What’s New in Wellness Trends

Inclusivity and accessibility enhance kitchen design. Photo: Blum Canada 

By: Jamie Gold | May 1, 2020

From combi-steam ovens and human-centric lighting to voice-activated faucets, the growing interest in wellness presents an abundance of opportunities for savvy kitchen and bath designers. 

It’s mid-March at press time, and an interesting time to be writing about wellness. Salone del Mobile, the global design expo that takes place every April in Milan, Italy, has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that country is on lockdown. The popular New York City-based Architectural Digest Design Show pushed back its event dates from March to late June, and may be postponed again or canceled for 2020. Coverings was canceled, and High Point was postponed until mid-June; but with travel from Europe restricted temporarily, will visitors and exhibitors be able to come to the U.S. for those shows that do go on? By the time you read this, those decisions will have already been made and the original planned event dates in the past. 

Closer to home, designers are also changing how they do business with clients, contractors, vendors and subs, seeking to protect themselves and their associates from harm and keeping an eye on shipments, supplies and related issues. Manufacturers and retailers are being impacted, too, in ways that are just starting to become apparent and necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic has made wellness a critical topic, and while this has been trending for some time, the aftershocks of the current situation are likely to keep this topic front and center among consumers in the months and years ahead. 

In the meantime, life, online sales and installs continue – at least for the moment. This, not COVID-19, was the planned Trend Spotting for May, so back to our originally scheduled programming. 

Here are five pros sharing their takes on industry opportunities and trends related to wellness design: 

  • Ariane Hansen, education director for AEC Daily, an online education company; 
  • Joe Whitaker, a CEDIA board member and St. Louis and Dallas area technology integrator; 
  • John Freitas, v.p. of sales for regional appliance and fixtures retailer WDC Kitchen & Bath Center chain, with five locations in Southern California; 
  • Linda Kafka, principal of Toronto-based Living in Place Network and organizer of the LivABLE Environment Conference, (Toronto, September 2020); 
  • Veronica Schreibeis Smith, Jackson, WY-based architect and the Global Wellness Institute’s Wellness Architecture Initiative chairperson. 
Bathrooms are prime real estate for wellness design. Photo: Vera Iconica Architecture 

Growing Importance of Wellness 

“We have seen an incredible rise in demand – so much so that we founded Vera Iconica Wellness Kitchen, a custom kitchen design company with a wellness line coming soon,” Smith notes. 

“Courses that refer to wellness topics have ranked among AEC Daily’s most popular since 2017,” Hansen says, adding, “I would guess about 25 percent of the most-taken courses refer to wellness in some way, and we are seeing an increase in the number of courses that focus on, not just refer to, this topic.” (If you’re coming up on the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s June 30 CEU cycle end without enough credits to maintain your certification, aecdaily.com has approved courses you can take without leaving your home or office.) 

Freitas is seeing a wellness-related focus in WDC’s five stores too, he shares. “The interest level has definitely increased as awareness becomes widespread amongst consumers. I predict that this trend accelerates over the upcoming years as American culture continues to change. As our social value judgments evolve, I predict that consumers will place a greater value on owning products that help balance their busy work schedules with their personal health, happiness and well-being.” 

“Wellness design certainly has emerged as a popular topic over the last three to five years,” notes Whitaker. “Just last month, CEDIA hosted a webinar for NKBA on wellness, focused on biophilia. Because this is such a popular topic in the design community, we also offered a few learning opportunities at KBIS and IBS.” Even more courses will be offered at the CEDIA Expo in September, he comments. “I believe that integrator plus designer can equal a healthier life in the home.” As Whitaker points out, we’re surrounded by technology in our lives and living spaces; making it work healthfully is an essential component to wellness. 

Kafka’s goal is to increase awareness of the ties between home, health, inclusive design, aging and accessibility in Canada. This inspired her to create a conference on that topic; she’s already planning to expand it in 2021, she says. “My efforts are focused on helping the trades grow their business in these emerging niche markets. I support the movement toward Canada becoming one of the most accessible countries; a place where our homes are built to include everyone and that our spaces adjust to us over the course of an entire lifetime,” she says. “Boomers represent 70 percent of Canada’s $77 billion home improvement industry (reported by the Canadian Home Builders Association). This new aging consumer is living a longer and healthier life than previous generations.” That’s a large opportunity for designers, contractors, manufacturers and retailers. 

