Variety is the spice of life, and that’s particularly evident in the broad array of bathroom sink and faucet offerings available on the market today. Internet savvy consumers come to designers expecting to have a wide array of choices, and they can (and do) get input from myriad sources: designers, showrooms, magazines, home shows…they can even ask several hundred of their “friends” for their thoughts using social media.
Likewise, flexible work schedules and family configurations and a diversity of key lifestyle trends are impacting how the bathroom is used, which impacts sink and faucet trends. And the economy also plays a role in product selections.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that manufacturers are creating an ever-widening array of products to meet diverse needs and desires over a variety of price points.
However, certain key trends still emerge, including a desire for products that can be used to personalize the bath, an interest in water conservation and a move toward choices that are easy to use, durable and low maintenance.
PERSONALIZATION & STYLE TRENDS
“Personalization still rules,” says Kevin McJoynt, v.p. of brand management at Danze, Inc. in Woodbridge, IL. “Homeowners want to put their fingerprint on the decor of their homes so it’s all about personal style,” he says.
And, although most manufacturers agree that traditional styles continue to dominate the market, they point out that “traditional” has a broad range of definitions. Additionally, transitional styling remains a strong counter trend, and there’s some demand for contemporary styles, as well.
But whether the style is traditional, transitional or contemporary, McJoynt maintains that, “Choices, choices, choices will be key for homeowners…the trend will be on variety.”
Mixing and matching designs is one way that designers are allowing their clients to make a personal style statement in the bathroom. Paul Flowers, senior v.p. of design for the Bloomingdale, IL-based Grohe says, “Surface textures throughout the bathroom are being mixed to emphasize sink and faucet finishes – the rough with the smooth, high-gloss with matte – highlighting the variety of tones.”
However, Flowers also explains that some consumers are coordinating designs, finishes and accessories to polish off the look. “And those looking to make a statement are also choosing alternative materials or unusually shaped sinks to bring focus to the sink area.”
According to Arturo Robles, senior product evaluation engineer with the International Association of the Plumbing and Mechanical Officials in Ontario, Canada, manufacturers work hard to develop eye-catching products highlighting different designs, colors, shapes and finishes. Robles cites research that indicates “the look of the bathrooms is decided more by the wives than by husbands,” and he adds, “The trend is to come up with something different, yet functional, to make the bathroom an elegant part of the house.”
While the economy has been showing signs of recovery, many consumers are still watching their spending, which creates a greater demand for products that offer real value to the consumer.
“Customers are seeking value in all their purchases and bathroom sinks are no exception,” says Kim Albrecht, senior market analyst-lavatories, at Kohler in Kohler, WI. She adds, “We believe that this is a trend that will continue in the long term.”
“With the economic recovery progressing slowly, consumers continue to behave cautiously,” says Brent Haas, marketing communications manager for Brasstech in Santa Ana, CA. “Remodeling activity appears to be picking up, but consumers are more price conscious than in the past due to the housing corrections and high unemployment rates,” he states.
However, as consumers begin to emerge from their cocoons, there is some more good news. “We are beginning to see consumers coming back into showrooms – there seems to be more consumer confidence around renovations again – particularly with regard to the long-term benefits of renovation,” says Jody Rosenberg, v.p./sales & marketing for GRAFF in Milwaukee, WI. Those long-term benefits, points out Rosenberg, could include things such as building in low-flow faucets.
Flowers notes, “By choosing faucets or sinks…that combine quality, design and the right technology, you can have one or two eye-catching items in your bathroom that provide a contemporary, stylish look.”
He explains, “Upgrading to a sleek, clean, contemporary faucet…can subtly change the look and feel of a space,” and he adds that even those on a budget can infuse personality into their baths with different faucet heights and sizes, or through an accent design or color. “Updating old fixtures can result in a relatively simple and affordable facelift for the bathroom, creating a more radiant and contemporary feel,” he adds.
