos of the product in operation can be used instead.
David Morris, sales manager at MHK UK, thinks there are many ways for retailers to explain the feature and functionality of brassware, particularly eco-functionality, without demonstrating it.
“We’d always advise our retailers to provide comprehensive and easy-to-understand product descriptions throughout their showrooms that highlight the unique features of each brassware item. Clearly mentioning the water-saving technology and its benefits can attract environmentally-conscious customers without needing to highlight every item.
“We can also help retailers to utilise high-quality videos or infographics that showcase the features and how they can elevate the bathroom experience. Seeing is often believing and visual aids can help customers to imagine how the brassware could benefit them in their own home.”
RETAILER VIEW: Neil Curtis, senior designer, Ripples, Bath Our showrooms are places to spark our client’s imaginations so it’s really important to have products that do just that. By displaying an array of brassware collections, we’re able to showcase all the special finish options a client can choose from, as well as giving them the opportunity to touch and feel the quality of the products themselves. Taps and showers may be used multiple times a day so the client will tell pretty quickly if they’re not up to scratch. The last thing they want is to have all their fixtures and fittings concealed during installation, only to have a problem with the brassware itself later down the line, so it’s important to invest in quality brassware throughout.
Customer testimonials are also a great way to engage prospective customers, and Morris adds that they always encourage its retailers to ask satisfied customers to share their experiences and include quotes throughout a showroom or through online reviews. This can really help to build trust and demonstrate the effectiveness of a feature like watersaving technology for example.
Dornbracht’s Gesing adds that training is key, particularly when demonstration isn’t possible: “We host retailers in our factory and this allows them to see the products being made. By seeing our methods and expertise close up they can fully understand the care and passion behind our brand and talk to customers with first-hand experience.
Offering a final thought on making sales and sales tools, Richard Eaton, brassware product manager at Bathrooms to Love by PJH, adds: “PJH’s Bathrooms to Love branded POS material includes many choices to suit different showroom scenarios, such as range cards, brassware plinths, videos explaining how to look after products, a virtual showroom, QR codes which give access to Augmented Reality, and a fully stocked spares part offering.”
So, in summary, working displays are definitely worth having in showrooms if possible, because nothing can really tell the story of a product like proper demonstration. If you can’t though, plenty of marketing material – videos, brochures, posters, POS can tell the story almost as effectively, in the hands of a professional who is also fully trained on the products they’re selling.
RETAILER VIEW: James Sirett, head of product at Fired Earth Here at Fired Earth we incorporate a wide variety of finishes into our bathroom displays, giving customers valuable opportunities to see finishes such as matt brass, antique gold, vintage bronze and matt black chrome at firsthand. This also enables customers to see how the finishes look alongside everything from bathroom furniture to tiles and paint. Even with excellent photography, it can be difficult for shoppers to appreciate the beautiful subtlety of – and the differences between – finishes such as polished nickel, brushed nickel and chrome, so showroom displays can be hugely effective in helping us to increase sales of statement finishes. The displays can also be a very useful way of illustrating how seemingly small details, such as brassware finishes, can have a significant impact in a bathroom, helping to transform it into something truly special.