Hardware and accessories are the crowning touches in the bathroom, the elements that pull the design together. This doesn’t mean, however, that these details need to be fussy or fancy. Just as overall design trends are favoring cleaner, more streamlined looks, so, too, are hardware and bath accessories, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN.
Designers are seeing demand for baths that function as relaxation centers, and that calls for designs that offer a sense of calm and serenity. Stacey Singer, general manager of Alno, Inc. in Sylmar, CA says, “When creating a spa-like bathroom, designers will choose hardware and accessories that are predominantly minimal in design with soft and soothing lines.”
Lori Zeier, manager of Bemis Bath Shoppe for Bemis Manufacturing Company based in Sheybogan Falls, WI, agrees. She says the top trends right now are simple, clean looks, with nothing too ornate.
Even in high-end showcase style baths, simplicity is a hot trend, according ot Doug Mockett, CEO of Manhattan Beach, CA based Doug Mockett & Company, Inc “With larger, more exotic bathroom layouts creating a very showy feel, simple design features can no longer go overlooked,” he says. In working towards a spa-like environment, electronics are increasingly being integrated into the design of the room, creating what Mockett calls “a personal entertainment lounge.” He adds, “Hidden features are very popular in making a cleaner overall look. With a growing need to power accessories and with a minimalist approach in mind, hidden power options are a must-have.”
But while simplicity is in, cookie cutter designs are not; rather, consumers want their spaces to be fresh and original, adding a more personal feel to the home, manufacturers note. “We are seeing more and more interest in unique and different designs that are rustic and industrial in nature in order for projects to stand apart from the crowd,” says Erik Ambjor, president of Sonoma Forge in Petaluma, CA. “Customers are tired of ‘vanilla’ and ‘me too’ designs that flood the market.”
When it comes to overall bath design trends, manufacturers are seeing a move toward transitional looks, and this is particularly evident in hardware choices.
Ambjor says, “Our signature designs are hard to classify, but would closely position them as transitional. We focus on clean, simple lines and away from ornamentation and excessive detail. Industrial chic with a rustic country elegance is what we say!”
Lou Rohl, chief operating officer/managing partner for Rohl, LLC in Irvine, CA, agrees that transitional designs are hot due to the flexibility and versatility of these designs. “This style marries traditional and contemporary for a look that is simple yet sophisticated,” he says.
Singer calls transitional designs the “must have for 2012.”
Jonathan Wood, v.p./sales & marketing for Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA adds that his firm has seen traditional designs meshed with non-traditional finishes, which help bridge the rustic and modern elements that are being used together in rooms. “We also have a call for ‘bling’ from some quarters,” he states. “We have recently been getting requests to add a bit of ‘pow’ to some more traditional designs for the ‘wow’ factor.”
Benjamin Newcombe, quartz product manager for Casa Grande, AZ based ACO Polymer Products, Inc., which manufacturers decorative shower drains under the QuARTz for ACO brand says there are many variables that contribute to the style people choose, from geographic location to age, budget to size of project. “We actually try to fit our product into all these design styles, and more, by offering many different patterns, designs, finishes, accessories, and incorporating lighting,” he says.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
When it comes to coordination, manufacturers note that many of the old rules no longer apply. “Traditionally, bathroom fixtures were matched in color, style and material,” says Singer. “The latest trend in bathroom design has thrown these rules out, and texture, different materials like glass, crystal, brass, and metals, and bringing elements from the outdoors in has become the future.”
The style of the bath affects trends in the towel warmer and radiant panel lines, says Julia Billen, president/owner of Warmly Yours in Long Grove, IL. “Consumers are looking for towel warmers that are more square in design,” she says. In addition, she adds, the future trend for towel warmers will be very minimal, simple heated towel rails.
Mockett says that as bathrooms are getting bigger, hardware and accessories are getting smaller, or cleaner, in design. “This trend will likely continue with the idea of making the bath not only a showcase of the latest fixtures, but also a personal comfort space that integrates technology and convenience. The grander the design, the more that design calls for additional hardware. The trick is streamlining the hardware into the overall design and making it hidden and unobtrusive,” he says.
Rohl agrees. “Consumers are viewing their baths as more than just utilitarian spaces. The space is transforming into a luxurious haven for relaxation. People want that sense of luxury to be reflected in every inch of the space, down to the smallest details like towel bars, soap dispensers and robe hooks.”
Both Universal Design and the green trend continue to impact trends. Wood says, “Universal Design and green design are two elements that are critical to go forward [with] designs at our company. We are constantly looking for elements to that will be useful and valued by consumers and that make a positive impact on our world.”
Universal Design, in particular, is strongly impacting hardware and accessory trends. Newcombe says, “The concept of Universal Design and aging-in-place is incredibly important . We pride ourselves on having a high quality decorative product that addresses the functionality need of ADA accessible bathrooms.”
