Qualified Remodeler

Bath Storage With Style

Bathroom vanity design blends thoughtful storage with visual variety through mixed materials and finishes.

authors Elizabeth Richards 

The essential function of a bathroom vanity – providing vital surface and storage space – must be balanced with the design style and overall aesthetic in a home. With individualized style high on the priority list of many homeowners, unique combinations of styles, colors, textures and materials are used to satisfy these needs.

Quality can’t be overlooked either. “In the boutique market of high-end bathroom furniture, the desire for superb quality is nothing new,” says Carmine Lacava, founder and CEO at Chicago, IL-based Lacava. “Timelessness in its essence means foremost enduring quality.”

Design-oriented clients are paying attention to the details, he says, so “features such as hand-made construction by master craftsmen, matching wood grain across vanity front elevation, dovetail interior drawer boxes stained to match the vanity exterior, soft-closing hinges and drawer glides with high weight capacity to ensure long lasting and perfect functionality of the doors and drawers, optional recessed LED lights, built-in and add-on drawer organizers and electric outlets are always in demand, but now probably more than ever in the unending quest for convenience and style.”

Steve Wilcox, director, design and product development at Cerritos, CA-based Sagehill Designs says residential trends and consumer lifestyles are moving toward a more casual feel, texture, designs with less ornamentation and an emphasis on unique materials. “Mixed material themes are important, using metals, stone and a variety of woods. Even though designs overall are simpler, there is still a level of elegance and refinement that needs to be addressed.”

Storage needs are high, especially in the master bath, and closed storage is still the best way to contain clutter. But with the decorative demands of consumers, a combination of open and closed storage is also appearing more often.

“Storage capacity is one of the more important functions of a bathroom vanity,” says Craig Spence, product manager at Hardware Resources in Bossier City, LA. “Consumers want it all – functionality and style. We are seeing predominately closed storage as most popular right now. Combination storage – open shelving and functional drawers – is rising in popularity.”

Other top vanity trends include a move toward warmer colors and styles that lean toward traditional and contemporary design, clean lines, mixed materials and finishes and products that make efficient use of space. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Transitional Slant

As bathroom designs continue to move toward transitional or contemporary styling, vanity trends follow suit, meaning clean lines and minimalist design take precedence over fussy details. Shaker-style and flat-panel doors are most requested, but the overall shape of the vanity can vary, depending on personal style as well as the usable space in the bath.

“Some markets lean ultra-contemporary and some are still quite traditional, but overall, Shaker style strikes that perfect transitional balance that most homeowners are looking for,” says Spence. A Shaker-style vanity is a chameleon of sorts in that it can adapt well to its atmosphere from paint, to wallpaper, down to the accessories,” he notes, adding that design lines correlate to these popular Shaker styles by being straight, clean and classy with little curvature and few ornate flourishes.

Mary Baber, design and training manager at Marsh Furniture Co. in High Point, NC agrees that Shaker or modified Shaker styles are still the most popular, and flat-panel doors are also on the rise. “Simple, clean lines are what the majority of our consumers continue to gravitate toward,” she says. Stand-alone furniture-style vanities are currently popular, she continues, and shorter vanities without toe kicks are being used to create “floating” looks.

Naomi Neilson, founder and CEO at Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA is also seeing more straight, clean lines in the bathroom as interiors embrace modern and transitional styling. “To balance this out, vanities are being designed with rich materials that soften these lines and bring warm tones to the bathroom, contributing to an inviting feel,” she explains.

Other manufacturers see a hybrid of styles and softer shapes emerging. “People are tending to choose curves over hard angles in all forms of design, especially vanities,” says Linda Yang, senior staff designer at Robern in Bristol, PA. “Floating vanities rather than vanities on legs are trending in the market,” she adds.

One of the driving factors behind these shifts is the concept of using less space overall, according to Yang. “Vanities are taking on various shapes in order to accommodate the bathroom’s footprint. Vanities designed with a shaped corner, cylindrical and a mix of curves and corners are components being used to accommodate the space.”

“With restraint, there is a very creative mixing of style characteristics in today’s home fashions,” states Wilcox. For example, he says, farmhouse style, when accented by modern decorative hardware and metal accents, morphs into ‘Modern Farmhouse.’

“This is taking place with a lot of styles and finishes and hardware,” Wilcox maintains. “It’s a lot of fun for the consumer and it creates some great looking products, although it is somewhat harder to define the style.”

Creative Combinations

With transitional and “hybrid” styles on the rise, manufacturers also see a move toward the use of mixed materials and finishes to create a unique look. White and gray painted vanities still dominate the overall market, manufacturers say, but a broad range of options allows for creative, individual design as well.

“White and gray painted vanities are still king,” Spence says. “These classic colors can help create a calm, relaxing bathroom environment. For those with a more eclectic style who prefer a pop of color to liven up the space, they turn to rich hues like navy blue. Matte black and gold toned hardware are also trending,” he adds.

Nat Mucha, executive v.p. of bath for Cerritos, CA-based Fairmont Designs agrees that white and gray are holding strong in painted finishes. For natural wood, he says, “dry finishes” are most popular. He also sees the trend of mixed use of materials continuing to grow. “Initially driven by the lighting and quickly followed by the hardware segments, we are seeing multiple metal finishes gaining popularity, including various tones of brass and black,” he notes.

