Today’s bathroom vanities are often expected to pull double duty. Not only do they need to convey a clear visual message about the homeowner’s lifestyle and taste, but they also have to provide space – and storage – for a wide range of self-care tasks. Neither is a simple matter, and each drives the demand for a wide range of options to best suit the visions of designers as well as the needs of the homeowner.
Design styles are increasingly moving toward transitional or contemporary throughout the house. Therefore, every element must reflect these simple, modern desires, with bathroom vanities no exception. “When it comes to vanity cabinetry being specified in today’s bath designs, designers are favoring unadorned, transitional and contemporary styles,” says Jason Artus, v.p. of sales & marketing, Rutt HandCrafted Cabinetry in New Holland, PA.
Naomi Neilson Howard, founder & CEO at Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA says there are two things driving vanity trends in her end of the market: extremely unique styling and authentically hand-crafted pieces. “These items are for consumers who want a statement piece with a story, and for whom craftsmanship is a critical prerequisite. More designers and homeowners are seeking and sourcing bathroom vanities that have all the quality and sharp design you would expect from a fine piece of furniture,” she says. “As the kitchen and bath continue to be showcases for great design – with a focus on functionality – designers are looking to turn up the dial in every nook and cranny of these spaces. Vanities made from composite wood aren’t cutting it anymore. What’s in demand are vanities made from real wood and other materials that will stand the test of time.”
Vanities have come into their own and are becoming a central player in the kitchen and bath market, says Mark Wolinsky, president of Wetstyle in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “This shift can be attributed to a desire of users to make the bathroom a design focal point, and not just a room of function. As a result, vanities are taking on new styles and intricate details, which include everything from the inclusion of organizers to high-quality woods and lacquers. The use of unique materials is a key part of this trend and has inspired the inclusion of exotic woods in Wetstyle’s new Deco Collection, which pulls in Torrified Eucalyptus and Mozambique.”
More important than any other consideration is style, according to David Tyler, v.p. of marketing & product management at Bossier City, LA-based Hardware Resources. He explains, “Storage space is often a consideration, and size is always a consideration, but with so many vanity options to choose from, the primary consideration is falling in love with a style.”
Having a size, style and finish that will meet the demands of any consumer means there isn’t one specific design path for all to follow. There are, however, some elements that show up time and again. Clean and classic lines are becoming the norm as designers are incorporating mixed materials and unique finishes, and both freestanding furniture-style vanities and wall-mounted floating vanities continue to trend. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
CLEAN AND CLASSICS
Once a vanity goes in, it’s there to stay until the next major remodel. That means it must stay relevant through the ebb and flow of many design trends. A clean, unadorned look with classic lines is the best way to ensure that the vanity will work regardless of other changes made to the space over time, manufacturers say.
“Bathroom vanity lines are almost always clean and classic. The last thing someone wants after an extensive and costly bathroom remodel is to learn that something they’ve selected is on its way out of style,” points out Neilson Howard. “While furniture and accessories can be swapped out easily, that’s not the case with bathroom vanities, so we find that people more often than not choose a classic, sturdy design that won’t show its age when trends shift.”
Scott Jensen, director of design at Dallas, TX-based James Martin Furniture, says the largest areas of growth continue to be in transitional and modern styles. Rather than a hard contemporary look, he adds, the trend is toward cleaner, softer lines. “Rectilinear cabinets continue to grow in popularity, rather than tapered angles or ornamentation,” he notes, adding that there is almost a spartan presentation with very clean lines taking the place of carving and detail work. Shaker style is making a comeback, he adds. “It’s a recognizable, historic design, but the clean lines fit today’s interiors.”
Wolinsky sees the concept of minimalist designs being revisited, with softer interpretations of the style emerging. “We’re seeing that consumers still appreciate a clean, modern look, but are desiring a look that isn’t harsh or cold,” he notes.
The clean and contemporary look opens the door for both freestanding models that function like furniture as well as floating vanities, manufacturers say.
“It is common to see vanity cabinetry treated as freestanding furniture with robust square legs at all four corners and an open lower shelf for towel storage. The other, more contemporary direction taken involves [using] floating vanity cabinetry typically installed wall to wall. These contemporary options many times lack decorative hardware in favor of C-channel construction or touch-to-open doors and drawers,” says Artus.
Lindsay Farnsworth, sales designer for Crown Point Furniture in Claremont, NH says the clean and simple lines of free-floating vanities create a more modern feel. Since the flooring is visible under the vanity and to the wall, these vanities open up the room and make it appear larger, she states.
Trevor Tran, director of marketing of Ronbow, Inc. in Fremont, CA agrees. He sees the U.S. market paying more attention to the wall-hung style now, which has been popular in Europe for many years. “Wall hung gives customers flexibility to install to whichever height they’d like. Additionally, wall-hung vanities make the bathroom feel spacious and airy, and it’s easier to clean underneath. In terms of style, wall hung offers a nice clean line with updated design that can fit any style of bathroom,” he notes.
With both freestanding and floating vanities, storage is not the important focus, says Yana Alentyeva, in-house designer at Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe, WA. “The desire is to create a contemporary look with clean lines,” she states.
Nothing is likely to bump white and gray from their status as top finish choices anytime soon. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no room for other finishes that provide the unique character consumers crave. Designers are getting creative with color, texture and materials to reflect the individual tastes of homeowners.
