10 Trends among next-generation kitchen and bathroom design in China

One of the Asia’s leading kitchen and bathroom exhibitions is the annual Kitchen and Bath China Trade Show (KBC), which provides a sneak peek into next-generation kitchen and bathroom design. During the most recent KBC in May, many Chinese brands unveiled their newest designs alongside well-known international brands.

Trend 1: More Functions

Technology greatly influences kitchen and bathroom design as more functions are added to appliances and furniture. Refrigerators, for instance, can track storage and order additional food and beverages. Countertop-mounted screens display recipes. Cabinets come with embedded power outlets and USB ports. Many new “smart” toilets are designed with a heated seat, various cleansing options, drying and mist functions, as well as automatic lids. Some toilets can even measure your blood pressure and heart rate! 

Trend 2: Safer and Better Materials

In an industry with low barriers to entry, homogeneous products are unlikely to attract consumers who can and will pay more for higher quality. Manufacturers in turn realize they can charge a premium for products with more durable and less harmful materials. LIXIL showcased multiple toilets equipped with its Aqua Ceramic technology, antibacterial materials, odor trapping system, and rimless flushing mechanism.

A girl on a cabinet-mounted step stool during the KBC. Photo: Magnolia

Trend 3: Children-friendly Design

Formerly uncommon, induction stoves have now gained the trust of families with kids. Their cooking surface stays cool even during use. No open flame or exposed heating elements mean a safer kitchen for curious children. Designers are likewise integrating step stools into kitchen cabinets to help children safely reach the things they want without risk of falling. 

Trend 4: Pet-friendly Design

Pet-friendly designs are trending as owners increasingly treat pets as alternative companions and prioritize their wellbeing at home. China’s pet population in 2017 was 755 million and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 8.2% until 2022.

A visitor demos a water/food container which collapses into the kitchen cabinetry. Photo: Magnolia)

Trend 5: Reduce Household Waste

China is increasingly stressing waste-sorting policies with regulations in 46 major cities. Intelligent design helps consumers comply. Two bins in the kitchen help separate compost waste and other waste.  In-sink garbage disposal units were likewise on display at KBC. 

Currently, food waste shredded at home is eventually handled by municipal wastewater treatment plants where it takes considerable energy to separate it from water. Pre-separated food waste, by comparison, can be landfilled, condensed into fertilizer, or digested by microorganisms. During the rainy season, many Chinese cities struggle to handle combined sewer overflows (CSOs). When the infrastructure cannot handle CSOs and additional food scraps, excess waste water is directly discharged into bodies of water, often leading to adverse effects on aquatic life and sometimes eutrophication. 

Kitchen design for easy waste-sorting.

Trend 6: Accessible Design

Due to China’s one-child policy, more elderly people are living by themselves. The market for accessible design is not yet very large, though grab bars and foldable benches were on display at KBC. With the launch of long-term care insurance in pilot cities, however, more physically impaired people are expected to live independently at home rather than at nursing or medical facilities. Additionally, those born in the 70’s and 80’s with more disposable income and higher standards will transition from middle to old age, meaning more market opportunities for products with accessible design. 

Remodeling homes to accommodate wheelchairs and similar assistive devices will likely become more common. Toilet seats, flush valves, and shower handlers will need to be adjusted to proper heights. A curbless shower floor presents no obstacle for wheelchair or walker entry, but also asks for better drainage and tile design. An accessible countertop will allow people to wheel up beneath it when cooking.

A Coma西马 toilet design for the elderly.

Trend 7: Water-efficient Design

Manufacturers showed off their latest water-efficient toilets. Unlike the voluntary EPA WaterSense Label or the tough California Plumbing Code, the 3-level China Water Efficiency Label for Toilets (GB 25502-2017) is mandatory yet achievable. All toilets produced after August 1, 2018 must attach the label. Level 1 represents the most water-saving toilet that uses 5 liters or less for a full flush. Level 2 sets an industry benchmark using no more than 6 liters for a full flush. Level 3 (not exceeding 8 liters) is the bottom line to sell any toilet product in China. The labelling system has accelerated market innovation in the form of self-cleaning surfaces and powerful suction functions to reduce water use. For example, a Dogo toilet presented at the KBC has a 3.5-liter-per-flush rate and can save a family of three 15,330 liters of water annually compared with a Level-2 6-liter toilet.

Trend 8: Energy-efficient Design

Slowe, a manufacturer in Foshan in Guangdong Province, displayed their energy-saving shower design. The design utilizes an energy exchange pad to collect and recover residual heat from the used water to help preheat inlet water from around 5 degrees to the optimal 40 degrees. This is done through the company’s oscillating heating technology. The energy required to heat the tap water is significantly lower than that of conventional water heaters. 

Slowe’s KBC display demonstrating how their system works.

Trend 9: Benefits from Export

Many Chinese manufacturers who export products to foreign markets are required to test products for environmental and safety compliance. A recent German Environment Agency (UBA) regulation requires materials and products in contact with drinking water to be tested and inspected for water quality, initially and continuously. Workshops held at the KBC to educate Chinese manufacturers about various foreign regulations attracted many representatives. UL GreenGuard demonstrated a certified product that meets some of the world’s most rigorous emissions standards, helping reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure. Baiyulan (Magnolia), the only Chinese manufacturer of high-end furniture with water-based paint, has achieved GreenGuard and GreenGuard Gold certifications for several products. Magnolia has collaborated with universities and leading paint makers, driving its formaldehyde emission level down dramatically to only 0.0014 ppm, lower than the most rigorous European and Japanese standards. Similar achievements have helped Chinese manufacturers gain more overseas customers. As more Chinese manufacturers invest in quality and safety, the bar will be raised in the domestic market, ultimately benefiting local consumers.

Trend 10: Modular Design

Younger generation designers are more open-minded. I spoke to a few at the KBC and was struck by their embracing of new technology. Among their concerns are the environment and customers with special needs. With the advancement of technology and the reduction in the cost of parts, more specific tasks can be accomplished. An aging couple may need a self-cleaning toilet with a grab bar and blood pressure measurement function, rather than a toilet capable of releasing incense scents and playing pop music. Instead of making an expensive all-in-one product, modular design will allow consumers to easily replace, retrofit, and remodel the functional parts. Consumers will have the flexibility to “design” products to fit their needs.

(Top photo from Pixabay; the rest taken by Fang Yuan at the exhibition)

Fang Yuan
Fang Yuan

Fang Yuan is our columnist. She used to live in New York and is originally from Shanghai. She is a Certified Passive House Consultant and works on sustainable building consulting. She believes that technology helps people and the environment if it is being used mindfully.

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