Bath and toilet manufacturer TOTO was one of the earliest pioneers in intelligent technology for the bathroom. Its Washlet combination toilet seat/electronically operated bidet, introduced in the 1980s, is now installed in 40 million bathrooms worldwide. It was the first in a long succession of products from this Japanese company, which also has manufacturing facilities in Georgia and California, that are pushing the envelope in the category of products that define “smart” in that most intimate of home spaces.
The company combines high technology with a Japanese sense of design aesthetic within a product roster that ranges in price from very affordable to ultra-luxury – and that has won it numerous awards, including kudos at recent technology and kitchen-and-bath trade shows for two products aimed squarely at the luxury home market.
TOTO exhibits its wares in dedicated showrooms in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. We recently visited its Corporate Gallery in the heart of Manhattan’s Flatiron District, where regularly scheduled ‘lunch and learns’ and evening events are held for designers and architects – but also, where ordinary passers-by can come in, browse and learn about the cutting edge in the category.
“We were innovating for what people would need before they even knew they needed it—and now, they wouldn’t be without it,” Lenora Campos, Ph.D., TOTO’s senior manager of public relations, said, likening the company’s penchant for preemptive innovation to the way the smartphone first made its mark with users. “We look at consumers and determine their needs, and supply the technology, the support, and the beauty.” Like smartphones, she said, “our products also unobtrusively serve you – and are aesthetically pleasing but don’t scream ‘design.’ We are a recognized innovator in the space.”
The two award-winning products, a toilet and a tub, are worthy of the luxury label by virtue of both their pricing and their wealth of built-in smarts.
The tankless $12,800 Neorest NX2 intelligent toilet (pictured at top) has a heated seat that opens and closes through a sensor, and offers an appealing elliptical silhouette that belies the engineering inside. Besides a version of the TOTO Washlet function, it features Actilight self-cleaning technology, combining bacteria-neutralizing UV light and a titanium dioxide-fired toilet bowl that initiates a photocatalytic process to break down waste particles.
The $19,200 Flotation Tub with Zero Dimension, which TOTO touts as the world’s first zero-gravity bathtub, is endowed with technology said to lull bathers into a relaxed, meditative state. The product’s descriptive brochure analogizes the bathing posture it enables to that of “an astronaut in space.” Its design includes an attached, adjustable pillow to stabilize the upper back and support the head, while promoting an angled resting of the ankles and knees – which is all said to result in tension-free bathing. The soothing properties of the tub extend to its outer perimeter, where the base emanates LED lighting.
Aside from all the high-tech features in these and other products, Campos said the company adheres to a design philosophy “based on long-term architectural trends. You won’t redesign a bathroom every two or three years. All of these products are meant to create a beautiful space – a sanctuary. The bathroom, really, is the last sanctuary in a home, where you can reconnect with yourself.”