AMONG the features of the new 6,000-square-foot, $3 million entertainment wing in Kevin Scherer’s home in Plano, Tex., are two bars, a theater, a video game room, a shuffleboard table and a golf simulator that projects images of top courses onto a big screen.
Oh, and a urinal.
“It fit the theme of the golf simulator room, which is a men’s activity,” said Mr. Scherer, a 44-year-old retired Internet executive, speaking of the $1,269 Kohler Bardon urinal he installed in an adjoining bathroom and unveiled at a Christmas party, as though showing off a ceramic trophy. No guy would ever use the toilet, he added, “if he knew the urinal was there.”
While the thought of a home urinal may seem vaguely “Animal House,” Mr. Scherer’s interior designer, Ashley Astleford, wasn’t surprised by his request. This was the second time in the last few months that she was asked to install a urinal in a luxury residential project, and she said she knows many other designers and architects who have been specifying home urinals in their projects. According to Ms. Astleford, who is based in Dallas, home urinals are becoming “a definite must for luxury master suites.”
If an increasing number of men are looking to bring the amenities of a football stadium into their high-end homes, manufacturers now seem ready to oblige. Several companies, observing growing consumer interest in their commercial models over the last few years, have begun to produce residential urinals, bringing a sleek, designer aesthetic to a device long relegated to plumbing supply stores and public restrooms.
Duravit U.S.A., a division of the German bathroom fixture manufacturer — whose headquarters in Hornberg, designed by Philippe Starck, features a gigantic toilet embedded in the facade — currently sells three models for home installation, including the $1,250 Utronic, which has an infrared-triggered flush.
In 2005, Toto U.S.A. began selling the wall-mounted Lloyd home urinal, also with a motion-sensing flush feature, for $975, as part of its luxury bath collection. David Krakoff, vice president of sales at Toto, said the company has gone from selling dozens of urinals a month to hundreds since introducing the Lloyd. And Villeroy & Boch has introduced eight residential urinals in the past four years.
“This is found business,” said Tim Schroeder, president of Duravit U.S.A., adding that residential clients are more receptive to the idea now that they have seen fancy versions in boutique hotels and restaurants.
The new urinals bear little resemblance to the grungy fixtures you might see littered with cigarette butts and hanging from the wall of a truck-stop men’s room. Consider, for example, Duravit’s McDry, an elegant, teardrop-shaped model that sells for $895 and doesn’t require water to flush (instead it uses a biodegradable blue oil, penetrable by a stream of urine, which acts as a barrier to odors).
For the modernist, there is the Spoon, by the British firm Philip Watts Design, made of polyresin, sculptured in the shape of a teaspoon and available in an array of colors for $1,369. Also available are the Contour ($1,674) and the Prizm ($1,431), two stainless steel residential models made by Neo-Metro, a California company known for making metal fixtures for prisons.
Some urinals are even being personalized. When Tad Dinkins, a 35-year-old Caterpillar equipment dealer from St. Louis, remodeled his basement bathroom, he installed one of Villeroy & Boch’s Subway models with an etched image of a golf flag that serves as a target — the finishing touch in a tricked-out bar and gaming space. “My wife didn’t like it, but I put it in,” said Mr. Dinkins, who is not alone in encountering resistance from the woman in his life.
Indeed, there is still a certain amount of squeamishness about home urinals, particularly among women, so marketers are focusing on designer style and claims about cleanliness in an effort to overcome negative associations. Kohler U.S.A., for instance, says that its “human factors group” — a team that studies, among other things, how people urinate — has found the best urinal shape for keeping the bathroom clean. A result is Kohler’s funnel-shaped Steward series, introduced last April.
“When you go at a flat wall there’s lots of splash,” said Shane Judd, product manager of Kohler’s fixtures group, whose job it is to know these kinds of things. “The conical shape eliminates splash.”
The environmental benefits are also an attraction for some, since several of the new models use less than a gallon of water per flush, while an older toilet can use as many as five gallons. Eric Cadora, a 42-year-old actor and consultant on green building, installed a Duravit McDry model, which uses no water to flush regularly, in the 2,800-square-foot home he shares with his wife in Malibu, Calif. He estimates the urinal will save thousands of gallons of water a year. Maintenance, he added, has been minimal; every two months, he flushes the fixture with a gallon of water and then refreshes the sealant. “It never smells,” Mr. Cadora said.
Although the appeal of urinals has more to do with function than form for most people, the notion of the urinal as artwork is being revived by one enterprising sculptor 90 years after the artist Marcel Duchamp unveiled his “Fountain.” Kathy Dorfman, 36, spent $10,000 on a one-of-a-kind urinal hand-sculptured from porcelain by Clark Sorensen, a San Francisco artist, in the form of a pink orchid and gave it to her husband as a gift. The couple plan to install it in the master bathroom in their 11th-floor penthouse in Edgewater, N.J., which is decorated in white and lilac marble. “The pink orchid is the most beautiful piece,” Ms. Dorfman said. “It’s very sexual.”
Until now, home urinals have been installed largely in testosterone-laden basement bars and dens, according to Paul Rice, an architect who installed a urinal in his own home in Amagansett after specifying one for a client in Manhattan. “This is another way to make men feel pampered, the way the bidet made a woman feel her bathroom was complete,” Mr. Rice said.
But as urinals get the high-design treatment, they may increasingly move into master suites and powder rooms. One model with a distinctly feminine appeal is Villeroy & Boch’s Oblic, which costs $910 and resembles an egg. Petite and popular in smaller bathrooms, where it can be mounted in a corner, it is likely to meet the approval of women like Deborah Wiener, an interior designer who said she hides terrycloth slippers in each bathroom of the house she shares with her husband and two sons. “My fourth design mantra is never, ever go barefoot in a man’s bathroom,” said Ms. Wiener, who runs Designing Solutions, based in Silver Spring, Md., and has recommended urinals to clients.
Even developers and builders are taking note. The Duravit Utronic comes standard in roughly half of the 260 units of the new Turnberry Ocean Colony towers near Bal Harbour, Fla., where homes ranging in price from $1.4 to $4 million are almost completely sold out.
So will urinals soon become a mainstay in the American home, as common as the kitchen sink? Ms. Wiener, for one, does not rule it out. “There are many things we have borrowed from commercial design for residential use,” she said. “They start slowly and expand.”
by Suzanne Gannon