It used to be, metal surfaces in the bathroom consisted mainly of a
faucet, knobs on the vanity and a towel bar. They all matched
because all of the items were only available in chrome. “Ten years
ago, you never thought of making your bathroom a place where you
enjoyed being,” notes Jeffrey Robboy, president of Baci by
Remcraft, in Miami, FL.
Now, of course, the bathroom has become the focal point of a
comfortable, relaxing, sanctuary environment in the home. A home
where “coccooning” is the aim is likely to include a huge master
bathroom with “super shower,” whirlpool, steam and/or sauna, as
well as a downstairs powder room that’s the height of luxury and
style to show off to guests.
New products are constantly being introduced into the market to
meet this new aim but now, they have to match myriad designer
finishes, according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen &
Bath Design News.
“The bath accessory market is pure style,” declares Gene
Carpenter, product manager for Geberit Manufacturing, in Michigan
City, IN. “You can still go into the local hardware store and buy a
$10 towel bar, but right next to it is a $250 towel bar.”
“People are being much more creative in buying the quality
products they want, yet customizing for their personal touch and
flair,” adds Peter Dircks, product manager for Broan-NuTone, in
Hartford, WI. He adds that design-conscious mainstream stores such
as Pottery Barn are making consumers more aware of style
“People are [also] more conscious of buying products that [have]
quality and craftsmanship, [rather] than stuff that’s just out of
the box and price-driven,” adds Robboy.
For many, a coordinated, high-quality look begins with a
distinctive finish that starts with faucetry and is carried
throughout the bathroom, from shower heads to knobs to such exotic
items as designer exhaust fans. “People are trying to tie
everything together in their homes,” notes Patsy Nickum, co-owner
of Rocky Mountain Hardware, in Hailey, ID.
“Everything should look seamlessly integrated,” agrees Ari
Zieger, v.p./sales and marketing for Interbath, Inc., makers of
Ondine, in Los Angeles, CA.
“A lot of the work we’re doing [in towel warmers] we see in
satin finishes nickel, brass, gold, rather than the traditional
chromes,” says Sanford Hunter, North American sales manager for
Myson Inc., in Colchester, VT. “Those are the finishes that are
Similarly, Sandy Kartzman, national sales manager for Jaclo
Industries, in Mountainside, NJ, cites “super shower” components
such as a ceiling-mounted “rain” showerheads, decorative wall bars,
hand-held showers and body sprays as popular. “You basically get in
there, you turn everything on and drown yourself,” he laughs. All
are now available in exotic finishes such as oil-rubbed bronze.
Kartzman explains that what’s hot in finishes is very much a
regional proposition. “Other than in New England, polished brass is
pretty much dying away.” In the West, oil-rubbed bronze and antique
copper are the top picks, he believes. In the Southeast, antique
brass is an up-and-comer. Overall, satin nickel remains the most
popular pick. Raymond Lombardo, president of Afina Corp., in
Patterson, NJ, also mentions stainless steel as a hot pick. “People
love the stainless steel factor, because it won’t corrode or
Carpenter cites brushed nickel, and “there’s a couple of new
[finishes] on the horizon the pearl nickels.” A pearl finish has a
reddish tone instead of a hard silver one, with more depth and
dimension. “People are just going nuts over brushed nickel. They
want that warm tone,” adds Robboy.
Nickum names bronze in various patinas, from light to very dark
(the bronze equivalent of gunmetal gray) as a hot finish, and adds
that the coordinated look can now be extended to a bronze sink. “It
[makes it] really easy to create a cohesive look where everything
flows together,” she notes.
And, there’s polished chrome, which still finds itself in
upscale bathrooms for retro looks, which pick up on the white
porcelain-plus-chrome configuration of bathrooms of the 1920s
through 1950s. “Chrome is still chrome,” concludes Kartzman. “It’s
like vanilla ice cream.”
The advent of glass vessel sinks has prompted a whole new product
category decorative exposed plumbing. And it, too, is available in
a variety of finishes to complement any bathroom.
“You have beautiful oil-rubbed bronze faucets, and a beautiful
glass vessel sink,” elaborates Kartzman. “We’re launching a whole
division that will have traps, supply lines, valve shut-offs,
drains, all that stuff [in exotic finishes]. We’ll also have toilet
handle levers that will [match].”
“That’s becoming much more popular,” agrees Carpenter, citing
“fancier supply lines that complement the rest of the room, in
brushed or satin nickel, or satin chrome.” He adds that valves can
also be designed in a variety of styles, “from traditional with
cross handles on them, to totally modern valves that are all round
edges. We even carry one that has a stainless steel screen in it to
filter out what we call line trash before it hits that really
Zieger notes the overall design trend toward translucence and
visible mechanics, as evidenced by the popular iMac computers. He
elaborates, “An interior designer did an interesting thing with our
product. The designer mounted a shower system against a glass wall
and then exposed all the plumbing.”
