Focus on Fixtures
authors Elizabeth Richards | April 30, 2017
Which is more important, design or function? When it comes to bathroom sinks and faucets, both are equally important, it seems. “The good news is that faucets and sinks are becoming more valued as design as well as functional elements, from master baths to guest baths and powder rooms,” says Greg Rohl, v.p. of marketing at ROHL in Irvine, CA.
It’s expected that sinks and faucets will make bathroom tasks as convenient as possible. But these fixtures are increasingly becoming focal points in the space, offering designers an opportunity to personalize and customize the room according to the specific client’s needs. “The combination of the vanity, sink, faucet and mirror is the focal point of bathroom design,” says Naomi Neilson Howard, founder & CEO at San Luis Obispo, CA-based Native Trails. “The powder room is a popular space to really have fun and make a statement – it’s typically smaller than other bathrooms, though more visible. The master bath is the domain of fixtures and details that are functional, easy to care for and, most importantly, make the homeowner feel good in their space, every day.”
“Faucets are an easy and affordable way to update a space and create a personalized style statement, both in terms of design and finish,” says Julie Everson, wholesale product manager for Moen, based in North Olmstead, OH. “Whether it’s a large, open master bath or a minimalist powder room, the faucet is an easy way to bring a refreshed look into the home.”
Increasingly, designers and clients are breaking away from the familiar, testing out different shapes, arrangements and styles. Chris Wilson, product manager for Brizo at Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet Co., says, “People are starting to get comfortable moving away from the tried and true.” That might mean a combination of modern and organic shapes, and lines that are shifting to create shapes that match the fluidity of the water, he states. It could also be the use of different materials and flexibility in where the faucet is placed. “You don’t always have to be having this face off with the faucet,” he notes.
Technology that enhances functionality, interesting color combinations, clean and simple designs and options that make sinks and faucets easier to use and maintain in the bathroom are important trends, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Technology has become almost synonymous with electronic gadgets these days, but in the bathroom, technological advances are often a bit more practical. Advances that enhance functionality of the product are more important than the newest gimmick.
Ryan Ramaker, director of product development and R&D for Hansgrohe North America based in Alpharetta, GA says, “Technology in the bathroom is ever-evolving, which means there is a lot of associated risk in integrating the latest and greatest into something as semi-permanent as a bathroom fixture. Technology advancements outpace bathroom remodeling cycles by years, therefore a recently installed electronic plumbing product could be out of date or unsupported within a year, and if one’s next remodeling project for that room is two decades away, that can be problematic.”
“The intersection between technology and the kitchen and bath industry is always evolving,” explains Clinton Cardinal, Delta product manager at Delta Faucet Co. “Technology improves functionality, and provides ease to consumers.”
Neilson Howard notes that technology comes into play in the company’s sink sealers. “We listened when people told us they wanted sinks that are low maintenance and easy to care for – whether purchasing a wow-factor sink of polished metal or opting for the organic beauty of concrete. While some people love the way that copper changes and patinas over time and with use, others prefer that their copper sink stays looking as pristine as the day they installed it.” To meet the needs of both preferences, Native Trails introduced an optional sealer, MetalProtect, for all of the firm’s copper and nickel finishes.
You can’t talk about faucet finish without mentioning chrome, bronze and brushed nickel, just as you can’t talk about sink color without giving a nod to white. But more and more often, manufacturers are seeing a desire for non-traditional options and colors in these fixtures.
“Over the past year, we have seen a rise in homeowners bringing more color into the bath by incorporating a variety of finishes and metals, in addition to bold, dark walls and patterned accessories,” says Cardinal.
Noah Taft, senior v.p., marketing & sales for Huntington Beach, CA-based California Faucets agrees: “Demand for contemporary and transitional single-hole faucets continues to grow, but more and more people are experimenting with colors. Instead of settling for the same old polished chrome or brushed nickel finishes, designers are specifying increasing popular finishes such as matte black.”
“The overall approach to bathroom design is trending away from the serene, spa-like environment and toward more richly appointed spaces with more color and texture,” says Rohl. “Faucet and sink design trends are in sync, moving beyond clean white fixtures and sterile contemporary faucets to more pronounced fixtures in colors and materials and more transitional faucet designs with real personality, offered in more textural finishes.”
Wilson believes the movement toward black finishes started to gain a more mainstream appeal in the past couple of years, and says darker colors are on the rise. He sees a movement toward darker grays in 2017. Gold finishes are also doing well, he adds, and a matte black/gold combination is strong.
According to Neilson Howard, there’s also strong demand for finishes and materials that combine a natural, earthy feel with modern style. “As in previous years, there’s a strong preference for sinks in natural tones, from earth tones moving into grays and even soft black, for an unexpected design punch,” she states. She also sees a trend toward high polish, or “bling,” in the bathroom.
Lea Mendoza, senior product designer for TOTO USA in Morrow, GA, agrees that there is a move toward more natural materials in both counters and lavatories. “We’re seeing an increase in stone as well as even concrete being used to add a warmth and texture to the more clean-lined contemporary shapes that are increasing in popularity,” she says.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint specific trends in style due to the vast range of choices available, regional differences and the desire to be unique, manufacturers agree that overall, there is a move toward simplicity.