Singer also sees the demand for products that facilitate aging in place as an opportunity to design bath accessories with both functionality and a high-end aesthetic appeal. She says, “I am looking forward to the opportunity to develop fashionable products [for aging in place]. It’s our future, too.”
Mockett agrees, stating that grab bars are showing up in a lot of contemporary bathrooms. “No longer just a tool for the elderly, grab bars are now just as much a fashionable accessory as they are a functional safety device,” he says.
Ambjor says that at Sonoma Forge, they haven’t seen much impact on trends by either green or Universal Design. However, he says, “’Made In America’ has become increasingly important since so much product [even from so-called American companies] are coming from China and elsewhere overseas.”
The wide array of product choices leaves a lot of room for individual choice, and there doesn’t seem to be one clear trend in materials or finishes for hardware and accessories.
There is a leaning towards the warmer metal colors, such as nickel and bronze, over colder metals, according to Wood. “We see nickels used in environments that were once primarily chrome, while bronzes continue to be a top choice,” he says.
Zeier concurs, saying that brushed nickel, polished chrome and oil-rubbed bronze are still the top three metal finishes.
The desire for unique looks and personalized spaces also brings about a demand for living finishes that age or patina over time. Ambjor says his firm’s number one finish is Rustic Copper. The aging over time “adds character and personality to the project, as no piece ages the same way,” he notes. The firm has also seen more requests for “raw brass” and “raw copper” which are finishes that are unprotected with a clear coat or even wax, so they age quickly, he adds.
Newcombe still sees stainless steel in the lead, and expects this trend to continue. In addition, the popularity of the firm’s oil-rubbed bronze finish remains steady. He has also had inquiries for matte finishes.
Regardless of material, lasting value remains a key concern. “High-end quality products and durable materials are most desired,” says Singer, adding that long lasting metals such as brass are preferred. Singer has also seen interest in recycled materials, incorporating glass elements in design, and adding crystal for a little extra sparkle.
Mockett says, “Another common trend is combining different materials to create balance. For instance, glass and chrome can be easily integrated into hardware, creating a functional piece of art. Other balancing qualities of different materials can create different moods altogether. Stainless steel is a very popular choice for bathroom hardware, but can feel a bit cold and institutional – so why not add a little warmth and add some earthy tones or antique finishes?”
Wood says, “We continue to see a push into reclaimed materials such as old lumber and flooring that is mixed with more modern elements such as clean crisp metal fixtures.”
SMALL CHANGES, BIG RESULTS
Part of the popularity of hardware and accessories comes from their ability to create a whole new feel to a bathroom, without requiring extensive remodeling. And, the little things can make a big difference here, manufacturers say.
“Trends continue to show that people are spending time and money renovating their homes. Especially in the bath, consumers are making small changes to update and refresh the space like replacing a faucet or installing decorative towel bars,” says Rohl.
Wood says that accessories need to be both functional and beautiful. “In the product development process, we look for ways to make our accessories stand out – like adding a triple posted robe hook for more functionality, or adding a glass shelf to a toilet tissue holder to [provide extra storage] when space is at a premium.”
In keeping with the idea of creating a spa-like room, Singer says that towel racks, double towel bars and glass shelves are the new must-haves for 2012.
Rohl adds, “The bath rack is the perfect accessory for relaxation. Our brass rack attaches to the side of the bath and is the perfect place to rest a good book or a glass of wine.”
In the radiant heat market, Warmly Yours sees its infra-red radiant panel product, Lava, as the next big trend in radiant heating. The technology allows for radiant heat without the need to replace the floors. “These radiant panels can be placed on a wall and/or ceiling and they radiate warmth in all directions. This trend ties into Green Design as these panels are quick to heat up a room – and are only used when the room is occupied, making them much more energy efficient than space heaters and baseboard radiators.”
Although economic conditions do impact product and design choices, designers and consumers don’t want the end result to show that impact. “People still want their bathroom to look like they spent more, even if they are on a tight budget,” says Zeier. Thus, she adds, people are doing a lot of research before they buy, both in stores and online.
When budgets are tight, quality products become even more important. “In this economic climate, consumers are more mindful of the quality of the pieces they are purchasing,” says Rohl. “They want to purchase things that are going to last, whether they are buying a Perrin & Rowe faucet or simply a soap dispenser.”
Mockett agrees. “Even in times of economic hardship, consumers recognize a good product with an ageless design and know that it will last much longer in the end than by cutting corners and using cheaper materials,” he says.
Another impact of a weak economy is that the size of the job often changes, particularly in a specialty market like radiant heating. As Billen notes, “We are not getting the larger projects as we did in the past – we are doing approximately the same volume of jobs but now the projects are smaller.”