Builders catering to high-income clientele are always on the lookout for the next hot luxury product. That is how they catch the eye of discerning buyers, and that's partly how they "differentiate themselves from their competition," says Wally Schwartz, director of national builder accounts at Kohler, which is based in Kohler, Wis. Fortunately, the high-end products landscape is as lush as a Costa Rican rainforest, so builders don't have to look very far. When it comes to luxury living, no other room in the house is as important or gets as much attention as the bath. The master suite in particular is the room that builders jazz up the most, Schwartz says. "Fun in the shower is big," he explains, especially with products that have body sprays, multiple showerheads, thermostatic mixing valves, and high-end tiles.
Shower power Jeff Carney, vice president of marketing for Grohe America in Bloomingdale, Ill., agrees, saying that "custom showers are becoming more important to consumers as they look for comfort." As a result, the company has added the Aquatower--which includes a showerhead, hand shower, four body sprays, a U-inch thermostat valve, and a shower/accessory tray--and the Taron, which has a similar configuration, to its collection of shower systems. Manufacturers like Duluth, Ga.-based Dornbracht, Alpharetta, Ga.-based Hansgrohe, and Minneapolis-based Pearl Baths are getting in on the shower system act as well. Jacuzzi, in Walnut Creek, Calif., has introduced the Shower Rain shower system, but it also has introduced the luxurious La Scala whirlpool bath and plasma screen TV combo. Kohler offers an extensive selection of extremely luxurious bath products that are very popular among builders. One condominium developer in New York is specifying the company's overflowing sok tub in the master baths in one of its projects. Recently, Kohler introduced the Purist Suite--what it calls the "first coordinated home spa collection for the bath"--which has more than 10 components including a soaking tub, lava stone countertops, and modular porcelain lavatories, so people can achieve a spa-like atmosphere in the comfort of their home. Tom Redwitz, group president for John Laing Homes' luxury division in Newport Beach, Calif., says homeowners' desire for a retreat-like bathroom should be taken seriously. "The desire to have a retreat is a big deal," he says. "Homeowners lead hectic, fast-paced lives, and they want to be pampered. They are traveling a little less, so they want to feel as if they were at a resort or spa." The powder room is another opportunity to create the wow factor. "This is the room consumers are most likely to use with the intention of impressing their guests," Schwartz says.
Case clothes Another item that builders would be foolish to overlook for the high-end buyer is well-executed closet space. "Closets get a lot of attention, especially those that are large and have clear designation for him and her," Redwitz says. "Well-planned showers are great, but great closets really stand out." One of the premiere custom closet manufacturers on the market, Studio Becker, in Alameda, Calif., offers systems featuring natural maple veneers and solid wood, glass, and leather components. Coordinating accessory boxes and pack-and-go items such as jewelry organizers are available as well. Other manufacturers of closet systems include California Closets in San Rafael, Calif., and New York City-based Poliform.
Dollars and cents Of course, luxurious products come with a matching price tag. The new thermostatic valve from Water Mill, N.Y.-based Soho Corp., for example, costs about $4,200; those fancy sok tubs from Kohler go for about $6,038 to $6,340; and home buyers will have to pony up about $20,000 for Studio Becker's least expensive custom closet systems. Fortunately, the sluggish economy has not deterred the wealthy homeowners who are the primary market for these goods, so let the good times roll.
TV time: The La Scala bathing and entertainment center includes a whirlpool tub measuring 82 3/8 inches long by 72 1/2 inches wide, a 42-inch high-definition Plasma screen TV, and a DVD/CD player. Complete with underwater lights and a surround sound system, the unit comes with a floating remote control that operates the jet system, entertainment center, and underwater lights. The tub is available in black, white, or platinum. Jacuzzi. 925-938-7070.
Into the closet: Glass pull-out shelves and drawers with leather handles are just a few of the luxurious elements found in the Ultimate Wardrobe custom closet system. Main components have adjustable legs and carousels, which allow corner spaces to be used. Swinging or sliding glass doors, coordinating accessory boxes, and pack-and-go items such as shoe kits and jewelry organizers are also available. The system is available in natural beech, natural maple, and mahogany stained beech. Studio Becker. 510-865-1616.
Squeaky clean: With its showerhead, dual-spray hand shower, four body sprays, and a thermostatic valve that allows water temperatures to be pre-selected and maintained while supplying volume to each outlet, the glass and chrome Taron offers a multi-head configuration to almost any enclosed shower. A concealed accessory tray is included, and all shower outlets are equipped with a speed-clean anti-lime system. Grohe. 630-872-7711.
Water valve: The Barber Wilsons Victorian-style thermostatic valve features a showerhead, tub spout, optional handshower, and cross handles with porcelain accents. The riser pipe and shower arm are adjustable on site, the tub spout is available in two lengths, and the showerhead ranges in size from 5 inches to 12 inches in diameter. Hand machined and polished, the set is available in a variety of finishes that includes polished brass, polished chrome, and satin nickel. The product is shown here in polished nickel. Soho Corp. 631-287-2700.
Home spa: Purist Suite is a complete home spa collection of more than 10 components that includes a 20-inch-deep soaking tub with chromatherapy, modular lava stone countertops in three sizes, and modular porcelain lavatories. Mirrored cabinets and faucet collections for the lavatory and bath round out the collection. The suite also features acrylic shower walls and teak grates for the shower. Kohler. 800-456-4537.