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Fashionable & Flexible

Bathroom vanities and cabinets merge chic design with utility to meet the demand for creative storage solutions that fit individual lifestyles.

authors Elizabeth Richards | August 5, 2021

In the bathroom, vanities play a key role in both the overall aesthetic and usefulness of the space. Stylish visuals, clear storage solutions and products that fit the space as well as the lifestyles of those who use them are all essential elements when incorporating vanities into the space.

There’s a push for an aspirational look and elevated functionality, as well as a desire to understand the inspiration and meaning behind the vanity piece, says Dongha Lee, manager of Kohler Styling Space Design Studio in Kohler, WI.   

“Consumers want to know the story behind the pieces they integrate into their homes and lives,” he reports. “There has been a slight shift in consumer preference, leaning more heavily into the traditional furniture-like style for vanities. They are more than cabinets; they need to feel authentic, personal and add to the design narrative that homeowners are building in their spaces.”

Linda Yang, lead industrial designer for Bristol, PA-based Robern, says that bathrooms are becoming more and more like living spaces, reflecting the interior design styles of the family. “Many of the new vanity aesthetics derive from furniture styles found in living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms now echo the overarching interior style of the entire home. The popular styles like mid-century modern and Japandi aesthetics are trending as new bathroom vanity designs,” she states.

Vanity size is also shifting, due to both bathroom sizes and the use of additional spaces for vanity placement. Federica Verdi, marketing and e-commerce manager, Devon&Devon in Florence, Italy, offers, “In recent years, the hospitality and residential interior design has been markedly oriented towards small bathrooms. After the pandemic and the consequent periods of domestic isolation, this trend has almost been reversed: architects and interior designers are returning to designing large spaces dedicated to self-care in homes and hotels. In this new context, vanity units are no longer necessarily placed inside bathrooms, but also in bedrooms, walk-in wardrobes or in dedicated, intimate and very comfortable environments.”

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News say that other top trends for vanities include transitional and minimal styling, natural colors with stylish accents, durable and easy-to-maintain materials, and a demand for specific, highly organized storage units. 

Distinctive Styles

The bathroom, particularly the master bath, remains a highly personal space. This means vanity styles vary widely dependent on the taste and lifestyles of the consumer. 

Steve Wilcox, product development director at Sagehill Designs and SunnyWood, in Cerritos, CA, says consumer lifestyle choices emphasize comfort, style and functionality in the home. “Style trends we see growing and affecting the vanity market are a soft modernism with clean lines, rounded edges and neutral finishes. However, we are certainly seeing more color coming back into the interior palettes such as blues and greens that reflect the sensitivity to nature and the earth,” he observes.

The pandemic has impacted lifestyles, Yang adds, with people becoming more flexible about the spaces where they carry out daily routines. “Modular and reconfigurable furniture options are suitable for this new way of living. Bathroom vanities with modular systems are great options to renovate the space for multifunctional and flexible rooms,” she says. 

Additionally, people want complete bathroom suite solutions, she says. The vanity is selected as part of an entire room package, with coordinating items such as mirrors, cabinets and lighting. “The coordinating items do not have to be a matching collection but more like a curation of options that are paired together beautifully, offering an easy and fully thought-out design solution,” she explains.

Transitional styling, neither too modern nor too rustic, is still popular, says Naomi Neilson, CEO and founder of Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA. “However, we are also seeing a lot of rustic and modern combinations, where the vanity may be more rustic, maybe even made with reclaimed wood, and the sink is more contemporary,” she adds.

Wilcox notes, “While the farmhouse style may have hit its crescendo, there certainly continues to be a strong rustic style trend.” He adds that soft modernism is growing and appeals to the millennial consumer. “What I would call an approachable elegance continues to be a strong trend – this emphasizes historic European styles, but they are more approachable and perhaps a bit more decorative than the other trends overall,” he says. “Coastal and cottage themed designs continue to be favorites with consumers, and we will continue to see new versions of that theme,” he adds.

