Not So Far from Heaven
Custom finishes, coordinated suites and transitional styling
mark the latest in bathroom sinks, lavs and faucetry.
By Daina Darzin Manning
In the bathrooms of yesteryear, “design” usually meant the towels
matched the tile color. The bathroom was, first and foremost, a
utilitarian space, not style-directed.
These days, the bathroom has emerged as a haven from a stressful
lifestyle, an emotionally charged environment that consumers hold
dear. “It’s the transformation room,” declares Gary Pember,
director of product marketing/bath for Moen Inc. in North Olmsted,
OH. “It’s the place you go from sleepy to awake, from dirty to
clean, from stressed to relaxed. It’s the location where one
It’s no wonder, then, that beautiful design and style are just
as necessary as function in today’s bath sinks, lavs and faucets,
according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath
Home buyer demographics
are gradually switching from Baby Boomers to Generation X, with the
attendant changes in style preference. Ornate Old World looks are
still popular, especially in some markets, but the trend overall is
for transitional or “simple traditional” looks. Mark Savan, general
manager for Creative Specialties International, a division of Moen,
Inc. in North Olmsted, OH, cites clean lines, plus a traditional
heritage, as a winning style combination.
Pember points out that a minimalist approach is not limited to
contemporary looks. For those who want a historical cue for their
design without an elaborate look, the 20th century is emerging as
the new source of those cues. Faucetry designs from the 1920s
through 1950s still have a homey, traditional feel, but with much
simpler, sleeker lines than those that evoke the Victorian era.
“People are rehabbing and refurbishing [homes to make them look]
like the olden days, like your grandmother’s place used to be,
whether it was on the farm or in the city,” believes Jeff Pratt,
v.p./sales for Danze Products in Bolingbrook, IL.
“The buzzword with architects and designers is ‘transitional,’ ”
notes Avi Abel, general manager, Watermark Designs, in Spring
Creek, NY. “It’s not traditional, it’s not contemporary, it’s
somewhere in between like that Art Deco look of the 1920s and ’30s.
That’s what’s coming back. You can dress it up or dress it down.
With more traditional components, it’ll look traditional.”
With more contemporary accessories and a modern finish such as
satin nickel, the same faucetry will take on a more contemporary
look. “There’s a lot of flexibility it’s a very interesting look,”
Abel adds, noting that faucetry of that era doesn’t necessarily
have to be the period-appropriate shiny chrome matched with a white
pedestal sink. It’s also a look that allows for traditional
elements mixed with the newest technology, something that’s
important to consumers.
“[Designers] are mixing elements, and you’re getting some really
exciting looks out there,” Abel notes. “They can mix [transitional
faucets] with copper sinks, glass sinks they even do wall-mounted
versions of the transitional look.”
Sophisticated homeowners have long espoused an eclectic approach to
home design and this can be applied to the bathroom, as well. For
instance, Alan Danenberg, director of marketing services for Elkay
in Oak Brook, IL, cites a well-received recent display that
featured a stainless steel sink with a copper Victorian faucet.
“There’s a lot more eclectic design work being done,” he believes.
“People are really putting their own stamp on things.”
For today’s consumer,
individuality is key. Not only do people want a gorgeous bathroom,
they want a unique, customized look. They pay “a lot of attention
to finding a faucet that suits a particular bathroom persona or
theme,” notes Joel Williams, spokesperson for Price Pfister in Lake
Forest, CA. Whether choosing a traditional porcelain lever,
single-control faucet or a minimalist, ultra-modern one, “people
are really trying to pick a faucet that reflects the room image
that they’re trying to achieve,” he notes.
In this search for individuality, consumers are branching out to
finishes that will give their bathroom a more custom look.
“People are getting away from chrome and shiny brass,” believes
Savan. “They’re getting a little bolder in styles, and we’re seeing
a proliferation of finishes.”
Consumers also want their finish of choice to be incorporated
throughout the bathroom. “[They] want to purchase a complete
bathroom,” declares Pratt, “matching fixtures, matching
accessories, and as many finishes as possible to give them choice.”
A major trend in manufacturing is to introduce a new line with a
whole suite of products, not just a faucet, he adds. “[That] makes
it much easier for consumers to pick a particular product and know
they can find matching accessories.”
“You have a lot more connectivity with accessories [like] towel
bars, toilet paper holders,” says Pember. “We find a need for
consistency in the metal objects in a bathroom,” adds Savan. “If I
have a brushed finish on my faucet, I want a brushed finish on my
“People want more of a coordinated look today,” agrees Michael
Isaacs, president of Mico Designs in Chicago, IL. “If they’re going
to do the faucet, they want the Roman tub set, the shower pieces,
the accessories, to match.”
“We just introduced lighting to our line so you can get matching
light fixtures [with] your faucets,” says Abel. “We’re also doing
grab bars, and vanity legs for the consoles.” Mirrors, tank levers
and towel bars can also be part of an overall coordinated look.
As for color, in the past, color in the bathroom often meant
aqua or pink fixtures and tile, of which the homeowner then got
sick, and spent a lot of money replacing, grumbling all the
These days, the trend in fixtures is toward white or neutral
shades, such as biscuit and almond, or soft new neutrals, such as a
very, very pale gray. Consumers still want color, but “in
unexpected places,” notes Faye Adams, new product development
manager for Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN. “That helps them
express their style and individuality.”
