Vanity Thy Name Is…
Furniture looks dominate today’s vanity market evident even
in the array of contemporary, transitional and retro designs while
glazed and painted finishes also remain strong.
By Daina Darzin Manning
The form and function of the bathroom has clearly changed over the
years, from a place to simply cleanse one’s self to a luxurious
dream space designed for spa-style relaxation, retreat and glamour.
And nowhere is this lifestyle trend more apparent than with the
advent of the furniture-style vanity.
Once, that look was the province of upscale, edgy designers, who
often took their clients to flea markets and antique stores to pick
out a vintage dresser, and then had it plumbed and fitted with a
sink and faucetry.
Now, brand-new, furniture-style vanities are available in every
style, price point and market, from hand-carved, hand-painted Old
World looks to sleek contemporary styles featuring chrome legs and
exotic veneers. And the trend seems to be increasing market share
every year, according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen &
Bath Design News.
The changing function of the bathroom has helped to redefine
today’s bath vanity with a focus on fashion over function. As Scott
Korsten, director of marketing services for Showplace Wood Products
in Harrisburg, SD notes, “Bathrooms are becoming bigger, more
ornate, more of a personal shelter where people can go into their
private area and enjoy the features they’ve put in.” It’s no
surprise, then, that unique, furniture-style pieces are
increasingly in demand as a way to personalize that space.
“Baths are going the same route that kitchens have gone,” states
Laurie Galbraith, design and training manager for HomeCrest
Cabinetry in Goshen, IN. “Rather than a functioning room, it’s a
retreat or display area. It’s an area where you can get away from
Furniture styling adds to that feeling of a personalized bath
sanctuary. “People want vanities that look like a custom-designed
furniture piece,” declares Kim Dunn, marketing publications
specialist for Wellborn Cabinet, Inc., in Ashland, AL.
Jeanine Laitres, sales and marketing administrator for Canyon
Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe, WA, adds that instead of the large
vanity with two sinks, couples are opting for two furniture-style
vanities, providing even more of a separate, individual space for
Manufacturers’ opinions vary as to the stylistic trends for
vanities. While some insist ornate Old World looks still dominate
in furniture-look styling, others believe contemporary, retro and
transitional work just as well, and are gaining popularity.
“Our customers have not come to us for contemporary looks,” says
Korsten. “Most of the things we’re doing are more traditional,
[with] legs, fillers, onlays [to] give vanities more of a furniture
Korsten adds that Showplace’s styles don’t evoke a particular
era, while Tom Skipper, v.p./sales for Habersham in Toccoa, GA,
cites Old World 17th and 18th century designs as popular for his
company. “We do a grand European [style],” he notes. Habersham
sometimes reproduces actual antique pieces, but most of the
company’s line re-interpretes themes from those eras.
Sandra Luttchens, director of design and training for Omega
Cabinetry in Waterloo, IA, cites “a lot of applied moulding and
intricate detail. We’re also seeing more distressing and antiqued
finishes Glazes are extremely hot right now.”
“I don’t really see it going as far as contemporary,” notes
Laitres. “It’s leaning that way, but I don’t think we’re completely
there yet. [But] I do find it’s leaning more towards the vintage
Galbraith sees “a backlash from all of the ornate and Old World
styling.” She cites “a little bit of retro, that clean Scandinavian
look” that evokes the Danish Modern furniture of the 1950s and
early 1960s as a hot up-and-comer. It’s a style that looks
particularly striking with a glass vessel bowl, she adds.
“We’re seeing three trends,” says Luttchens. “Old World, a
cleaner transitional look and a lot of paint or opaque finishes
with a beaded door, for more of a coastal look.”
But Marcello Marcantonio, v.p. of Irpinia Kitchens in Toronto,
Ontario, Canada, insists that “contemporary is definitely coming
back. Clean lines, slab doors people are looking for a very sleek
look.” Marcantonio cites furniture pieces with chrome legs as a
stylish contemporary look.
Another way to combine a furniture look with contemporary is to
attach the vanity to the wall, “like it’s floating,” says
Marcantonio believes the suspended approach can also work for
more traditional styling often matching wood species of the
cabinetry with a wood-framed mirror.
Finishes and woods
The clear, natural finish, a popular choice in kitchen cabinets,
has not translated to bathroom applications. There, paints and
glazes are still strong: for instance, Luttchens cites a pewter
glaze over a cream finish, a particularly attractive choice when
matched with brushed finish faucetry. “A lot of the door styles
have rope or beaded trim and that glaze really pulls those colors
out,” she elaborates.
