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American Standard has breathed passion into the plumbing industry for over 140 years. The company stands for a commitment to the kitchen and bathroom worlds, as well as the world abroad. DXV by American Standard, the company’s flagship portfolio of luxury products, is one of the truest testaments of this long-standing heritage of quality, elegance and conservation.
Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, American Standard Brands Vice President of Design, joined the company’s design team in 2013. Prior to that, he was a design executive for Kohler Asia, Audiovox and Terk Technologies, and held various design management positions for consulting firms.
L'Henaff has a colorful background in various industries, beginning his design career with a focus on yachts and private aircraft interiors. After that, he ventured into the product realm, working on the branding end of everything from custom electronics to medical devices. His history and insight have allowed him to narrow in on his true love within the kitchen and bath industry—which is finding the link between the next generations of manufacturing technology and design, as well as encompassing a brand’s emotional connection.
“I believe that every product has a story, and that story should be made clear in order for the end user to connect with it,” L’Henaff said. “This is important to our work here, and how we arrange our design team around creating a brand that has a lot of meaning.”
L’Henaff works with a team of 10 designers, and all of them have strengths in different areas—from products to furniture—but it’s the combination of talents within the team that creates the most interesting products.
American Standard is deeply conscious of its past and how that directly applies to the products themselves.
The way DXV by American Standard has curated its fixture and faucet collections is one example of this chronological style of branding. These products are arranged into four broad movements: Classic, Golden Era, Modern and Contemporary. This is not to say that consumers are limited to products of one category. Rather, the team looks to assemble an envelope for each consumer.
“We try to capture the spirit of a period of time and also the variations of how it can be incorporated into a specific design, and ultimately, into a modern world. By creating these different movements, we help our consumers narrow down their search. We want to align the bridge between our products’ history and what our consumers are looking for,” L’Henaff said. “I think it’s a great value that we’re bringing to the market.”
Faucets in 3D
American Standard has positioned itself as a product innovator for 15 decades. The designers have been able to work with tools that have expanded the range of a product’s productivity as well as creativity. With such tools, they are able to include the finer details much more fluidly and rapidly.
Most recently the design and engineering teams were able to launch the first commercially available faucets created with 3D printing, formally known as additive manufacturing. The new DXV line features three 3D printed faucets, each with intricate design work and functionality that broadens the horizons of water flow and user experience.
Two of the 3D printed faucets—one more traditional, the other a mesh of delicate latticework—are focused on waterway construction. The waterways converge and are concealed at the tops of the faucets, giving the water flow a magical appearance. With the third faucet, the design team used Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) technology to adjust each of the 19 waterways to enhance the experience of water.
Design Panel voices
On the communication and marketing side, through social media and blogging, designers have been pushing their creative, story-centric messages behind the American Standard products more efficiently than ever before.
Beginning in 2014, the company put together the DXV Design Panel, which has cultivated their voices behind their projects and endeavors and allowed them to release these refined and unique perspectives into an online community. The DXV Design Panel was established for designers, architects and creative individuals to inspire their peers and discuss their experience with products.
“What we’ve realized is that we could promote the brand by putting it in a communication channel we can control, which is what most companies do. But the reality is that once our products are sold, we don’t control the environments they end up in. We don’t control your home—your bathroom or your kitchen,” L’Henaff said.
He continued, “So, we trust the designers to put these products in the best possible place. It takes a lot of courage to trust someone to illustrate how your brand can be used. Letting the designers themselves communicate to their audience is an honest way of going about doing things. And it’s how our customers will connect more with our products.”
Over the last two years, DXV has engaged 13 practicing designers—each with a following on social media and/or the traditional design media—to create a bathroom or kitchen space using DXV products.
