For years now, manufacturers have bemoaned the bathroom as the one area of the home where consumers simply refused to, well, get a little “jiggy” with it. Money, attention and inspiration were lavished in the kitchen; but bath designs continued to run to traditional and conservative: a vanity with a drop-in sink was the centerpiece of the room, and the color palette ranged from white to. . .slightly less white. This had been particularly true in the master bath, where the consumer has traditionally been less likely to take risks or make a personal design statement.
“Let’s face it,” says Fred Barendt, luxury business unit manager for the Delta Faucet Co., in Indianapolis, IN, “the market hasn’t changed significantly in a long time. What was hot one year was the same as the year before, and the year before that. We suppliers have been very busy trying to create trends just so we’ll have something new to talk about!”
Happily for all, it’s beginning to work. Whether inspired by designers or driven by consumer demand, trends in bath faucets and sinks are expanding by leaps and bounds.
“Personalization has definitely extended to the bath,” says Alex Bieri, marketing manager for Hansgrohe, in Cumming, GA. “In the past, bath fixtures bordered on utilitarian, and the room wasn’t a featured stop on the household tour. More and more, however, we’re seeing design pieces that people are proud to show off. “
Traditional vs. contemporary
In the decade-long battle between traditional and contemporary faucet design, the emerging winner is. . . well, both. While the popular pursuit of “flea-marketing” for actual antique pieces has subsided, as such items continually butt up against code restrictions, manufacturers across the board are filling this niche with reproductions of Old World and Art Deco-style pieces.
“As for actual antiques,” notes Greg Rohl, director of marketing for Rohl LLC, in Costa Mesa, CA, “one may include an antique claw foot tub or sink, but between code requirements and the level of performance that consumers expect, contemporary faucets that provide a look which coordinates with the antique are preferred.”
“It’s really a grab bag out there,” adds Barendt. “Traditional design is still number one, although not in the way we used to know it. It’s really transitional, somewhere between traditional and contemporary. We’re seeing smoother and sleeker lines, but we’re adding a traditional flair to it. For instance, our biggest seller is a traditional J-shaped spout design, but with a contemporary look and finish. But we’re using it in combination with very traditional S-shaped, rope-detailed handle, which is seriously Old World. People are combining these looks, not just within the home but within the same bathroom. That was unheard of a few years ago.”
Conversely, Jon Spector, director of U.S. operations for Dornbracht USA, Inc., in Duluth, GA, sees greater demand for strictly contemporary. “As society approached the Millennium, there has been a tendency for people to nostalgically look to the ‘good old days.’ As we entered the 1990s, the market responded by seeking out the traditional styles of the past. However, now that the Millennium is upon us, we’ve found that consumers are re-thinking their tastes and preparing for the future. The result has been an increased interest in modern or contemporary design, with the new, sleeker styling.”
Hansgrohe’s Bieri notes that “While traditional reigns, at the same time, modern styling, such as our Starck line, which is very minimalist and European, is very much in demand.”
Concludes Mike Allen, senior v.p. for St. Thomas Creations, in National City, CA: “Consumers want everything to be available to them so they can pick and choose, and create their own unique style. People in the industry call this ‘eclectic.’ I just call it shopping.”
Style and color
A smaller skirmish is taking place within the traditional vs. contemporary design duel, pitting cross handles against double and single levers, once again with no clear winner emerging.
“For the bath, two-handle configurations are much preferred, particularly with more classic designs,” says Rohl. “Preference of cross or lever handles really depends on the faucet style. A country-styled spout may sell well with cross handles while a more traditional “C” spout would sell more with lever handles.”
Adds Bieri, “Single-handle [faucets] are on the rise, as most of our products are single-handle and doing quite well for us. But generally speaking, two-handle is the mainstay.”
“In the high-end segment, North American consumers have generally sought out three-hole fittings for their sinks,” says Dornbracht’s Spector. “Overseas customers have chosen single-hole faucets. Starting in 1997, however, each market has evolved toward the middle. There’s growing interest in lever designs. This can be explained by the general aging of the market and an increased sensitivity to accessibility issues. If one has arthritis or limited movement, the use of a lever style can make a world of difference.”