“We’re seeing [more] earth tones. Those seem to be a lot more
prominent than the lighter pastel colors,” says Laitres, “darker
greens, brownish earth tones.”
Another prevailing trend is the heavy stain, which provides a
strong color but still allows some wood grain to show through.
Luttchens sees a trend towards darker colors like walnut and
On the high end, Skipper cites hand-painted finishes and
hand-painted art as a particularly striking look for a vanity. “We
have artists from all over the world to do those,” he reports.
Similarly, “our best seller has a lot of hand-carving,” notes
James Lin, executive v.p. of Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA.
“We have some country French, Italian and Bombay, [an Asian/Indian
As for wood species, maple and cherry continue to be strong
sellers, with oak making somewhat of a comeback. On the high end,
more unusual picks prevail. Marcantonio mentions exotic veneers
like pear woods, bird’s eyes and sycamore, while Lin cites knotted
pine and alder. “A knotted appearance gives a different look to a
cabinet,” he explains.
Topping it all
Naturally, the change in vanity style has greatly affected the
sink and vanity top markets and vice versa. Specifically, the
advent of vessel sinks has definitely affected vanities, those
surveyed report. “It allows [for] more of a creative flair,” thinks
Korsten. “We’re also seeing a fair number of decorative bowls that
are built into the countertops [with] designs built into the
Korsten notes that vessels are often paired with a wood top for
the vanity, an up-and-coming trend. Additionally, the vessel bowl
has led to lower vanity heights to compensate for the height of the
bowl: 31″ for a vessel versus 34″ for an undermount or
Galbraith notes that consumers are also adjusting heights to
reflect the heights of the homeowners. “It’s not uncommon to see
three different [heights]: his, hers and a make-up height,” she
The elaborate, luxurious trend in bathroom design is often
exemplified by a granite or marble top for the vanity. “People are
more willing to spend money on the tops,” notes Korsten. “It speaks
to the whole concept of putting more money into the bathroom.
They’re upping the budget in all kinds of areas.”
For those desiring that look, but one with a higher durability
factor, manufactured stone products are making strong inroads in
the bathroom. “Quartz products in the bath area are a new thing,”
believes Gary Kroll, v.p./strategic planning for Transolid, Inc. in
Mooresville, SC. “It provides the look of granite, but it’s
stronger and it doesn’t have to be sealed.”
Manufactured stone provides a consistency to the grain, and a
large surface with no seams which is particularly good on a large
surface such as the top of a traditional,
two-sink, built-in vanity. Quartz products are also available in
colors not found in natural granite, Kroll elaborates. “There’s a
half-dozen popular colors that most people stay close to, but we
have many more color options than the granite industry has you can
go further afield if you want to.”
But Laitres notes that most people don’t want to go that far.
“[People want] colors that blend,” she thinks. “I’m not seeing a
lot of drastic and dramatic color differences.”
“There’s very light to very dark and everything in between as
far as colors go,” thinks Galbraith. “That painted look is very
popular, and the distressed look.”
A mainstay in the kitchen, the stainless steel countertop, is an
upscale adventure pick for a contemporary bathroom, Galbraith adds.
It’s a particularly striking look when paired with a modern-looking
For those to whom function is key, solid surface countertops
remain a popular pick because of their durability and the capacity
to include an easy-to-clean integrated bowl.
One downside to the furniture trend is the comparatively smaller
amount of storage available in the vanity itself, which has
prompted both consumers and manufacturers to come up with new and
“It’s the same situation as with a pedestal where do you put all
that [stuff]?” laughs Galbraith.
Many solutions exist, however. “We see continued strong use of
tall vanity cabinets,” says Korsten. The free-standing armoire is
another strong trend, providing additional storage for towels and
grooming products while adding to the furniture look of the
Alternately, a built-in linen closet can take care of the
storage issue. For the bathroom adjacent to the master bedroom,
consumers may also elect to store towels and the like in the
Overall, the furniture look has given rise to the suite of
furniture for the bathroom a look that sometimes even moves into
the master bedroom for a unified look. “You can take the drawer
bases and move them right into the bedroom as dressers,” says
Luttchens. “We’ve also got linen [storage] 48″ high, with or
without the mirror.”
Lin, on the other hand, insists his company’s furniture-look
vanities feature a lot of storage, so additional pieces may not be
necessary. “Functionality is very important, not only the
superficial [appearance],” he notes.
“There’s still plenty of room for built-in storage,” echoes
Counters Luttchens: “A lot of times, people are willing to
sacrifice storage for looks these days.”
But, whichever option a homeowner chooses, today’s market is
sure to provide a perfect solution for the ultimate stylish bath,
manufacturers concur. KBDN