Volume 49, Issue 6 - June 2014


Making a Splash in the Bath: Consumer Spending Slated to Rise

Fred Daues blames the recession for stunting what had been a growing demand for doorless glass block showers. Daues, the owner of Masonry & Glass Systems Inc. of St. Louis, says his company was doing anywhere from 10 to 15 such projects per week prior to the start of the economic tsunami that drove the U.S. economy to the brink of collapse in 2008.

“Before the recession, it was a very, very strong trend,” Daues says. “It was tremendous, but the recession took a big bite out of the business.”

The housing market is, at last, rebounding, with residential architects reporting households now placing more emphasis on kitchens and baths, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). According to the survey, households are placing greater emphasis on kitchens and baths and a sizeable share of residential architects report both the number and size of kitchens and baths are increasing. Even more indicative of an improving market, is that upscale features and products used in these areas of the home are growing in popularity.

The AIA noted that residential architects are reporting much stronger market conditions. Design billings at residential architecture firms, as well as inquiries for new design projects, have steadily improved over the past two years. Likewise, the level of project backlogs–the amount of work currently in-house for these firms–has increased.

“Now that home prices have hit bottom and are beginning to recover, households are more willing to invest in their homes, looking for more features in new homes that they are purchasing, and willing to undertake higher-end home improvement projects,” says AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA.  “Kitchens and baths tend to be the areas that households first look to when they want to upscale their home as markets improve, just as they remained a high priority even during the depths of the downturn.”

But for some glass businesses focused on bathroom glazing projects, there is still a ways to go to get back to pre-recession levels. Daues, for example, estimates that his company and its satellite offices in Houston and San Antonio combined now do just three to five doorless shower projects per week.

He’s not alone. A number of glass companies are reporting they also have seen little demand for such pleasures in the wake of the recession.

Glass experts say the doorless showers are a better fit for large homes with the kind of large space needed to really jazz up a room and make them more effective. Smaller bathrooms mean that water will be an issue.

“We’ve done a couple, but it’s not something I would consider a trend right now,” says Steven Burkhart, president of Atlanta-based MG Glass Inc. “I just don’t think it’s practical for most Americans. Water is going to splash everywhere.”

Mike Werner, the vice president of AC Glass Co. in Glen Allen, Va., offers a similar assessment, saying, “I don’t know if I would call it a trend. We’re definitely still doing more traditional showers with glass doors.”

Nathan Williams, the shower and door manager for Vienna Glass Co. Inc. in Manassas, Va., isn’t so sure that people always really know what they’re getting when they ask for doorless showers, so he has his field people take door measurements, just in case, on the “six or seven” occasions a year customers look to him with such thoughts.

He’s had to later go back and add doors on several occasions, he says.

“I just think people like to try something different,” Williams says. “I think they see it on the Internet or somebody tells them that they need to get it. It looks neat and it’s kind of trendy, but it will leak like a sieve. Like anything else, they only work in certain situations.”

But Daues continues to sing the praises for glass block doorless showers in particular, noting the added design flexibility and graceful curves they offer knowledgeable homeowners seeking to spice up the look of their bathrooms.

—John Hollis


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