Value engineering has become a hot buzz word in this economic client, and Larry Jacobs of Strom Plumbing by Sign of the Crab, in Rancho Cordova, CA notes that everyone in the industry – from manufacturers to kitchen and bath dealers – understands the need to “bring the best price and situation to their clients, resulting in a more economical solution for the consumer.”
While ideas for how to do that may vary, manufacturers agree that marrying value and versatility in products that will last throughout different life stages will continue to appeal to price-sensitive consumers.
Clean and simple are always in fashion, and that’s particularly true in today’s bathrooms. “White and biscuit [sinks] still seem like safe, mainstream color choices due to their longevity,” explains McJoynt. “Plus, they typically give a clean, crisp feel to the décor which is a popular look.”
Flowers, however, sees a shift away from the “timeless mix of white ceramic sinks with chrome fixtures.” He states, “Basins and faucets in black and white are leading the way, and while white remains a bathroom classic, an increasing number of manufacturers are now adding black to their color palettes. The introduction of black…adds drama to the space.”
“Consumers ultimately want products that deliver solutions.” Albrecht says, adding that “generous basins and timeless design lines” are always popular in the bathroom, and that there’s been “trending toward the rectangular basin.”
Haas points out that the traditional under mount sink continues to “dominate the market for bathrooms.” However, Haas also sees strong demand for the vessel sink, claiming it is the “second most popular sink choice among designers, particularly in remodeled bathrooms.” Haas sees this trend as one that is here to stay. “We anticipate that vessel sinks will remain popular in both the short and long term because bathroom styles are becoming more contemporary or transitional. Vessel sinks offer a much cleaner look than traditional, under mount sinks because they are often mounted on smaller countertops, thus eliminating the chance for clutter.”
McJoynt agrees that vessels remain a popular choice, noting that vessels offer an array of shapes, colors and designs. “Again personal choice on style prevails,” he says. “Some want color, unique shapes and unusual materials, while others want an understated, simplistic look.”
Albrecht points out she’s seeing designers take more of a holistic approach to designing the sink and the space around it. “Consumers are approaching their bathroom sink and grooming spaces holistically and asking each item they purchase to work a little harder and to also work well with other products.” Albrecht further explains, “We continue to see a strong preference among consumers to integrate their bathroom sink selection with their countertop.”
For designers creating spaces for homeowners looking to age in place or those who might be physically challenged, there are many ADA compliant products from which they can choose. Albrecht maintains, “Universal design is also great design and consumers expect their bathroom sink to work for every family member and guest. Consumers can choose from vessels, under counter, self-rimming and wall-hung installations to meet the need for universal design. There are products available at every price point and style that feature universal design.”
While sink choices vary in shape, size, color and design, Albrecht points out that it’s important to balance aesthetic needs with usability. She states, “Sinks that are both beautiful and functional are winners.”
FAUCETS GO GREEN
The need for products that conserve water has begun to catch on across America. In fact, Julie Kober, who is the product manager for bathroom faucets at Kohler, takes it a step further. “I would define water conservation – like the whole green movement – as no longer a trend and instead a given. It’s not going to go away,” she says.
Haas concurs: “Water delivery products that are compliant with the EPA’s WaterSense program have become the industry norm.”
GRAFF’s agrees that consumers are “more aware of sustainability” issues these days than in years past. She says consumers are more aware of their actions and how they impact the world, and designers are also helping to further educational efforts on the green front. Consequently, a relatively simple idea such as a low-flow faucet becomes relevant. “Everyone wants to feel good about the products they purchase,” she adds, pointing out that most GRAFF faucets are available with low-flow aerators and have been for some time.
Kober explains that combining performance and water use management will continue to become the standard. She also sees more demand for faucets that include features that are easy to use, and notes that kitchen trends are now influencing bath trends when it comes to faucetry. “The WaterSense trend [combines] performance with using less and less water. Ease of use features –
such as incorporating spray options, pause or spray head pullouts – are making their way from the kitchen to the bath,” she adds.