Another innovation in shower accessories is Interbath’s In Touch
Organization line, which integrates designer shower storage with
the actual hand shower system. “If you have a hand shower on that
bar, you don’t have to add another piece of hardware to clutter up
the environment,” notes Zieger. The modular system comes in
different sizes to hold multiple bottles of shampoo and other
But, the most oft-mentioned up-and-comer in bath accessories and
hardware is surely the towel warmer, which is rapidly making
inroads into the mainstream market.
“We’re seeing a sharp growth in our towel warmer line,” says Dan
Reinert, v.p. for the Long Island City, NY-based Sussman Lifestyle
Group, makers of WarmaTowel. “When you step out of the shower,
[you] get that great feeling that you had as a child when your
mother pulled towels out of the dryer to wrap around you,” he
explains. “You have that feeling of warmth and comfort.”
Many consumers discovered towel warmers during trips to Europe,
Reinert elaborates, where they’re a staple in hotel rooms and
homes. “Everybody thinks, ‘boy, that sure would be nice in my house
in Maine,'” quips Carpenter.
However, the towel warmer market isn’t limited to cold climates,
manufacturers report. “We sell a lot of [them] in the South,” says
Reinert. “People use them in the summer, when the air conditioning
is on all the time and the homes can be somewhat cold. They also
have the ability to dry towels that stay musty all day because of
“Towel warmers are [also] great for getting rid of mildew,” adds
Hunter. “One of our largest markets is in the Gulf States.”
“People are putting more and more money into their homes,” notes
Dircks. “Heated floors and towel warmers are completely in line
with that.” He adds that the technology of the systems is
improving, leading to lower price points. Carpenter adds that the
newer models are easier to install and require less electricity
than earlier versions.
Other technological improvements include customization, such as
programmable timers. Towel warmers are also increasingly available
in a wide variety of finishes and styles, with customized orders
possible, as well. Hunter also notes an increase in sales for very
large warmers, as much as 6-1/2′ tall for multiple towels.
There are two kinds of warmers the standard electric, and the
hydronic, which uses circulating hot water to heat up the towel
bar. The hydronic systems are more economical, but require more
elaborate installation. Electrics are more commonly used in
remodeling work, while hydronics find themselves in new
construction and additions where a more elaborate installation of
pipes can be included in original plans.
While some believe the towel warmer is likely to remain a very
high-end item, “We sell to EXPO [Design Centers],” counters Hunter.
“They seem to feel these products are becoming very
Warm floors are also increasing in popularity, but have more
installation concerns because the floor has to be ripped up.
However, “Tile is naturally cold no matter where you live,” says
Carpenter. “You’ll see a lot more floor warmers in new construction
in the next three years.”
“People love it,” offers Robboy. “It’s a nice little touch, and
it’s going to become more and more popular.”
“If people are gutting [their bathrooms] out and spending 30K,
40K or even 50K, they might as well spend [a little] extra and get
that,” adds Lombardo.
Carpenter also cites floor-warming systems that recirculate hot
water as a growing trend. “They use that in Minnesota in parking
lots and driveways so they don’t have to plow [snow] as often,” he
The customization and coordinated look that consumers request in
hardware is also reflected in medicine cabinets, explains Dircks.
“You can recess or surface mount them, you can have wood frames or
metallic or no frame at all,” he says. “The sizes and variety of
finishes keeps growing.”
In addition, the interiors of medicine cabinets have become more
high end, featuring such materials as stainless steel, glass
shelves and a mirrored back wall.
Customized touches such as this have rejuvenated the medicine
cabinet, which had been getting replaced by plain glass mirror
walls for some years. “A cabinet is still a major feature of a
bathroom,” says Kartzman.
New styles such as the new glass sinks with exposed plumbing
along with old-time pedestal sinks have also contributed to the
medicine cabinet’s resurgence, manufacturers report. Since there is
no more cabinet under the sink, “there’s an even greater need for
storage,” points out Karen Collins, marketing communications
manager for Broan NuTone, in Hartford, WI.
Dircks adds that a linen closet is an increasingly popular
addition for new houses. “But, people still need storage for the
little things,” he points out.
To make the medicine cabinet an integral part of a bathroom
design, people often buy cabinets with unfinished frames to match
the finish of a vanity. Or, they buy the cabinet with no frame at
all and customize the frame via molding from the cabinetry company,
Dircks elaborates. Lombardo also cites the expansion of frame
styles into both contemporary and traditional styles.
Overall, bathroom design is all over the place, manufacturers
report. Nickum notes regional differences. “In the South Atlanta,
New Orleans and Miami they’re a little bit more decorative than
Seattle [where consumers prefer a] cleaner, more minimalist
Dircks thinks consumers increasingly prefer an eclectic
combination of several styles. When it comes to soap dishes, shower
caddies and knobs, “I have seen the gamut,” adds Carpenter. “I’ve
seen the old wire style that you’d see in the 1920s. I’ve seen very
nice clear acrylics, high style almost water shapes, no sharp
edges, no corners at all; they look like part of the bath. A lot of
it is coming in from Europe, especially Italy and Spain. Sweden is
doing some very nice geometric stuff. The consumer has a better
choice than ever.” KBDN