This year, the DXV Design Panel project went for a more whimsical edge, creating spaces that reinvented the classics of literature. Iconic stories such as Anna Karenina, A Room with a View, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Like Water for Chocolate and Water For Elephants were channeled to create original and transformative kitchen and bathroom spaces. Two designers, Lori Gilder and Rebecca Reynolds, went as far to make a three-tier chocolate wedding cake from DXV Pop vessel sinks to capture the romantic spirit of Like Water for Chocolate. Another two designers, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Schwartz, envisioned a circus-inspired dressing room (Water for Elephants) complete with DXV Oak Hill freestanding soaking tub and vintage-inspired brass faucets from the Traditional and Randall collections.
“It has been a true collaboration between a brand and designers. These gifted designers contributed their creative expertise, while DXV brought their vision to life through elaborate sets that were photographed and videotaped. Everyone came away with assets and stories they could use to promote their businesses,” L’Henaff said.
L’Henaff’s team gathers inspiration from various industry trends shown at trade shows, but they also pull from everyday influences and personal views, libraries and references of styles, excursions, museum exhibits—among others. Recently, the design team has been working extensively with the message behind and trends attached to the Oak Hill collection, which has been well received by buyers.
“Imagine that you are at an age where you remember your childhood memories. You can locate in your mind the family farmhouse where you spent your time. Let’s say that the family farmhouse is yours now. You want to recreate it, to bring it up to modern standards, but you don’t want to lose the sense of these memories. That’s what Oak Hill is about,” L’Henaff said.
Another trend in the U.S. kitchen and bath market is contemporary—the usage of clean lines and sleeker design. This is where American Standard has been able to implement and grow its successful Lyndon collection.
“Traditionally, contemporary designs were actually more minimalist and geometric—with harder, more rigid lines. And this has not always been something that many U.S. households have been able to connect with. So we have been trying to recreate contemporary with our Lyndon collection. We are looking for a softer side to contemporary,” L’Henaff said.
The American Standard teams have been able to harness the softer side of contemporary by introducing subtleties to each individual piece. It’s astonishing, L’Henaff says, how truly transformative design work can be, and how it can exceed expectations.
New and exciting things have been in the works for the design team. A few months ago they opened up a new studio within their building. It has been a significant turning point for the designers, and has allowed them to accelerate collaboration.
“The transition has been a significant turning point for the designers, and has allowed them to maximize on collaboration. What I am personally enjoying about our team is the diversity they’ve been bringing to our group projects. It’s pushing us to create projects that have been really unexpected and wonderfully surprising from time to time,” L’Henaff said.
One of the opportunities that the team is looking forward to are continued technological breakthroughs such as 3D printing. They hope to continue to cultivate their learning and design capabilities as the technology improves.
Another opportunity is found within the increasing aging communities. “We want our elders to be able to age gracefully in their homes. We’ve been spending a lot of resources in this area. We want people to be safe and comfortable,” L’Henaff said. “I think that’s a very important segment within our industry.”
One of the biggest challenges for American Standard, and other plumbing companies, has been to produce high-quality products and still follow the important environmental guidelines set within the U.S. Conserving water is a main priority of all American Standard departments. So far, American Standard has well over 250 products in their catalog that either meet or exceed EPA WaterSense standards. And of course, all toilets are using 1.28 gpf or less, and the company is continuing to push that number down. The design team has had a large hand in upholding standards, while continuing to enhance user experience.
“It’s one thing to put a cap on the amount of water you can use. But it’s another thing to keep having a great user experience. And I think we are going to continue moving in that direction, as we have been,” L’Henaff said.
Finally, remaining relevant and upholding such an esteemed and respected reputation comes with its anxieties. This, L’Henaff says, is why there should be more than 24 hours in a day. However, the team is fortunate to have such strong surrounding networks of associates working with them, as well as a loyal consumer base.
“Everyone knows us, and everyone trusts us. And that creates a lot of pressure for the design team. But the relationship that we have developed with our audience over the years—and having this as a really strong foundation—is a fantastic thing,” L’Henaff said. “The renewal of American families is absolutely exciting, with new generations having different aspirations, technological skills and desires for their home and living space. I just can’t wait to see where we’re going to be in 10 years from now.”