Hands-free and voice-controlled fixtures are a hot trend. Photo: American Standard/Available through WDC Kitchen 
& Bath Center 

Wellness in the Kitchen 

Freitas says combi-steam ovens are getting the most wellness buzz among WDC’s clientele. “We make it a focus to send our kitchen experts to factory trainings so that they can communicate with first-hand knowledge just how delicious, not to mention healthy, the results are in these new ovens.” Voice-activated kitchen faucets are also starting to catch on with WDC clients. 

“We have re-imagined kitchen design, coming up with 18 areas of innovation for the preparation of a nutrient-rich whole food diet,” Smith shares. Some of the innovations include climate-controlled cabinetry to replace pantries and refrigerators, growing cabinets for automated year-round produce, hidden appliance garages with integrated UV lights to sanitize surfaces and cabinets free from formaldehyde and other toxins. “We are also beginning initial discussions with homebuilders on how we might assist them in differentiating their product by adding valuable, life-enhancing amenities for their buyers,” the architect says. 

“The kitchen has become the new focus of home technology,” Whitaker declares. “Music and smart lighting have been staples for a very long time – and still the most requested – but they are only a tiny piece of the tech that makes today’s kitchen.” The most important component now is strong, secure wireless connectivity, the integrator notes. “The kitchen is a world of wireless connectivity.” To make large and small appliances, monitoring technology and fixtures work starts with stable and fast wireless connectivity. “Water and temperature monitoring have become a huge deal in the last few years,” he says. 

“The kitchen is a room in which we spend a large amount of time, so creating an inclusive, functional space supports family engagement and avoids creating barriers or isolation,” Kafka says. “For instance, the type of countertop or cabinet surfaces, appliances, lighting and flooring, etc., can make a difference in whether the kitchen will be safer.” 

Bidet-style toilets are trending wellness design fixtures. Photo: Duravit – Product Designer Phoenix Design/Wellness by Design, 
Simon & Schuster – Tiller Press 

Wellness in the Bathroom 

Bathrooms are also wellness-centric. “There are numerous ‘wellness’ products out there, from strong daylight-colored lights to help revive you in the morning, to infusing aromatherapy and even nutrients like Vitamin C into your shower water, and interactive mirrors that can recognize your mood and give you wellness tips,” Smith observes. The architect doesn’t see these catching on broadly just yet, but projects that bathroom wellness will catch on with slowly evolving builders and developers in the long term. 

Whitaker sees increased potential from a technology standpoint. “It’s the best place in the house for voice-controlled tech,” he asserts. “Having the ability to control lights, music, news feeds, air and floor temperature hands-free is probably the most powerful technology in a bathroom.” (COVID-19 is making the topic of hands-free technology even more relevant and time sensitive.) 

Another hot trend, the tech pro reports, is the smart mirror. “Being able to watch the morning news, get alerts on social media and get a weather report for the day are huge! I expect this technology to become more affordable and common in the very near future,” he predicts. 

Whitaker is also bullish on smart toilets. “We’ve seen these make a big push recently. I do believe that this category will continue to grow as it brings enhanced comfort and users in a new sanitary standard.” (Toilet paper shortages highlight an additional bidet benefit.) 

Freitas agrees. WDC also sees steam showers, heated towel racks, water filtration, hands-free faucets and chromatherapy in both showers and tubs catching on. 

Controllable color temperature of bathroom light is also important, Whitaker notes. It can improve makeup application, hair touchups and mood. Human-centric lighting has a role to play in the bathroom, too. Since it adjusts from morning to night to mirror the sun’s path, it can help invigorate your wakeup rituals and not interfere with your sleep for bedtime preparations. 

Last Words 

Whether you live and work in Canada or the U.S., wellness is a personal and professional opportunity. “The movement is bigger by far in the U.S. than Canada,” Kafka shares, but observes that “wellness in the built environment is a common way of life in Europe, Japan and Australia.” 

“The monks in Tibet have been using wellness rooms for a thousand years,” Whitaker muses, then suggests: “Live with monk-like tranquility in your own home!” Make that tranquility toxin-free too, Smith suggests. The architect sees eliminating toxicity as a top wellness priority. “This will have the greatest impact on your family’s mental and physical functions: behavioral development, cognitive performance, immune system, etc. Consumers and designers must increase demand for healthier materials,” the architect asserts. Cheap, toxic products may pad the pockets of builders or developers, but have unintended consequences on long-term occupants, she observes.▪ 

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an author, wellness design consultant and NKBA Chapter Presenter. Her third book, Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster), publishes in September and is available for preorder before then. You can learn more about her Wellness Market presentations, books and consulting services at jamiegold.net.