The Personal Touch

When it comes to kitchen sinks, faucets and water accessories, kitchen and bath designers and homeowners all want the best of both worlds. Beautiful yet functional, traditional yet modern, personalized yet professional, the trends in this category are as diverse as the two "Best of Both Worlds" hit songs (one by rockers Van Halen, the other by pop princess Hannah Montana).

The growing trend toward flexibility in kitchen appliances is increasingly evident in the water center as well, with consumers seeking personalized configurations that suit their needs, whether they be for a water purification system, instant hot/cold water dispenser, pull-out faucet or unusual sink shape or configuration.

"The ability to have a kitchen that is both functional and beautiful is not so much a trend these days as it is an expectation," says Judd Lord, industrial director of design, Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN. "Customized kitchens, much like those found in commercial spaces or custom homes, are more accessible for homeowners of all categories based on increased product offerings from many manufacturers and smarter product design."

He notes that designers at Delta Faucet have noticed a trend shift toward blending architectures and finishes outside "category" lines in the kitchen segment.

"The merging of traditional styles with modern influences is a red hot trend in the design industry in 2011," says Lord. "Today's consumer is looking for the charm and character of older homes with the upgrades, technologies and conveniences of a modern home."

Personalization is definitely a hot trend, agrees Christy Emens, marketing communications specialist for Blanco, in Lumberton, NJ.

"Homeowners realize that ‘anything goes' in home décor, and their eclectic styles can differ to their hearts desire," says Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing for Danze, in Woodridge, IL.

Semi-Pro Styles

While the trend toward greater simplicity may have toned down the trend toward highly commercial-looking products at least somewhat, there's still plenty of demand for high-quality professional-style products, according to manufacturers.

"With the fusion of everything from food styles at restaurants to personal style, homeowners want their homes to be a reflection of their individuality," explains Ann Rottinghaus, marketing communications manager for Elkay sinks + faucets, in Oak Brook, IL. "Many homeowners not only select items for their kitchen based on style, but they want to ensure they are getting a high-quality, durable product that will stand the test of time. It is one reason why professional-grade products gained popularity in the home."

While some believe that there is a movement away from professional-style kitchens, Rottinghaus has noticed a different trend. "One trend we see changing slightly is the scale of some of the professional-style kitchens. With home sizes continuing to shrink, many homeowners are looking for products that may be slightly smaller in scale to match with the overall scale of their home," she says.

"Right Sizing" is the new buzzword, according to Diana Schrage, interior designer at the Kohler Design Center, in Kohler, WI. "It applies to all areas, from selecting your products to choosing your pets," she says. "[Consumers are asking themselves] realistic questions like, ‘How do we really live?' and ‘What do we really need?' and this is helping them feel good about their selections."

Pulling Out the Stops

A rethinking of the professional-style kitchen is yielding sleeker, simpler, smaller-scale designs when it comes to faucets, many industry insiders agree. However, that doesn't mean sacrificing function, they note.

"You will be seeing more pull-outs hidden into a sleek faucet design," confirms Emens. "The result is a faucet that looks like it could go in any room, not just a kitchen."

Detgen notes that Danze continues to add innovations in pull-out and pull-down functionality, and has added a "pause" feature to many of its faucets. "All push-buttons and faucet heads are being ergonomically designed" for ease of use, he reports.

This is in keeping with several trends, including Universal Design. Awareness of the need for universally designed products has increased dramatically in the past several years, states Schrage. "This awareness has focused attention on many products already in the marketplace whose features and benefits may not have been noticed or appreciated before," she notes.

Because many consumers are choosing to "age in place," product designs need to be inviting, according to Dave Domanski, senior industrial designer for Moen, in North Olmsted, OH. "This not only requires them to be simple to use, but also stylish," he says.

"When it comes to kitchen faucets, this translates into handles that are approachable and communicate their function, as well as forms that are easy to clean."

Among the designs getting a second look with regard to Universal Design are single-lever style and touchless faucets.

However, stresses Domanski, it isn't all about function. "Products aimed at assisting the aging population must maintain a fresh visual appeal and be current with other décor style trends to avoid stigmatizing a person's health and safety needs in the home," he remarks. And that's where finish plays a significant role.

Finish Line

While chrome, stainless and satin nickel are still the most popular, other finishes are also coming into play as homeowners look for items that can personalize their spaces.

Oil-rubbed bronze has captured market share in recent years, doubling its numbers in the past few years, according to Domanski.

Rottinghaus sees trends moving toward more natural and organic finishes, like oil-rubbed bronze and antique copper hammered. "They add a subtle warmth and interest to the kitchen," she offers.

Emens, however, notes that she's seeing a lot less oil-rubbed bronze faucets and more interest in faucets with color accents. Blanco is experiencing early success with its color accent faucets as well. "These are metal faucets with color Silgranit accents that match the sink color," she explains. "They blend in while they stand out." Another plus – they show fewer fingerprints. "If you're staying put, cleanability becomes more and more important."

"We are noticing increasing popularity of solid black finish faucets," adds Joseph Hutko, marketing manager for Everpure, in Milwaukee, WI.