“We focus on re-simplifying spaces, bringing thoughtful and beautiful designs to the space that create a timeless look with simple operation and even easier installation,” says Ramaker. “I firmly believe that a return to simpler times in a space for relaxation like a master bathroom is a top trend in the bathroom today.”
This means a slant towards transitional or modern design and away from the fussier detail of more traditional times. “We’re really seeing people come back toward that very clean, simple structure and straight lines,” notes Wilson. He adds that people are looking for things that, by nature of their simplicity, have fluidity and motion to them without being overly contrived.
Consumers are also looking to maximize the use of space. This has led to an uptick in wall-mounted faucets, manufacturers say. “Homeowners are becoming more conscious of how to best design their space for increased comfort, cleanliness and maximum use of space,” explains Mendoza. “As a result, there has been an increase in smaller wall-hung lavatories and wall-mounted faucets. When paired with a wall-hung toilet, a bathroom with limited space becomes much more open, easier to clean and contemporary.”
While finish and design style are certainly important when selecting sinks and faucets for the bath, manufacturers emphasized the practical side of things as well. “It’s important for designers to determine what their clients are looking for not only in terms of designs, but also functionality,” says Everson. “For example, if the clients plan to age in their home, they may want to select a faucet with temperature indicators or lever handles, due to the ease of use for older adults, especially those with arthritic hands.”
Water conservation is another important consideration. “Designers and clients alike should know that water conservation is here to stay,” says Ramaker. “Faucets and bathroom products in general that deliver ‘lively’ water flow at these new, lower flow rates are essential to designing an eco-friendly bathroom. Users want to be sustainable while simultaneously having a powerful enough water flow to get a thorough wash.”
Cardinal adds, “Much like size trends, faucets are largely dependent on personal preference and design needs. However, we do feel consumers are increasingly drawn to solutions that help us save water without sacrificing the experience. In the bath, hands-free technology adds convenience for repetitive tasks like washing hands and rinsing a toothbrush.”
Maintenance of the bath space is another practical concern that manufacturers address through creative solutions. Mendoza says, “Features that help keep that bathroom cleaner longer are always appreciated by everyone in the home.”
Quality and durability are two essential features for both sinks and faucets, manufacturers say. “When it comes to custom finishes, designers need to consider not only color tone and texture, but durability,” says Taft. “There are plenty of beautiful powder coat and living finishes available today, but they aren’t remotely as durable as PVD finishes, which are molecularly bonded with zirconium, the second-most durable element known to man. All else being equal, why would anyone knowingly specify a less durable finish?”
Educating clients on quality and authenticity is an important job for designers, says Rohl, including what the products are made of, who made them and where and how they are made.
The design of a room shifts with the purpose of the space, and a master bath is far different than other bath spaces in the home. “Master baths tend to be the most personal space and a true reflection of the client’s tastes,” says Rohl. Clients are still seeking a sanctuary and retreat in their master bath, he adds, so double vanities with matching sinks and faucets, or ‘his and her’ combinations that vary but have a similar look and feel, are more likely to show up.
According to Ramaker, designers report that homeowners are spending a majority of their building allowance on “going big” in the master bathroom, in both new construction and remodels. “The designers are investing in the master bathroom with a full suite of products from a mid-to-luxury brand and keeping the guest and other bathrooms a bit more muted with simple transitional style designs that are easy to keep clean and do not fade out of style quickly,” he explains.
“A master bathroom serves as a personal oasis and generally demands more space than a powder room,” adds Cardinal. “As a result, the size of sinks and faucets may be larger, or greater in quantity, than a powder room. Design is inherently customizable, and people go the extra mile in creating a personal escape. There is also more room for transitional design, or the blending of several design styles into one,” he notes.
And, while the feel of the space is important, so, too, are the functional capabilities. “When designing a master bath, the faucet and lavatory, although stylish, are considered more for their usability for the homeowner’s day-to-day tasks,” says Mendoza. Undercounter lavatories are more typical than vessel lavatories in the master bath, as they make it easier to keep the counter and sink area clean, she says.
Wilson agrees that practical considerations are important in the master bath, but says that doesn’t mean unusual or interesting elements can’t be brought into the space. “This is the place you are really building something for yourself,” he states. While it can be a show space, he adds, “Sometimes your scale needs to be different because you have to accommodate a wider variety of tasks throughout the day.”
MAKING A STATEMENT
Powder rooms are typically small, but often bold. This is the space where homeowners might take risks designed to impress guests.
“When it comes to faucets, powder rooms are often the place for more experimentation and ‘statement’ design,” says Taft. This means more custom faucetry that showcases more exotic finishes.
Everson says, “Powder rooms are primarily used by guests and should therefore be designed as a showcase area. Homeowners may make a statement by adding a unique faucet platform like a wall-mount faucet, paired with an eye-catching sink bowl.”
“The powder room is like that city you love to visit but probably wouldn’t choose to live in – you can be bolder with your selections and do things you wouldn’t normally do with design, and it gives guests this little ‘wow’ moment when they use it,” says Rohl. “We see more fun, vibrant wallpaper or leather on the walls, bold geometrics or Moroccan-style tiles, and faucet and sink selections one wouldn’t make for a guest or even master bath, like the 24-carat gold faucet with Swarovski crystal handles.” ▪
For additional fixtures, go to our Product Guide.