High End Design Market Sees Huge Potential in Aging Population

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At face value, the small bar to hold a roll of toilet paper is just that: a toilet paper holder. But look more closely, and that bar doubles cleverly as a grab bar.

High end design is coming to senior living and at least two giants in the product market have set their sights on the huge aging in place opportunity.

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The aging in place initiative involves droves of tech companies, home care and personal care providers—but also household names like Kohler and Toto that are world renown makers of high end home design features.

Catering to the aging population is not new to these companies, in fact, some are already taking cues from the age bubble overseas that is already long under way.

Toto, the high-end maker of plumbing fixtures from sinks to toilets and faucets, it taking a lesson from Japan, where it houses a research center that has long worked with the aging population there to learn about universal design.

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“‘Toto Total Design’ is one of the most important pillars for us as far as business product development,” says Bhavik Patel, director of business strategy. “It’s the core of our business. This concept we harvested from Japan, because aging happened in Japan and they had this issue two decades ago.”

The company has spent the last decade and a half in its U.S. market focused on universal design elements that allow a consumer to live with the product into the older stages of life. Yet marketing these products as “aging in place” products has not proven so effective, Patel says.

“We’re on the verge of tapping into this market, but this is very tricky. Urbanization is a megatrend, with development focused on urbanizing seniors as they move to cities to remain more active. Marketing-wise, most people feel they are 10 to 15 years younger than their actual age. If a feature points to something you might not be able to do, that turns them off.”

Toto has designed toilet paper holders that double as grab bars, for instance, for bathroom applications. The company has also equipped toilet seat lids so that they can be accessed via remote control, either by the user, or even by a caregiver outside the bathroom.


Likewise, U.S.-based Kohler, another maker of high end design features for kitchen and bath is looking at the aging population as a huge target market for aging products.

Like its competitor Toto, Kohler is designing for the aging set, but not necessarily marketing to an older consumer. Again basing its products on the concept of universal design, Kohler’s design features aim to appeal to all ages, while allowing for an older person to continue using them as he or she ages.

“There’s an immense amount of research and development taking place in terms of knowing how accidents occur,” says Diana Schrage, interior designer at Kohler’s interior design center.

Like the elements designed by Toto, Kohler markets to a lifestyle rather than one segment of the population.

“We like to think of them as supportive of a whole lifestyle from young users to a pregnant mother, to someone who may be injured. We make them aware this is not just a one-category product. specifically for aging in place.”

Some of the solutions include shower parts that can be retrofitted to adjust to different heights, and sloped shower sides that don’t lose any aesthetic appeal, yet make it much easer to enter and exit the shower.

Supportive and subtle night lighting and integral lighting are additional features Kohler offers among its universal design products.

The companies are under way with design but see it as a huge market segment in the coming years.

“Market wise, it’s difficult to put an exact number on it,” says Toto’s Patel. “But we believe in the next five years anywhere from 15-25% of the market will be geared toward that.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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