In addition to towels and wall paint as sources of bright tones, a
pop of color can come from the faucet. For instance, Adams cites a
faucet line that features an easy-to-change-out color accent in the
middle of the handle, which is available in multiple colors.
“People can tie that little color accent to their walls, their
towels, their tile,” she notes.
The Finishing Touch
While satin nickel
remains strong in the marketplace, brushed nickel is the strongest
up-and-comer. “Chrome is still dominant, but brushed nickel is
gaining tremendous popularity,” says Pratt. “It’s the color people
are going after. Oil-rubbed bronze and earth tones are coming on.
People want variety.”
Similarly, Adams cites growth in “matte finishes stainless, even
in the bath. Brushed nickel. [Finishes] with warmer tones, things
that look more customized than what you’d consider your everyday
reflective finishes, like polished brass.”
Pember believes brushed nickel “could be the next chrome. The whole
brushed textured finish, in the nickel and stainless color palette,
is extremely popular.”
Stainless steel is, of course, a dominant force in kitchen
design, but is making inroads in the bathroom, as well, especially
in more contemporary applications.
Danenberg says Elkay’s line of stainless steel bathroom sinks,
which the company has manufactured for many years for commercial
applications such as offices, is now making inroads in residential
settings. “Stainless has really spread throughout the house,” he
says. “The design and decorating books show quite a bit of
stainless and other metallics in light fixtures, accents, stairs,
cabinets. It’s everywhere. It gives a very contemporary, but
flexible look because it can go with any color.”
For vanities, Danenberg says people are often using stainless
undermounts with solid surface or granite for a classy, elegant
Along with steel, oil-rubbed bronze continues to be an
up-and-comer at the high end. However, these days it’s more likely
to have a coating, rather than be left as a genuine living
“I believe [the living finish] is a short-lived fad,” says Abel,
adding that the trend is toward a lifetime warranty on faucetry.
Adams points out that, with a genuine living finish, the shower
components will discolor faster than the sink faucet, causing a
mismatched look somewhere down the line.
But Danenberg counters that his company’s living finish metal
sinks are hot sellers. “It’s a very dramatic look,” he says.
“These can be undermounted, or they can be used as drop-in
sinks.” Available in copper and brass, with a choice of hammered,
mirrored or satin finish, the sinks “will age and develop a
patina,” he elaborates. “A lot of people like a natural finish.” He
adds that consumers who want the sink to remain new-looking can use
a copper or brass cleaner.
Whether living or coated, oil-rubbed bronzes and other matte,
warm-toned finishes remain an increasingly popular choice. Adams
says her company’s Venetian Bronze line has “been a huge hit
because no one faucet looks like the next. They’re all
hand-buffed,” adding to the customized, individual feel of the
product. “People like the idea that it’s made [just] for
Now that brushed, satin and oil-rubbed finishes are becoming more
mainstream, ultra-high-end designers are looking for something new
and different for their clients. Today’s adventure picks include
copper, verdigris and wrought iron. Williams cites brushed brass as
an up-and-comer in the Price Pfister line. He notes that new
finishes are migrating to faucets from other parts of the house,
such as hardware and door pulls.
Last but not least, there’s good old chrome. A mass market
mainstay, shiny chrome also, paradoxically, fits into the upscale
trend towards transitional style, particularly for those who want
an authentic 20th century look. “Chrome will always be popular,
because of the durability and the shininess. It’s a great
finish,” says Pratt.
Dramatic Sink Design
They may never be a
mainstream, utilitarian item, but there’s no denying the dramatic
impact of vessel bowls in a bath, manufacturers agree. “It’s the
show-off of sinks,” says Adams.
“If you’re trying to make a strong statement in the bath, you’ll
go for a vessel,” adds Pember.
The vessel bowl’s versatility, and capacity for unique design,
can make it the centerpiece of a bold design statement. “We have
cut crystal in a lot of variations,” says Jack D. Olshen, president
of LeBijou Collection in Miami, FL.
He adds that vessels are just as effective in contemporary
applications. There, “glass is very strong,” he says. He cites his
company’s burgundy and cobalt blue glass, which are available in
vessel or drop-in models.
Crystal designs can also be painted for a reverse design, coming
through the outside of the bowl, notes Olshen. “They’re fired, the
background is painted on and then they’re re-fired. We’re painting
toilets as well we can match the vessel or lav with a toilet.”
Several manufacturers caution, however, that the vessel is
better suited for a powder room than a bathroom that gets heavy
traffic. “They are harder to clean, they can chip more easily and
they’re more expensive,” says Abel. He predicts the next generation
of vessels will be more often made of porcelain or stone rather
“It looks fantastic, but it’s not practical for everyday use for
the average family [with] children,” adds Pratt.
But Olshen counters that many master bathroom designs
successfully include vessel sinks, often with two installed on a
large his-and-hers vanity.
The advent of vessels has also changed the faucet end of the
bath market. “Wall mounts are big,” says Adams. “You also see
faucets on risers quite a bit now.”
Whatever style, material or finish a consumer chooses, one thing
is certain: it will be a personalized statement, filled with
specific items to make their bathroom their very own little haven.
Concludes Adams: “[Consumers don’t want to have] the same bathroom
as their neighbors. They want to express their individuality.”