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Oborain outdoor showers appeal to niche market

Recorder/Paul Franz
Partners Kirsten Oxboel and Jim Lobley are marketing a beautiful wood and stainless steel out door shower.

Recorder/Paul Franz Partners Kirsten Oxboel and Jim Lobley are marketing a beautiful wood and stainless steel out door shower.

— As caretaker of a 55-acre estate, Ashfield builder Jim Lobely imagined designing a wooden outdoor shower that could be hooked up to garden hoses and provide users with the spectacular view of that landscape. But since Lobley’s stay there was temporary, he also wanted a shower he could take down easily when the homeowners returned.

It wasn’t until he met Kirsten Oxboel of Greenfield that the Oborain prefab outdoor shower became a reality.

Since the first prototype shower was developed in May, the shower stalls have already gotten more media write-ups than sales. The nine reviews in print have included the New York Times’ home section, Custom Home, Garden Design, and Manhattan Beach (a Southern California magazine.) They’ve also had a write-up in a Polish publication. A Dutch magazine called MD (which stands for Modern Design) has a feature about the shower in the works, say Lobley and Oxboel. So far, only four Oborain showers have been sold, but Lobley and Oxboel are confident enough that their business will grow.

“We don’t have any competitors for exactly what we have: a full shower enclosure and fitted shower fixture,” said Lobley. “It’s this niche that, so far, we’ve got kind of a corner on. We can ship them anywhere, and they ship flat in a crate. They’re modular, so you can take this one and add more panels. They can be configured in a number of ways.” The shower, which weighs 400 pounds when totally assembled, is made of stainless steel and sustainably harvested Malaysian mahogany, called red meranti. The woodwork is done by Lobley.

It is a full enclosure with a showerhead and hand-shower. The slatted wooden wall panels and doors slide into fittings on the stainless frame. The only tool needed for assembly is an Allen wrench. The “solo” model starts at $4,600, and can be converted into a “duo” model or larger, to provide a dressing room area or additional showers.

The slats are angled, so that someone inside the shower stall can see out — “so it doesn’t just feel like you’re in a stall,” Lobley explains — but so that outsiders can’t see in.

As a designer-builder, Lobley said he was a contractor for four or five years; before that, he taught high school chemistry and physics. Oxboel was a visual merchandiser for the Urban Outfitters clothing stores and a former overseer of displays for all the New York-based stores.

The couple were on vacation in Costa Rica in December, when Lobley told Oxboel about his shower idea.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea,” she said. “We spent a couple of hours drawing our ideas out on napkins. We got really excited about it,” she said.

They still have those design napkins, as souvenirs.

The first prototype shower stall made its debut in May, at the Hilltown Spring Festival in Cummington.

“We finished it at 12:30 Friday night — before showing it on Saturday morning,” said Oxboel. “People loved it.” A month later, it traveled to Los Angeles, where it was featured in a “Dwell on Design” home show.

“That was our official launch,” said Oxboel.

That shower now sits in Oxboel’s backyard, near a swimming pool.

“We really wanted this for daily showers — not just for rinsing off your feet,” said Lobley.

Besides homeowners, the outdoor shower has drawn interest from resorts and retreats. The Oborain showers can also be left up all winter.

Oxboel and Lobley have accessories for the showers, including soap holders, hose kits, towel hooks and a matching shower bench. They are working on a solar hot-water heater and a winter cover, for those who want to leave the showers up year-round.

For more information, call 413-376-8854 or go online to: www.oborain.com

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