“The trophy still goes to white and gray, but we are seeing upticks in black and darker mahogany colors,” says Jensen. Decorative, exotic veneers add visual interest, he notes, with both American walnut and cerused finish white oak on the rise. “There has been an explosion of interest in exposed metal-frame vanities, but the specialized look is not for everyone,” he adds.
“Color is attractive, eye-catching and interesting, but white, and even gray, are still dominating the bathroom,” proclaims Wolinsky. “Real wood finishes have emerged as an incredibly popular trend in the bath, with oak leading the way. Natural oak and lighter tones often associated with the Scandinavian trend are most popular, alongside classic walnut.”
“At the Architectural Digest Design Show [held earlier this spring], it was clear that, even in a contemporary market such as New York City, designers still look for pieces that add texture and character, such as natural wood vanities,” says Neilson Howard. Black finishes are also popular, she believes, as they respond to the call for more industrial looks. “The black-and-white bathroom is trending, as there is less of a tendency to ‘play it safe,’ and we are seeing bold, contrasting colors and textures being paired.”
Mixed materials are also on the rise, creating appealing and exciting bathroom designs, Neilson Howard maintains. “Designers are creating intentional juxtapositions in their designs – so that a rustic barnwood vanity is now quite likely to be paired with an industrial-inspired concrete countertop, while a trough-style sink might be paired with a luxe Carrara marble countertop. A ‘matchy-matchy’ sensibility steered bathroom design in previous years, but eclectic bathrooms are more appealing and exciting now.”
“Bath vanities have transitioned from a box with doors to stylish furniture,” adds Tran. “Materials [such as] exotic veneers, metals and glass have added style and glamour to bathroom furniture. Unique finish options have changed the look of your standard, wood finished cabinet over the years. Adding a creative ceramic sink, quartz top or precious stone countertop has topped it off and helped to transition the look.”
Rustic styles, especially those that have an aged quality, are rising in popularity, adds Wolinsky. “The market is leaning toward designs that blend modern and traditional elements together, granting appeal to a broader range of consumers.”
Of course purely traditional and/or purely contemporary designs still reign in some parts of the country, but the trend seems to be toward more of an overall blending of style elements.
FLEXIBLE STORAGE SOLUTIONS
While style is always a priority, vanities also provide much needed storage space in the bath, and the desire for a clean and classic look makes it even more important to have a ‘place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Whether items will be located out in plain sight or hidden behind doors depends on what is to be stored, as well as the personal taste of the end user.
Jensen says that although clients were asking for open storage as recently as this winter, requests have flipped back to concealed storage since the beginning of 2017. “We will continue to offer new open storage designs, but I suspect people are realizing that there is a higher degree of daily maintenance and clean up associated with an open cabinet,” he points out.
Tyler states, “Open storage has some champions, but open storage can conflict with the desire for minimal clutter, particularly in a master bath. In a guest bath there’s already less clutter, and open storage can be a nice visual addition to the room.”
Farnsworth adds, “The trend seems to be lending itself toward open storage, but there is always a fine balance between function and aesthetics.”
“In powder rooms, open storage is often preferable because homeowners like to style out this storage in more decorative ways, and there is a definitive trend toward the clean, light aesthetic of open storage,” says Neilson Howard. “On the other hand, storage is more essential in a master bath, where some less attractive toiletries, cleaning supplies and bath accessories need to be stashed away.”
Whether open or closed, storage needs to be creative and customized for the user, manufacturers agree. Alentyeva sees the goal as to provide good storage and space planning, including offering more built-in storage functionality such as roll-out shelves, pull-outs and drawer dividers.
Artus says that open lower shelves are popular for towel storage to portray the “spa-like” feeling at home. Pull-out units that feature storage for specific items like brushes, curling irons and hair dryers are also in demand, he adds, noting a growing interest in the Docking Drawer, an integrated electrical outlet specifically engineered and designed to safely add an electrical outlet inside a cabinet drawer.
There is no “one size fits all” trend when it comes to bath vanities. Vanity sizes run the gamut from petite wall units to large double-bowl furniture-style pieces, and everything in between.
Jensen says there is demand for both ends of the spectrum – from very small to huge. “We see many requests for both petite (18″-26″) vanities and grand scale (74″-84″) cabinets,” he notes. “Many clients continue to remodel older homes and repurpose closets as powder rooms. The square footage of new homes is beginning to shrink ever so slightly, but the master bathrooms are still large spaces,” he adds.
The location of the vanity often determines the size, according to Wolinsky. “For powder rooms, smaller sizes are naturally going to be popular, whereas, in contrast, larger-size vanities are more popular for master suites.”
“More space is used in the master bath – whether to incorporate Universal Design features or [to provide] a spa-like environment to relax and unwind in. Homeowners want their master bath to be functional with a sense of elegance,” says Alentyeva.
Tyler sees large, furniture-style vanities becoming more popular in the master bath. “The availability of double-sink, furniture-style vanities without tops lets the designer customize the vanity via the top to blend with the master bath’s décor” he says.
Tran points out, “Space is an essential when it comes to metropolitan cities, where millennials prefer to live, and also with the tiny house movement [that has come about] in recent years. Smart storage is very desirable.”
He adds that furniture-style vanities are most commonly used in secondary bathrooms, powder rooms and, more and more often, in the master suite as well. ▪