As with sinks, variety is a key trend in bath faucets today. The average consumer, however, is searching for options within the boundaries of traditional style. Kober sees a continued demand for traditional and transitional product design. She notes, though, “We have seen the contemporary designs gain traction in the past five years, but traditional design is still projected to be favored 2:1 in the coming years. We are hearing that consumers are looking for ‘cleaner’ traditional designs – meaning less ornate and frilly, not over-the-top-designs.”
Kober maintains that the two-handle faucet continues to be the most sought-after configuration. “This configuration equates to about 74% of the overall market sales,” she says.
But, thanks to the growing popularity of vessels, Haas claims there is an increase in single-handle bathroom faucets as well. “They complement the vessel sinks well, so as vessel sinks increase in popularity, we anticipate an increase in the use of single-handle faucets,” he explains. Haas also sees a trend toward the single-handle faucet in large metropolitan areas where bathroom space is limited.
THE FINISH LINE
When it comes to finishes, chrome remains an ever-popular choice, though McJoynt points out some other growing contenders. “Brushed nickel remains strong in faucet finishes, but unique finishes… have gained a foothold in the market, especially on more traditional faucet styles,” he says.
Flowers agrees: “Popular finishes for 2011 are satin and brushed nickel,” he says, adding, “For a standard design bathroom, homeowners tend to choose more unusual faucets to add an element of interest – there are some really beautiful and interesting faucets out there now.”
Kober concurs that chrome and brushed/satin nickel continue to dominate finishes in the bathroom. “We are hearing that polished nickel is on the rise with its warmer tone [as compared to] chrome,” she notes.
Kober also believes that a timeless, smooth finish as compared to a brushed finish is enjoying an increase in demand. “Oil-rubbed bronze is continuing to hold its own in the market with many manufacturers offering this finish. Up and coming finishes look to be antique nickel/pewter and wrought iron,” she adds.
Haas sees the satin nickel finish on faucets becoming more popular along with oil-rubbed bronze, polished chrome and polished nickel.
Faucet shapes and profiles are also playing a key role in the look of today’s bath. The oversized faucet is attracting attention today, according to manufacturers, and Haas notes, “Large, blocky shapes arranged in simple configurations create objects that are often minimalist and abstracted. This is a new trend that has been popping up and has been especially popular in furniture, but more recently is appearing in bathroom fixtures.”
Rosenberg adds that she is seeing more contemporary styles that feature “high style” and “strong shapes.”
Another trend in the bathroom faucet market relates to Universal Design. “Lever handle designs that are compliant with ADA guidelines is the main trend I see for bath faucets,” says Kober.
Of course it’s not just about the look of the faucet, but also about the functionality. Kober notes that in today’s climate, time savings is important, so she expects ease-of-use features to increase in demand. She adds, “I think electronics – such as touch-less or – user interfaces – will become a bigger part in bath faucets…as incorporation of ease-of-use features become the norm.”
However, not everyone is jumping on the technology bandwagon. Robles points out that technology has to not only work well, but also provide enough value to be worth the increase in cost, and that’s not always the case. As an example, Robles cites the touch-less technology that is becoming standard in public restrooms. He notes, “Touch-less technology is something that has not made the transition from public use to residential use. And one of the biggest factors is the cost of the faucets. Faucets tend to be expensive to begin with but touch-less technology raises the cost by hundreds of dollars.” In the current economic climate, he points out that this product simply may not have enough appeal to warrant the increased financial outlay.
Flowers, however, is convinced that technology will gain a larger role in the design of bath faucets going forward, noting that this trend mirrors what’s going on throughout the home right now.
Flowers states, “The biggest thing happening in the bathroom environment is the introduction of new technologies, namely digital enhancements. These are the kind of experiences and improvements, whether time-saving, or overall quality of life, that one might have as a result of technology like a digital shower or faucet,” he explains.
He goes on to note that this technology could ultimately change how people interface with water. “[Digital] can really increase the experience while reducing overall consumption, whether creating better experiences with programmable features or simultaneously reducing consumption by managing energy and water for optimum performance,” Flowers concludes.