ARLINGTON — If you’ve visited fancy hotels in New York or Chicago or a certain airline lounge in Los Angeles, you may have passed through an Arlington company’s doors. They wouldn’t be the front doors or even the side entrance. These would be the restroom doors.
Ironwood Manufacturing makes upscale and custom restroom doors and partitions for hotels, restaurants, offices and other commercial enterprises.
“That’s all we do — no residential,” said Tom Deady, the firm’s general manager.
It’s a unique but lucrative niche.
Demand for the company’s doors has climbed in recent years, fueled, in part, by an emphasis on privacy, Deady said.
Traditional men’s and women’s restrooms are the company’s mainstay, but its “high privacy” door designs have found favor in gender-neutral restrooms, too.
The 50-year-old company recently relocated from Snohomish to a 26,000-square-foot building in Arlington, tripling production space and giving 22 employees more elbow room.
The focus on restrooms is fairly new.
Ironwood was founded in 1972 to produce wrought-iron patio furniture. When business slowed during the winter, the company found a new calling: making commercial restroom cubicles.
Business went along swimmingly until the recession struck in 2008 and construction came to a standstill. Ironwood again sought a new revenue stream.
This time, it went high-end.
One of the first clients was an upscale hotel in Bellevue, said Trey Clasen, one of the company’s four owners.
“We were trying to create something new and different,” Clasen said.
The new line turned out so well that Ironwood discontinued production of run-of-the-mill bathroom stalls about six years ago to focus solely on custom and high-end products. “I was bored with the normal toilet stalls — the fun was out of it,” Clasen said.
Most of their doors — 95% — use what they call a “zero sightline” privacy design. When the door closes it overlaps the frame or pilaster. As a result, there’s no gap between the hinges or on the latch side of the door, so you can’t “peer in” to see if someone’s occupying the stall, Deady said.
Instead, an indicator latch is used to provide occupancy status.
Stepping into one of the stalls is like entering a big phone booth or a private bathroom.
Are restrooms that important?
A bad bathroom experience can be a deal-breaker and send customers scurrying, never to return: “55% won’t come back,” according to the Healthy Hand Washing Survey by Bradley Corp.
On the flip side, three out of four people say they make it a point to visit a business with nice restrooms.
Having a handle on the latest trends helps Ironwood stay fresh.
The company uses wood veneer, plastic laminates, Corian and engineered stone or quartz to craft the doors and partitions.
Just as trends in furniture and fixtures change from year to year, restroom styles also come and go.
Right now, louvered doors, craftsman style doors and farmhouse door styles are popular.
There’s no sitting still when it comes to scouting new designs or materials, Clasen said. “Colors and palette and styles tend to migrate from Europe to the United States,” Clasen said.
“So much of door and partition design starts in Europe,” said Joe Bowers, the firm’s sales operation manager. “European bathrooms have always been more high-privacy-centric than American designs,” Bowers said. “We’ve adopted that aesthetic. We’re riding that wave.”
Besides hotels, casinos and offices, the company has outfitted a health care software provider in Wisconsin that requested a very outhouse-looking design. Ironwood delivered a rustic but polished stall with laminate doors and heart cutouts that you’d see on an old-style outhouse.
The company also designed the shower partitions at Hard Rock Stadium in Orlando, home of the Miami Dolphins.
For an airline lounge at Los Angeles International Airport, Ironwood designed high-privacy, floor-to-ceiling Corian doors in a blue-green hue.
Their doors are also designed to endure a good scrubbing. “You have cleaners going in there with bleach,” Deady said.
What’s next? “We anticipate significant growth,” Clasen said.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods