Functional Furniture

Vanity design melds form and function with clean lines, interesting aesthetics and a blend of open and closed storage solutions.

authors Elizabeth Richards | August 9, 2018

The vanity is sometimes the unsung hero of the bathroom. It’s where homeowners get ready to face the day in the morning, prepare for bed at night and store their essential toiletries, personal care tools and much more. The vanity must be organized in a way that makes all of these functions easy. At the same time, the vanity needs to fit seamlessly into the overall design aesthetic of the room.

The idea that the vanity can be more a piece of furniture rather than a simple cabinet is taking hold. “With bathroom furniture versus the traditional cabinetry, the homeowner has more options to give their space a unique and personal look,” says Nathaniel Mucha, executive v.p. of bath for Cerritos, CA-based Fairmont Designs. “We are seeing bathroom furniture going in all bathrooms throughout the home. No longer is the freestanding look only relegated to the powder room. Large sizes such as 60″ and 72” and accessory items such linen towers ideal for the large/master suites have increased in popularity over the past few years.”

No matter what look designers choose for the vanity, storage capacity must be considered. “Storage is key,” says Jesse Lemel, styling space product manager at Kohler in Kohler, WI. “Consumers want vanities that not only match the aesthetic they are looking for, but [also] offer the premium storage features. Integrated electric, compartmentalized storage, combinations of drawers and doors, the ability to customize storage to fit a particular need – these are all crucial elements that make vanities functional and efficient.”

Jean-Jacques L’Henaff, v.p. of design, LIXIL Americas, home to American Standard Brands and DXV, based in Piscataway, NJ, says, “In terms of overall design, we see the most popular bathroom furniture as favoring clean, contemporary styling, with minimalist shapes that provide an inviting, approachable setting for the user and bring a calming ambience to the bathroom. Taking a smarter approach to storage – from size optimization to ease-of-access – is also becoming more and more important.”

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News note that other top trends include a move toward wall-mounted vanities; wood and painted finishes that include brighter color options; using materials and finishes that create visual interest, and larger vanities, especially in the master bath. 

Keeping it clean

Manufacturers continue to see a slow shift away from traditional designs. “Styles are continuing to move to more transitional and modern designs. This has been the trend for the past several years,” Mucha notes. 

With this trend toward a more modern look and feel comes a greater desire for simple, straight lines. “Specifically in bathrooms, we are seeing straight clean lines and consumers are leaning more toward unfussy looks,” says Kathy Mannion, training manager at Eagan, MN-based Norcraft Companies.

Lemel sees lines continuing to lean toward the cleaner side, and adds that, along with straight lines, there’s an emphasis on functional and thoughtfully designed styles.

“People still lean toward the straight, clean lines of traditional Shaker cabinetry when doing designs that are on the more transitional/traditional side,” says Nick Robinson, regional sales manager for Chicago, IL-based Lacava. He adds that the company’s new lines, Linea and Navi, have been outselling their long-lived rounded staples.

This move toward clean, straight lines doesn’t mean, however, that designs are harsh and unyielding. L’Henaff says, “Transitional lines that are simple and clean, yet also soft and approachable, are trending right now.”

Naomi Neilson, founder & CEO at Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA adds, “There is always a place for clean, straight lines, though we see a lot of demand for clean lines paired with softer sink materials – or vice versa.”

“Recent transitional-styled lines are simple yet sophisticated, featuring either straight lines or rounded profiles,” notes Angela Wellborn O’Neill, director of advertising and marketing for Wellborn Cabinet Inc. in Ashland, AL. “Kitchens, bathrooms or even entertainment, it doesn’t matter which room you are in; all lines are straight and clean and softer.” She adds that the firm is still not seeing heavy corbels or moldings, and edge profiles on doors have moved toward Shaker-style straight doors or very clean slab doors.

Off the Floor

One way to get the clean, uncluttered visual consumers desire is to mount the vanity directly on the wall to create a more open, spacious feel – particularly in small spaces. Luis Guevara, marketing and branding manager for Adornus Cabinetry in Doral, FL says trends are moving toward a European look, which features wall-hung vanities with clean lines.

O’Neill notes, “The strongest trend we are seeing is the wall-mounted vanity, bringing the cabinetry up off the floor.” 

Several manufacturers agree that there is increased interest in these styles. L’Henaff believes part of the reason is because wall-mounted vanities, drawer units and countertops save space and provide a more open feeling in smaller bathrooms and powder rooms.

Finish Favorites

Designs must express the style and personality of those who live in the space, which means a wide variety of finish options must be available. White continues to dominate, but other neutrals, and even more vibrant colors, especially in blues or greens, are also increasingly requested, manufacturers say. Natural wood finishes remain a popular choice as well. 

“Outside of the more traditional wood finishes, white is always the leading choice. But we have seen a rise in other neutrals like gray, which offers a soft aesthetic in the vanity space,” says Lemel.

O’Neill states that 50 percent of the products sold by Wellborn Cabinet are painted, primarily in shades of white and gray. “In the stain category we are still seeing strong dominance in the darker colors like our Espresso,” she says. “Current trends have moved into mid-tones and more lightening up of these darker tones. Also, gray stains have become trendy,” she adds.

L’Henaff sees vanities with natural oak or a contemporary gray finish being popular right now. “Both finishes are attractive next to the classic white lavatory sink and are light enough that they will not darken a small bathroom,” he maintains. “We are also starting to see bolder colors making their way into this category.”

Guevara believes brilliant colors are trending right now. Along with the whites and grays, he says, royal blues and other colors are showing up more often.