“The two-handle look with an eight-inch-wide spread and a spout is the deal right now,” notes St. Thomas’ Allen. “We came out with the wall-mount faucet, as well, which is very much from the old days.”
Barendt, however, disagrees. “As far as wall-mounts go, there seems to be a big difference between what people in the industry are saying and what they’re actually doing. I keep hearing about them, I’ve seen them at all the shows. . .and absolutely no one is requesting them.”
Among finishes, the oft-discussed non-tarnishing brass turned out to be a non-starter among consumers, according to most. “You know what?” laughs Allen. “Manufacturers are thrilled about it. . .and the consumers really don’t give a damn. We’re doing focus groups and market research for the next five years, so I threw in the whole no-tarnish brass issue. People said, ‘Yeah? So what? It’s supposed to last, isn’t it?’ In reality, brass isn’t any good, but if people buy it, they expect it to last.”
It’s with no small sense of irony that as soon as the quest for the perfect non-tarnishing brass finish came to fruition, consumer demand for pre-tarnished and even unfinished brass surged. “There isn’t a tremendous call for [natural brass] yet, but it is growing,” notes Allen. “People can to do whatever they want with it let the brass do it’s own weird thing, polish it, whatever. Mostly though, nickels and chromes are so neat that they’re what most everyone is doing now.”
Delta’s Barendt disagrees: “We introduced the Brilliance finish a few years ago and a lot of other companies followed suit. We’re still seeing a surge in sales there. However, we’ve recently introduced additional finishes using that same technology, [like] our pearl nickel, which plays upon our satin nickel. It takes that into the PVD realm, the no-tarnish technology, creating something you can clean with virtually any cleaner.”
Beyond brass, nickel and chrome are garnering the most attention, particularly in softer, satin finishes. Says Spector: “While traditional styles are still being ordered in brass tones, we’re seeing an increase in the polished chrome and our platinum matte for both traditional and contemporary designs.”
Above and below
A chorus of “pedestal lavs!” greets the question of which direction the bathroom sink is heading. Even in the master bath, the pedestal sink is gaining favor as storage concerns inherent in the application are addressed.
“We’re going into a mixture of new furniture applications,” says Tim Schroeder, president of Duravit USA, Inc., in Duluth, GA. “We’re in a transitional stage between the traditional vanity, the pedestal sink and the above-counter lav. Overall, we’re leaning toward the pedestal, with which we offer some sort of proprietary furniture piece a low or wall-hung cabinet as a storage solution. We’re in the china business, so for us to put a pedestal lav in the master bathroom, we need to offer something to compliment the ceramics.”
“Mainly we’re seeing the above-counter lav, with wall-mounted faucets to go along with them,” adds Steve Bissel, marketing manager for sanitary products for the Kohler, WI-based Kohler Co. “For the master bath, stylistically, the demand is still primarily traditional.”
But, as with faucets, Bissel notes that, “people are asking us to take those Old World styles and update them with a 1990s interpretation. Even with the extremely hot above-counter movement and its very dramatic pieces, it’s executed in a very olden style, almost Art Deco.”
Even the more conservative countertop sink application is getting a make-over in some quarters. With consumers willing to take more risks, manufacturers are able to expand their offerings. Notes Ed Felton, director of sales and marketing for Owen Woods, in Owen, WI, “We’re doing complete bathrooms in the Arts & Crafts style, which is so popular in the furniture industry. Around the sink, we’ve converted Mission-style furniture pieces from the late 1800s to early 1900s. To that we add the reproduced antique bowls, faucets and mirrors in brass tones.”
While declining somewhat in popularity, there is still much call for the integrated, solid surface sink, primarily due to its cleanability and ease with which it allows consumers to experiment. “There is a delicate balance between design and function that people are trying to attain,” notes Tripp Parker, national sales manager for Transolid, Inc., in Moorseville, NC. “Vanities with integral, under mount bowls help achieve this, allowing for a combination of different colors and shapes while providing an elegant transition into the bowl that is easy to clean. While the bowl remains predominately white or biscuit, solid surface enables people to expand their color options in the vanity top.”
