This is probably a ridiculously busy time of year, and you’re probably seriously focused on getting clients’ projects completed before Thanksgiving. Before you know it, though, you’ll be scheduling 2024 kitchen and bathroom starts, so investing a little time now to keep up with current trends will pay dividends in the new year. This month, we’re taking a look at fixtures and faucets around the house. These pros have taken time to share their insights:
- Bobby Dean, plumbing and hardware merchant with Southern California-based multi-showroom luxury retailer Pirch;
- Sherri Drew, v.p. of design studios for national builder Tri Pointe Homes;
- Seattle-based interior designer Tristan Gary;
- Decorative Plumbing and Hardware Association’s marketing director
- Christoph Lohr, P.E., v.p. of technical services and research for the plumbing industry association IAPMO Group;
- Chief technical services officer Tom Palkon from IAPMO R&T.
Before looking at styles, finishes and technologies, it’s helpful to take a macro view of trends that impact these developments. When it comes to fixtures and faucets, water issues have the greatest effect. Conservation is high on that list, with states like California restricting usage, and drought an ongoing concern, especially in the West. Tri Pointe, which builds in drought-impacted California, Arizona and Nevada, among other states, offers WaterSense faucets to its homebuyers, Drew comments. Since each faucet uses 20% less water, “everyone who purchases a Tri Pointe home is contributing to water conservation,” she proudly notes.
It’s worth considering that California’s massive market size gives its codes influence far beyond the state’s boundaries. “New regulations have changed how manufacturers make their products. The car wash shower (with multiple outlets running at the same time) is a thing of the past,” Dean declares. “Flow restrictors have been added to all components to bring the GPM down to 1.8, and now there are new lead laws that have gone into effect just in California, requiring vendors to use different brass than they have used in the past,” the retailer observes. Given that the state has 13.2 million households, its codes influence production more broadly, both for efficiency and for the likelihood of other states adopting similar rules.
Lohr points to reduced flow rates, gray water recycling, specifying WaterSense-certified products and rainwater storage as relevant trends, but notes, “The biggest water conservation for residential faucets and fixtures is ‘right-sizing’ water systems.” Our homes don’t use water like stadiums, but that’s how they’re sized, he explains. “Not even during the holidays, with family and friends at home, do the bathrooms have lines like halftime!” he muses.
Using actual usage data, builders can reduce the size of pipes serving faucets, leading to quicker hot water delivery times, reduced water waste and lower construction costs.” Right-sizing the system also improves water safety, he adds. “Changing to higher-efficiency fixtures without accurately calculating pipe sizes in new residential construction can create water stagnation situations that increase threats from microbe growth and increase the time for hot water to get to showers and faucets.” Good to know! Glazer expects to see a greater focus on sustainability when Millennials and Gen Z take larger slices of the homeownership pie.
Water quality is another pressing concern and tied in with a growing public wellness focus. A recent U.S. Geological Survey showed that close to half (45%) of American homes’ tap water is polluted with hazardous forever chemicals (particularly the PFAS and PFOA from the popular 2019 film Dark Waters). Lead issues have also gotten headlines, with Flint, MI being only one high visibility case. Last February’s train derailment in East Palestine, OH also raised concerns about spills possibly poisoning local water sources.
All of these headlines are prompting specifiers to suggest adding filtration systems and devices to their clients; no one wants to breathe toxins in their wellness-inspired steam shower or guzzle them while hydrating post-workout. “Consumer interest in home water treatment continues to grow with reports of lead and PFAS in drinking water,” Palkon shares. “Design and construction professionals can help inform consumers about options for point-of-entry or point-of-use water filters. Look for water filters that have been independently tested and certified by reputable organizations,” the plumbing expert advises.
Glazer sees aging as another wellness-related trend worth watching. “I believe there has been huge growth for walk-in baths across the country,” she says. Aging is also showing up in grab bars tying into product lines and, likely, in a well-to-do older generation’s interest in hydrotherapy, steam and sauna products.
The goal of most primary bathroom designs is “creating a harmonious and tranquil atmosphere,” Gary shares. To achieve this ambiance, she’s incorporating more handmade finishes, living brass elements and waterfall fixtures. “With the advancement of steam showers and home saunas, the decision to opt for a larger shower over a bathtub is becoming more common and is no longer seen as a significant compromise.” The Seattle designer is specifying steam showers with chromatherapy, aromatherapy and sound therapy to achieve the desired relaxing or invigorating effect. Customizable shower experiences, built-in connectivity and speakers, and touchless toilet technology also enhance her wellness projects. Dean says Pirch clients are opting for app-driven steam shower systems to make their morning routines more efficient.
