Excuse the expression, but maybe you need to go to the bathroom.
If you’re in the home furnishings business, that is. The new darling of the home, the bathroom and powder room are growing faster in size and number than any other room in the modern American household. And while the home furnishings business doesn’t tend to think of the bathroom as a place for products, maybe it’s time to change that perception. The bathroom—the restroom, the powder room, the WC, the privy, the porcelain palace—could be the next growth area for the industry.
“America is overrun with bathrooms,” read a piece in the January issue of The Atlantic. “What used to be the smallest room in the house now holds the key to our anxieties about hygiene, cleanliness, consumerism, and the power of a room of one’s own.” That combination of sanctuary and functionality has created a boom in bathrooms. In the past 50 years, the number of residential bathrooms per person in America has doubled; the country’s average of two people per bathroom has jumped to one person per bathroom over the same period. The average size of the room has also doubled, from 35 square feet to 70 square feet—and that’s just from the 1970s through the 2010s.
The leading cause of this trend boils down to the overall increase in the size of the typical American house, and the explosion in the single-family home sector in the second half of the 20th century. That included the creation of the master bath attached to the master bedroom, guest bathrooms, kids bathrooms and even bathrooms near the backyard pool. Along the way, according to a 2019 Zillow report, renovating the bathroom has become the biggest bang-for-the-buck home improvement project a homeowner could make.
So, what does it all mean for the home furnishings business? No matter how much bigger bathrooms have gotten over the past few decades, very few can accommodate real freestanding furniture, save for the occasional chair or cupboard. But for interior designers looking to prioritize spending for their clients, bathroom renovations undoubtedly have a relatively high return on investment.
And for companies that make and sell decorative accessories for the bathroom—from storage furniture to towels, mats, shower curtains and soap dishes—the opportunities are plentiful. It’s why stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s are expanding their home decor assortments while retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, HomeGoods and RH consider bathroom products as essential to the merchandising mix.
The bathroom has come a long way from ancient Roman baths and the backyard outhouse. Now it appears to be ready to take its place with equal billing to any other room in the modern American household.
Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. He was also a guest on the BOH podcast, and his Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.
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