Indeed, while the most popular materials continue to be ceramics and glass with the occasional design flourish, like Kohler’s cast iron vesseland sink heights have settled into the higher 34″ to 36″ range, the most noticeable change has been the explosion of colors and shapes.
“We’re spending a lot of time there,” says Bissel. “When we came out of the 1980s, it seemed to drain all the color out of the economy, and everything else. Now we’re seeing a comeback in washed, earthy tones of greens and grays, and at the same time, people are starting to make bolder choices, like our sunlight yellow. Simply by changing the palette on some items, you can make a very different statement.”
“We’re also seeing more traditional items done in bolder colors and shapes,” adds Schroeder. “Part of out Lavilette series, for example, is an asymmetrical vanity top done in cobalt blue. It’s very deconstructive, very contemporary and bold. People are starting to get creative, and that’s where the fun is in bathroom design these days.” KBDN
Dealers Note Greater Emphasis on Traditional
“When I talk to my clients I ask them, ‘Which bathroom in the house are people are going to see?’ [They say] the guest bath, so that’s where you want to pay more attention to what you put in.” So believes Cheri Antozak CKD, CBD, president of Interiors by Cheri of Grandville, MI, who, while in agreement with many bath sink and faucet trends expressed by manufacturers, nonetheless differs in the area of sink applications. “Unless we’re trying to create a vintage look, I’m not using pedestals. The problem is storage, so the only time we use one is if we want a particular look, and even then, we have to include a piece of furniture.”
“I’d say only ten percent of our business is pedestal sinks,” agrees Joe Caroli, owner of Caroli Kitchen & Bath Center, in Anmoore, WV. “We primarily see the vanities with traditional marble tops.”
Richard J. Rizzi, too, sees traditional designs dominating the market. The CKD and owner of North Country Kitchen & Bath, Inc., in Saint James, NY notes, “In my area, it’s very traditional in both the master and the guest bath. We’re very upscale, with a French Country or English Country look. In fact, I don’t even have a contemporary display up anymore. I took it down because it wasn’t selling.”
While Antozak acknowledges some demand for them, both Rizzi and Caroli note no call for antique reproductions at the present time.
White, bone and biscuit are the favored colors for the bowl among consumers, with yellows making some inroads, according to dealers interviewed.
While brass and brass/chrome combinations are still key for faucets in brilliant and non-tarnishing finishes, Antozak notes: “We’re using more pewter, brushed chrome, and a lot of other looks.”
Unlike other dealers interviewed, Antozak believes consumers are showing an increased willingness to take risks with new designs, as evidenced by a growing demand for both above-counter vessels and wall-mount faucets. “Our customers are looking for versatile items, like spouts that swing out of the way, larger bowls for giving baby a bath, that sort of thing. So we’re seeing sinks in all sizes, and faucets that have some function to them.”
However, one thing everyone seems in agreement on is that consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable when it comes to bath choices. “People shop around a lot more than they ever have,” says Caroli. “They go to 15 places instead of three. They’re a lot more educated.” And this, as much as anything, drives the market toward higher quality standards, she notes.
- n When it comes to bath sinks and faucets, transitional is in, defined by the increasing use of an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary styles, materials and colors.
- Everything old really is new again. Due to code restrictions, using actual antiques has fallen out of favor. But reproductions of 1920s & ’30s designs are an industry-wide trend.
- Pedestal lavs and over-the-counter bowls and vessels are out-pacing vanities this year, particularly for the guest bath. Vanities continue to be most popular for the master bath, but coordinated furniture pieces addressing storage problems are beginning to change this.
- An exploding color palette marks the most noticeable change in sink design, including the use of cobalt blues, warm earth tones in rose and green, and some yellows. Various shades of biscuit complement white and almond.
- Hand-painted floral and leaf designs are hot right now, both in the basin and on faucets and handles
- Non-tarnishing brass is falling out favor, making way for nickels and chromes in soft, satin finishes. Pre-tarnished and plain brass are also in demand. Cross-handles are slightly favored over levers, though the latter is gaining in popularity as Baby Boomers age.
- Consumers are recognizing the secondary bath
as an ideal place for making personal design statements without going to great expense, making it the newest showplace on the home tour.