Conservative Thinking

One factor that's impacting faucet choices is water-saving capabilities. Although water-saving standards for the kitchen are not yet mandated, several manufacturers are already moving in that direction. When it comes to flow rates, most faucets meet the industry standard of 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm), but some take it a step further.

Delta has developed pull-out kitchen sprays and wands with Multi-Flow technology that provides consumers with a choice of water flow rates based on the task at hand. For ordinary tasks, the standard flow rate is a water-efficient 1.5 gpm for spray and stream modes, a savings of up to 32% over the industry standard of 2.2 gpm. A push button on the underside of the wand boosts the flow of the aerated stream from water-efficient to full flow when more water is needed. The user can then press the toggle button to return to the standard 1.5 flow rate.

Elkay has also added an array of low-flow kitchen faucet options and all of its existing faucets exceed the national requirements for lead-free design and meet the national standard for water conservation of 2.2 gpm. "We also offer faucets that are California AB1953 and Vermont S152 compliant," says Rottinghaus.

Meeting stringent state regulations is becoming another huge trend in faucets. Danze recently converted its entire line of kitchen faucets over to meet the low-lead requirements of California and Vermont legislation.

Nantucket Sinks' faucets are California code compliant for lead and the company will continue to pursue high-efficiency faucets for the future, according to Drew.

Kohler has increased its portfolio of water-saving and environmentally friendly products over the past few years, according to Schrage, and is now offering water-savings products in all of the categories within the EPA WaterSense program.

While the industry seems to be in agreement on the importance of water conservation, "Unnecessary regulation on water flow, for instance, is not always the most productive way to encourage thoughtful water use," says Rohl. "Educating consumers on options that are also environmentally sensitive is key."

Filtering the Facts

One of those options is filtering systems. Consumers are realizing the health and environmental benefits of incorporating a fully integrated filtration system into their kitchens, and education is an important component of this trend.

As a growing segment of the population becomes more aware of the environmental impact of plastic bottles in landfills and waterways, company's such as Everpure continue to innovate with new filtration products that will reduce bacteria, viruses and chemicals that may be in residential drinking water.

"We are definitely seeing an increased demand for drinking water systems for residential use," says Hutko. "We see this market continuing to grow in North America and globally for the foreseeable future."

Rohl believes that consumers also need to be educated on the filter systems themselves. "Not all filtration options are necessarily healthy," he says. "Reverse osmosis, for instance, can pull important, good minerals out of water, reducing the healthy benefits to teeth and bones." He adds that it's also important to look at whether a filtration system is truly integrated or if the water is still subject to contamination.

Get in Sink

When it comes to kitchen sinks, stainless steel continues to command the largest percentage of the U.S. market with an approximate 69% overall share as compared to granite, vitreous china, acrylics and other materials, according to statistics provided by Ken Fey, v.p./COO for Houzer, in New Brunswick, NJ. "The entire kitchen sink market in the U.S. hovers annually at approximately 4.9 million units and $935 million at distributor costs," reports Fey.

"Stainless steel sinks command approximately 3.3 million units and over $500 million in market share."
One of the many reasons for this, according to Fey, is that "stainless steel is an extremely hygienic material, perfectly matched in a sanitary environment where foods are prepared. It also ages very nicely with heavy use, and scratches can be buffed out fairly easily going in the direction of the grain."

While stainless steel will always be popular, to really differentiate a kitchen design, some consumers are looking at alternative materials such as fireclay and copper.

"An alternative material is often used for the prep, or secondary sink, to add interest and warmth," says Naomi Neilson Howard, CEO/founder of Native Trails, in San Luis Obispo, CA.

"The feedback we receive when customers are contemplating a fireclay, copper or stainless steel farm sink is the cohesion in the overall kitchen design," adds Drew. As a result, designers will use panels on built-ins to create a consistent or complementary appearance. "In these applications you may find more bold accessory accents such as oil-rubbed bronze," he says.

While stainless still controls the market, the composite granite market continues to grow, according to Emens. "Granite sinks are accessible in price, while offering long-term durability and quality," she says.

As part of Elkay's ongoing effort to provide more color options within the kitchen, the company now offers 19 sink finishes, including stainless steel, antique copper hammered and composite materials such as e-granite, as well as faucets offered in 18 different finish options ranging from stainless steel and copper to black and white.

"For Elkay, residential sinks are most often ordered in stainless steel, followed by composite materials like e-granite, hammered copper, and fine fireclay," says Rottinghaus.

Houzer continues to see a preference for larger single-bowl kitchen sinks, without any divider. This permits room for larger cooking items such as cookie sheets or oversized pots and pans.

Another strong trend, according to Fey, is custom-fitted chopping boards and rinse baskets that work with the kitchen sink. "This allows for temporary workstations over the sink, making cleanup much easier and containing any errant food scraps, etc.," says Fey. The Houzer product line has dramatically increased both larger single-bowl units as well as accessories in response to this trend.

For sinks, the key is adding functionality without adding too much depth, according to Emens. "Deep sinks are wonderful for fitting in pots, but they also are difficult for older homeowners," she says. "Multi-level sinks offer the best of both worlds."

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