Tri Pointe’s home buyers are also opting for fewer tubs, Drew says. “We are, in general, seeing a desire for larger luxury showers in [place] of tubs.” When they do opt for one, they’re going for soaker, rather than jetted, models. “Many customers have commented on the maintenance and cleaning of spa tubs,” the building company designer observes.
Pirch’s clientele seems less concerned, possibly because of a greater likelihood of having housekeepers. “Tubs with different therapies such as air, whirlpool and even microbubbles are popular,” Dean comments. “The newest trend is cold plunge systems so you can have true spa hot/cold therapy at home,” he adds. Like Gary and Drew, he sees tub sales fading a little with sophisticated showers dominating.
When it comes to the vanity area, Gary is still seeing square white undermount sinks trend (along with Dean and Drew), but also integrated sink-countertop units. Wall-mount faucets are trending, too, she says. Dean is seeing customized, mixed finish faucets and larger sinks and textured finishes for emphasis, he notes.
After primary bathrooms, powder rooms are typically the sexiest and most seriously designed in a home. “They can be a one-off and an unexpected moment of joy or drama. This includes the sinks and faucets we use,” declares Gary. Since they’re such statement spaces, she opts for unique sculptural designs and even custom-made sinks. Also, because there’s only one of everything, you can indulge in luxurious materials that could strain a primary bathroom budget. “Powder rooms are a canvas for creativity!” she declares.
Dean agrees: “It’s amazing how many colors, textures and materials are available to you to fully customize your faucet or sink combination. Concrete, brass, stainless, plated finishes, powdercoats, knurling and coin edge textures, natural and manmade stones etc. – the possibilities are endless!”
Drew observes that her firm’s homebuyers want user-friendly options. Among them are faucets that can be turned on with an arm or elbow, a good hand sprayer, and low maintenance, fingerprint-resistant finishes. “Hands-free is still a major trend and does not seem to be fading. On the other hand, voice technology for faucets is not as popular, as homebuyers don’t see value in it versus the simplicity and speed of touch faucets.” Gary is a fan of the faucet pedal option as a functional, user-friendly alternative. She is seeing smart technology integration, multi-functionality and specialized water products like on-demand hot and filtration being key faucet trends, though she agrees with Drew that there are some issues with ease of use for some of the voice-control models on the market.
Sink trends are split between workstation and apron-front styles, she says. Composite stone materials are popular for their durability and low maintenance and bar sinks are getting snazzed up with hammered nickel or copper. Pirch executive Dean reports that workstations are the majority of his stores’ sales, with related faucets getting larger or even getting specified in pairs for the wider basins.
When it comes to kids’ bathrooms, “We have a lot of requests for two-in-one showerheads that include the removable handheld feature and preclude the need for a separate handheld shower,” Drew shares. “Customers claim this results in easier showering with children and provides a better way to help clean the shower.” Dean is seeing more bright colors in kids’ bathroom plumbing products. Gary favors antimicrobial and touchless in these spaces.
With regard to laundry rooms, faucets are making more statements than in past, utilitarian years. “Homebuyers typically like to have consistency of design in their homes and the vast majority follow suit with finish and style carrying from the kitchen to the laundry, currently making matte black and champagne bronze the most popular finishes in the laundry areas as well,” Drew shares. “We are seeing some introduction to a warmer antique brass finish that is coinciding with warmer wood tone trends that are coming back into play this year. A faucet with a high arch and a hand sprayer is most desirable in this location for use with the laundry sink.”
Gary is also seeing more style in the laundry room than in earlier decades. “Available in matte white, black, various metal finishes, larger sizes, bridge styles, and perhaps even vibrant colors, these faucets are stepping into the spotlight. After all, if you find yourself hand-washing laundry, why not have a faucet that brings a smile to your face.” Why not indeed?
Professionals in our industry are paying attention to how technology can make our lives and our clients’ lives healthier, safer and easier. “I think smart home technology will only become smarter and more powerful, and I believe more decorative plumbing manufacturers will build it into their products,” predicts DPHA’s Glazer. At the same time, there’s probably a limit, she asserts. “I think there is a point where consumers say too much information is just that – too much. Do I really want my toilet yelling at me to eat more fiber? Probably not.” Same here, Kym!▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an author, wellness design consultant and NKBA Chapter Presenter. Her third book, Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster), published October 1, 2020. Learn more about her Wellness Market presentations, books and consulting services at jamiegold.net.