Neilson sees combining different materials to add warmth and texture to more contemporary lines as a major bath design trend. Consistently popular materials are those that integrate natural influences, such as concrete and reclaimed wood products, Neilson adds. When it comes to color, gray is still in style, and they’re seeing increased warm gray tones, she says.

Baber notes a trend toward warm stains and paints as well, along with combination finishes. “We’ve seen paint and stain combinations in kitchen designs for years; this trend is showing up in bathrooms as well. The finish mix allows designers to add some character to smaller spaces.”

“The wider range of finishes and details offered for wood and metal products expresses the market’s openness and developing taste for more interesting appearances,” says Lacava. “Metal consoles in brushed brass or matte black, woodwork with metal inserts on door and drawer fronts or countertops are gaining popularity,” he says. While he believes all shades of white do well in the bathroom due to the connotation of cleanliness and hygiene, he also sees demand for colors falling in the natural spectrum, but diverting away from white, such as gray, blue, taupe, black and natural wood.

In addition to the strength of white and gray paints, Wilcox says that in stains, neutral and taupe shades are important. “Visual and physical texture is very important as well. With the cleaner design lines, the finish is even more important, and making it look rustic, or vintage, or acquired is very meaningful to the consumers today,” he says.

Yang notes, “Colors are still definitely leaning toward the natural, capturing the organic colorations of wood and muted stones and the varying shading of unlacquered brass.” She also mentions the popularity of fluting as a popular decorative element.

Storage Considerations

One of the essential functions of a bathroom vanity is the storage space it offers. Space is at a premium, especially in smaller bathrooms, and there’s abundant need to stow away the essential toiletries and supplies the consumer requires in the space.

Both open and closed storage options have their place, and designers must consider a number of factors when choosing which type of storage is best for their designs. A combination approach offers a balance between hiding away essential, but unattractive, items and showing off decorative elements that convey the homeowner’s personality.

“You need closed storage to keep things neat and tidy and out of sight, and you need open storage to display and enhance the interior visually,” says Wilcox. “From a design trend perspective, I think that a mixture of open and closed storage is more visually interesting and enhances the benefits of our products.”

Yang agrees that storage is still a mix of open and closed. “Finding the balance between both seems to be where trends are currently following,” she says. “Storage capacity is becoming more relevant with the space issues people are having. The half open shelving and half drawers seem to be the classic mix in the vanity market.”

Baber says that while the choice between open and closed storage depends on the clients and their habits, closed is still by far the most popular. “There may be open areas to highlight artwork or decorative items, but typically we are trying to conceal grooming products,” she says.

However, she adds, there’s a trend toward stacking or rolling towels in open cabinetry or floating shelves. “This trend is good for accessibility and also frees up space inside the cabinets.” Tower cabinets with drawers that sit on the countertops are attractive options for additional storage, she adds.

The emphasis on clean, minimalist design has an impact on storage needs as well, and these needs will vary depending on which bathroom the vanity is installed in, Neilson notes. “In the master bath, there is demand for a fair amount of closed storage to conceal clutter. The plethora of toiletries and other items that need to be stored in this space render true open storage impractical,” she believes.

In bathrooms beyond the master bath, Neilson adds, there is much more room for play, and less need for closed storage. “Creativity and designs that ‘wow’ tend to be more of a focus in powder rooms especially,” she says.

Lacava agrees that type of bathroom impacts storage needs. Powder rooms and half-baths normally require less storage, while full bathrooms and master baths require well incorporated storage capacity, he notes. “There is a shift in the kind of storage used – the current trend leans toward more open storage options,” he says. “After all, most user products nowadays come in such nice packaging that they can serve as decoration as much as a product for use.”

When considering storage options, the most important factor, Mucha says, is that the storage is usable. “Items like concealed drawers, flexible drawer organization and even features like electrical outlets in the vanities are sought after,” he states.

A Perfect Fit

Storage needs and available space drive vanity size, manufacturers agree. In master baths, double-sink vanities are still the preference when space allows. In other bathrooms, size and shape is determined by available space and specific needs.

“We haven’t necessarily seen a shift in the sizes of vanities, but rather a shift in the way designers go about planning the space to account for and customize storage needs,” notes Baber. “Consumers are looking for ways to simplify storage needs with internal storage options such as roll-out trays and pull-out organizers. There’s been an increase in the thoughtful planning that goes into making sure that all items have a home.”

Lacava says standard vanity dimensions prevail in the market. “Perhaps different regions of the country have different needs, but as long as the space allows, master bathrooms prefer double-sink vanities 60″-72″, or two separate vanities that usually run at least 36″ wide. Single-user bathrooms can be very sufficiently furnished with sizes ranging from 24″ to 48″. The powder rooms and half bathrooms, on the other hand, are where creativity can be expressed without much limit when it comes to pedestals, or other types of decorative sinks, since storage is a secondary need,” he says.

Mucha sees demand for bath furniture for larger bathrooms growing. “With these larger 60″+ vanities also comes the opportunity for linen towers and medicine cabinets. Even large wall-mount vanities are increasing in sales,” he says.

Yang, on the other hand, believes vanities are getting smaller, and the space where they will be placed is the deciding factor when determining shape and size. “People are getting creative with smaller spaces and want vanities that will provide necessary storage needs, visual appeal and appropriate size for the room,” she says.

Spence has seen a surge in the popularity of 36″ and 48″ vanities for standard-sized bathrooms. In powder rooms, which tend to be smaller spaces, 18″ to 24″ vanities work better, he adds. ▪

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