Verdi says, “The vanity units carry with them the memory of traditional toéletta (bedroom dressing tables) and, for this reason, the prevailing trend is to give them a sophisticatedly retro stylistic connotation. For example, our most iconic vanity unit, Zelda, explicitly recalls the style and atmosphere of the American 1920s. Its classic style and its timeless beauty are a reassurance in such uncertain times.”

Neutral Shades, Colorful Accents

As with style, choice of colors and materials span a broad range of preferences. “Many [consumers] are requesting custom configurations and they are looking for premium materials and an interesting mix of materials for a crisp clean look and one that is uniquely theirs,” explains Hib Johnson, president at The Furniture Guild in Canton, GA.

Danielle Solari, sales & marketing director for Canova, in New York, NY, says they notice the design of vanities becoming more creative in both use of space, with a mix of open shelving and closed cabinets, and material choice, such as more colorful natural stones and fluted veneers. 

“A key trend in the bath continues to be creating your own home spa,” stresses Elise Nicpon, national business development manager with Room & Board Business Interiors in Minneapolis, MN.  “Room & Board’s vanities make it easy to create a calm and restorative space with natural materials and clean sophisticated colors.”

Yang adds that organic, earthy colors create the feeling and mood of wellness sanctuaries, while neutral shades add brightness and openness to the space. “We are seeing warm, muted, dusty pastel colors that are mixed with this natural neutral canvas to add both a soothing and invigorating feel. This color palette creates a sense of tranquility for people who are looking for a restorative space amidst a pandemic.”

Natural wood and painted finishes are both in demand, manufacturers say. “Within the vanity colorways, wood will continue to have classic value, while painted finishes bring subtle aesthetics with details and sophisticated combinations. Wood and paint together offer a balance with accent elements,” offers Lee.   

In painted finishes, adds Wilcox, whites and grays still dominate, but “greiges” – a combination of gray and beige – are growing. “Color slowly seems to be creeping back into the palette. Again, the blues and greens may appear as a unique accent color for a vanity to provide some drama. In wood tones, the naturals, more neutral browns and rustic textured finishes enhance the otherwise clean lines of a lot of vanities,” he says. 

“Black, as well as natural wood-grain finishes, are very popular. And white never seems to go out of style,” Neilson observes.

Johnson notes that matte black accents paired with lighter oaks to create a modern updated twist on the new farmhouse look is on the rise. Other popular combinations include satin brass accents with white Fenix and a matte black top for an upscale beach retreat look, and the mid-century modern look. The company’s Josie vanity, for instance, features handmade cool brass legs and solid brass trim detailing around each of the drawers, with matching interior finish.

Shifting Sizes

Vanity size is, in part, impacted by the size of the room. However, when space allows, manufacturers say they are seeing a move towards larger vanities.

“The vanity units must be comfortable and capacious, able to house everything you need and leave enough space for the seat. For this reason they are never particularly compact,” Verdi reports. “For small bathrooms, hybrid and multifunctional solutions are indicated that integrate both the washbasin cabinet and the vanity unit in a single element.”

“The vanity size preferences are different by regions and by room types,” Yang states. “Urban and metropolitan areas with small spaces require small single vanities measuring about 24″ in width. Floating vanities are a great option to consider for these smaller rooms because they maximize the space and create visual openness.” 

“Alcove-filling extra-wide vanities are also popular as people personalize their bathroom with extended home styling to express their own personalities,” she adds.

“Overall, we are seeing a bigger wave of consumers asking for standard-sized vanities, driven largely by the fact that standard-sized vanities offer consumers a more curated selection, making the choice easier, and also a desire to join the aspirational or ‘Instagram-worthy’ space movement on social media,” Lee reports.

“But in more suburban markets where larger bathrooms are more commonplace, we see a growing interest in furniture-inspired storage elements beyond the vanity,” he adds.

At Room & Board, the largest vanity – a 72″ size – sells best,” Nicpon states, with the 48″ next in line. “Most importantly, the vanity should be proportionate to your space, and allow you to maximize your storage,” she notes.