“We are also seeing a resurgence of colors other than gray and white…blue, specifically, has been turning a lot of heads in the industry,” Robinson points out. “Blue paint and stains have been gaining a lot of traction in the past two years. It seems like every company offers one standard now.” In natural wood finishes, he adds, people are leaning toward medium or darker toned woods, such as teak and walnut.

Neilson is seeing a lot of interest in grays and earth tones still. “Natural wood seems to be making a comeback, especially in reclaimed wood where the character can be played up,” she adds.

Mucha says that natural/organic wood finishes are popular on all design styles and can be found on designs with a reclaimed look, modern designs and even traditional pieces.

Manufacturers are also seeing some interest in unique blends of materials and finishes. “At Native Trails, we see a lot of demand for combining unique materials and styles within a single bathroom vanity. For example, a metal vanity paired with a concrete vanity top/sink combo, or a reclaimed wood vanity paired with a hammered nickel sink,” Neilson notes.

Bob Gifford, director of business development for Hastings Tile & Bath in New York, NY says, “Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of interest in the use of different materials. For example HPL (High Pressure Laminate) has come back into favor with architects because of its durability and the fact that it’s now available in so many colors and with interesting textures. We have a wood-look integrated basin top that is very handsome.”

Flexible Storage

Storage is a key factor in vanity trends, particularly in master bathrooms. Closed storage is more popular than open, according to many manufacturers, since it allows for an uncluttered look while still providing a place for necessities. 

“Most homeowners are interested in closed storage to provide a clean look in the bathroom,” believes L’Henaff. “Vanities that offer roomy drawers with divided storage that make organization easy are the most in demand, particularly for master bathrooms that see daily use. Closed storage simplifies the task of cleaning the bathroom, and also keeps personal items protected from moisture,” he adds.

“In bathroom spaces, I think consumers want things hidden and not out in the open,” states Mannion. “They are looking for serenity and that is hard to achieve when you have a cluttered space.”

Lemel agrees that most consumers feel strongly about wanting closed storage in bathroom spaces, which he attributes to both moisture levels and the aesthetic of a closed vanity. But the most important thing, he adds, is to reduce countertop clutter and have the right storage for the user’s individual needs.

O’Neill sees a strong preference toward closed storage because it aligns with transitional styling. “It has a sleeker, more clean appearance to it,” she says. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for open options. “While closed storage is the current buzz, consumers are still using a lot of open storage as well. In accordance with the transitional style, less clutter and minimal accessories are what people are looking for. Maximizing the space you have has become a huge aspect in cabinetry.” 

Nielson believes that storage preferences are dependent on design and geographic region. “Open storage has grown in popularity, as people opt for a clean, contemporary aesthetic. In the master bath, however, there is a preference for at least some closed storage – even if it’s a single drawer or a closed cabinet,” she notes. 

While the hospitality industry often opts for open storage, according to Gifford, in residential projects, both types of storage are evident. The firm’s “Open” collection, which offers a combination of closed and open storage, is very popular, he adds.

Robinson says that Lacava offers vanities with both options, and each type does well. “Storage is very important in the bathroom. We all have a plethora of personal care products we use on a daily or weekly basis. People like to hide unsightly things like toilet paper and personal care products, but still want open storage to display their accent pieces like candles, colored towels or that expensive new fragrance they just picked up. I think a mix of both is really hot right now,” he notes.

Mucha adds, “Homeowners are looking for unique designs and functional storage. That is not always defined as open or closed storage. An open shelf can be used to store towels, hold a basket or [be] left empty. There is also more opportunity for linen towers and mirrored walled cabinets as bathroom furniture is used in larger bathrooms.”

Bigger is Better

The size of the vanity is, of course, dependent upon the space available in the room. Storage needs, along with who will use the vanity, are also important considerations. In smaller bathrooms, including powder rooms, small vanities are in demand; in master bathrooms, however, the trend is towards larger vanities – or, sometimes, more than one vanity incorporated into the space.

“In master baths, consumers are living by the ‘bigger is better’ mantra, and since we are consumers, we need larger spaces to store all of our items,” Mannion states. In other bathrooms, she adds, consumers are choosing smaller vanities.

Nielson says that in dense urban areas, smaller 30″ to 36″ vanities are most popular. Otherwise, she says, size most often ranges from 36″ to 48″. “We are seeing high demand, especially in the master bath, for a 48″ vanity paired with a 36″ trough style sink. It’s a great look and can be really practical where a single sink is shared,” she notes, adding that she also sees a lot of dual-vanity master bathrooms. 

“While petite sizes continue to be popular for the powder and small bathrooms, larger sizes specifically for master bathrooms continue to rise in popularity,” says Mucha. “While 60″ and 72″ vanities are popular for these large bathrooms, you will also see homeowners utilize two separate vanities in the master bath, sometimes even in a slightly different style,” he continues.

“Generally, we see a larger size for vanities because consumers are into the spa bath,” says O’Neill. “When trying to replicate the feel of a spa bath, larger storage space and larger amenities are imperative.” 

Gifford has also seen an uptick in large, custom-sized vanities. “Double sinks are very much in vogue right now,” he states.

Guevara says that master bathrooms remain more traditional in size and design, but in smaller spaces, people are getting more creative. “Anything different to stand out in that half bath is what I’m seeing,” he explains. The firm has also seen a big demand for its “Tiny” line, an 18″ sink designed for small spaces that comes in three colors. “We cannot keep it in stock,” he says. 

In addition to space considerations, how the vanity will be used impacts size choice. “We generally see larger vanities with more custom storage options in master baths, but a powder room can also require storage,” says Lemel. “In a smaller vanity, customization is key as you want to maximize all of the space you have for storage.” ▪

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