New toilets flush with high-tech extras
Homeowners seeking upscale features, gadgetry for spalike refuge
The humble toilet isn't necessarily a plain-Jane -- or should we say plain-John? -- fixture anymore. It's gone upscale, fashioned in stainless steel, clad in leather and pimped out with heated seats, water-jet cleansing systems and all manner of gadgetry designed to make your stay more satisfying.
It's all in keeping with the increasing emphasis placed on kitchens and bathrooms, said Lenora Campos, public relations manager for the U.S. arm of high-tech Japanese toilet maker Toto.
Those are the two most popular rooms for renovation, and many people are treating their bathrooms less as utilitarian places than as spalike refuges, she said. What's more, the extras on today's high-end toilets appeal to consumers who are wowed by the latest technology.
"In today's world, we're not satisfied with products that just do their utilitarian job," she said.
After all, if your home is your castle, shouldn't it have a proper throne?
No one takes that idea more literally -- and with more amusement -- than the folks at Herbeau, a 150-year-old French manufacturer of bathroom fixtures. It sells the Dagobert, an imposing solid-ash commode that's a replica of an authentic 16th-century throne, except, of course, for that hole in the seat.
The Dagobert, named for a seventh-century French king, was designed for a 1970 Paris trade show by the company's then-owner, who just thought it was funny, said Marion Hendricks, director of marketing for Herbeau Creations of America, the U.S. distributor. The toilet wasn't introduced in the United States until 2005, but for something that Hendricks described as "so over the top," it's been a surprisingly good seller, she said.
The toilet has all the features you might expect from a royal flush -- armrests, a hand-painted coat of arms and even a chime that plays "Le Bon Roi Dagobert" ("The Song of Dagobert"), a standard among French schoolchildren, when the lid is lifted.
At a suggested retail price of $14,123, it's a little rich for the average bathroom. But it's made its way into the homes of celebrities including Tina Turner, tennis star Boris Becker and the late George Harrison. (No word if it was the inspiration for Harrison's classic album "All Things Must Pass.")
That's not to say we common folk can't have uncommon toilets. Even the fairly utilitarian Kohler Co. has the Hatbox, an oval cylinder of a toilet that's sleek and sexy -- well, for a toilet, anyway.
The minimalist Hatbox was introduced, appropriately enough, during New York City's Fashion Week in 2005, said Paul Nick, a senior project manager at the company. The response, he said, has been phenomenal.
"A lot of people have commented that it is more like a work of art," Nick said. And at $3,200, it's definitely less pricey than a Picasso.
For sheer flash, though, it's hard to beat the stainless-steel toilets from southern California company Neo-Metro. They include the European-inspired miniLoo and a toilet with a tank that can be custom-covered in the material of your choice.
If stainless-steel toilets conjure up visions of prisons rather than penthouses, that's no surprise. Neo-Metro's parent company, Acorn Engineering Co., specializes in industrial and institutional fixtures, but Neo-Metro founder Kristin Kahle saw more fashionable possibilities by thinking outside the water closet.
The miniLoo is a compact, conical toilet that hangs on the wall, making it not only hip-looking but easier to clean. Its tank, like that of Kohler's Hatbox, is hidden -- in this case, in the wall. It retails for $1,210 to $1,794, depending on the finish.
It's more than just a looker, though. The miniLoo, like a number of other upscale toilets, has a dual-flush system that uses less water (0.8 gallons) for liquid waste and saves the big flush (1.6 gallons) for when it's needed.
And stainless steel is practically indestructible, she noted.
"You can put a cherry bomb down our toilet, and nothing will happen to it," she boasted. Maybe that's not a big issue in a residential setting, but Kahle said it's a plus in the bars, restaurants and nightclubs that are some of Neo-Metro's biggest customers.
Neo-Metro's Custom Exteriors and Leather Accents toilets are more traditional-looking than the miniLoo, but with a nontraditional twist: For $3,394, the Leather Accents toilet comes with a tank covered in one of seven colors of leather, and the tank of the $2,432 Customer Exteriors toilet can be clad in any three-quarter-inch-thick material -- tile, resin, even an exotic wood, Kahle said.
But for the toilet owner who wants everything, there may be only one choice: Toto's Neorest 600, a technological marvel that does pretty much everything short of turning your newspaper page.
It cleans you. It cleans the toilet bowl. It even senses when you're approaching and raises the lid automatically.
Among the features of the Neorest 600, which retails from about $5,200 to $5,900, are a bidet (or Washlet, as the company calls it) that not only washes but air-dries and deodorizes, a seat that warms to an adjustable temperature and an automatic flusher that knows how much water is needed for the job. It's even green: Besides doing away with the need for toilet paper, it's able to analyze use patterns and recognize regular times when it's used infrequently, so it can go into an energy-saving sleep mode, Campos said.
Now that's sitting in the lap of luxury.