Though the move may be towards greater width for vanities, Tony Masecchia, CEO for Montreal, QC, Canada-based AD Waters, says that vanities are often being mounted to the wall rather than sitting on the floor, with the depth of the vanity decreasing.

This decrease in depth front to back opens the door for more people
to select wall-mounted faucets, rather than traditional mounting behind the bowl, says Jacques Farmer, director of R&D, product development
for AD Waters. A wall-mount faucet helps make it feel as though there is the same amount of space on the counter, even if the countertop is smaller, he adds.

Lee also says floating or wall-hung vanities are rising in popularity, especially in bathrooms with smaller footprints. “Adding a floating vanity provides ample storage space while creating the illusion of the space looking larger than it would with a vanity that extends to the floor,” he stresses.

A Place for Everything

The primary function of a vanity is to provide surface space and storage in the bathroom. These needs vary depending on which bath space you are in, lifestyles and personal preferences, manufacturers say. 

“Part of creating a serene bathroom experience lies in keeping the space clutter-free. Storage, of course, plays a crucial role, and it’s also a very personal preference,” remarks Lee. Storage solutions are becoming more elevated and purposeful, he adds, “moving from task-oriented containers to carefully curated designed options that allow users to not only organize and put away, but to almost artfully display their grooming tools.”

Storage is a key part of vanities, Solari concurs, especially for residential projects in larger cities. “Most clients still prefer a closed cabinet, however, recently we have seen a growing demand for open shelves in Corian, lacquer or veneer, especially in powder rooms and master bathrooms,” she offers.

Neilson agrees that storage is essential and, at least in the master bath and even the guest bath, closed storage is preferred. “Powder rooms, on the other hand, tend to value aesthetic impact over utilitarian needs, so storage is less important – though an open shelf on the bottom of a vanity is always appreciated,” she states.

Closed storage makes up a majority of their business, Nicpon reports. “Where we have the additional shelf in some collections like Linear and Hudson, that additional storage is also very popular,” she adds. “Open storage is a growing trend that helps open up the room and lightens up the visual weight of a vanity.”

Farmer adds that, in North America, although designers want to use open storage solutions, consumers are not crazy about the look. However, he says, open storage elements are in showrooms more often, so people may begin to move towards it eventually.

Storage demands change depending on the bathroom, Masecchia adds. The powder room, for instance, is all about beauty. This means that the vanity in the powder room is often daintier and more decorative, with little to no storage.

A kid’s bathroom may see the vanity lower so they can reach, made from more resistant materials, and a guest bath will often include a small but effective, decorative vanity similar to a hotel bathroom, he says.   

In the master bath, Masecchia remarks, the vanity must be durable and offer more storage solutions. One trend in storage, he adds, is drawers that have premade storage slots, eliminating the need to buy independent organizers. “We’re seeing a lot of smart solutions coming from Europe,” he explains. “When you open the drawer, it’s organized.”

Yang adds that demand for a minimal, clean aesthetic means closed storage is the more popular selection. “Closed storage clearly helps reduce visual clutter and also allows for some organization within,” she says. “However, whether a homeowner would like open or closed storage often depends on the types of the room and how it is used. If it is a powder room or guest bath with less styling products to hide away, an open storage vanity can create a lighter and more breathable look and feel.”

Johnson notes that consumers are specifying both open and closed storage, and even a combination depending on their preferred look. “The open storage can lend itself to more of a relaxed modern vibe, while the well-appointed master baths are commanding complete customized interior storage configurations [a] ‘drawer-in-a-drawer storage concept’ so each item has a place.”

Vanity surfaces need to be large enough to accommodate things used daily, Verdi says, while sliding shelves to expand the space for the application of make-up are also in demand. “You don’t need anything else in sight,” she says. “All the rest finds perfect placement in the drawers for objects and jewelry and in large compartments closed by doors that ensure protection from dust and perfect organization of the spaces.” ▪

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