Fashion Sense

Whether working on a complete bath remodel or a simple "refreshening" job, bath accessories and hardware provide a great way to update the feel of the space and create a more fashionable and coordinated look.

Equally important, bath accessories can provide greater ease of use, increased storage and enhanced safety.

One of the greatest selling points of bath accessories and hardware is that they can help consumers achieve a more updated look – even if they're not yet ready to invest in a full remodel.

"We call it ‘remodeling-lite,' says Tim Bitterman, group marketing manager for Creative Specialties International, a division of Moen, in North Olmsted, OH. He says homeowners are looking for their accessories to do it all – offer storage, style and even safety features.

Homeowners are also becoming more practical, he adds. "It is less about showing off and more about sensible styles, problem-solving products and thoughtful design," Bitterman offers.

The Perfect Match

Manufacturers agree that demand for coordinating hardware is growing in the bath and throughout the home. Many homeowners are also looking to ‘re-invent' their rooms with small renovation projects that will create a more satisfying space and unify the design.

"Investing in small changes that make a big impact, such as tying together a bathroom with coordinated hardware, from the towel bar to the to the cabinet hardware, is a perfect place to start," says Jessica Wolma, director of marketing for Amerock, in Atlanta, GA. "These types of projects are expected to continue fueling the need for a wide variety of finishes and styles to more easily coordinate across multiple categories."

Given the choice, "homeowners will select bath accessories that match the finish and design of the faucets and other fittings to coordinate the appearance of the room," says Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing for Danze, in Woodridge, IL. "Unique finishes have emerged in hardware and accessories and often lead the way for faucets and other room elements to follow."

Simplicity is key for most, according to Stacey Singer, sales & marketing director for Alno, in Sylmar, CA. "The trend seems to be streamlined toward effortlessness in appearance and sophisticated sleek in style," she says. "Contemporary and transitional styles are hot."

Finishing Job

The ever-growing array of finish choices provides designers with great latitude in creating baths for every style and taste. But while finish choices abound, classic chrome is still king according to research from Moen, which shows chrome representing 47 percent of the total bath market today. Stainless steel and brushed nickel come in second at 37 percent, and oil-rubbed/Old World bronze come in third at seven percent – a number that has actually doubled in the past few years.

As the finish and style coordination of bath hardware continues to influence product design, Wolma says the availability of finishes, styles and sizes across current and existing collections of hardware is expected to increase even more. "Design trends continue to evolve," she says. "As bath cabinets continue to increase in size, so does the demand for larger knobs and pulls."

In addition, Wolma says consumers are looking for the latest in unique finishes that include color layering, providing a rich textured element to decorative hardware.

Charles Fishman, president and owner of Cool Lines USA, in Pompano Beach, FL, says his company is starting to see manufacturers applying finishes on modern-style faucets and accessories that were exclusive only to traditional designs just a year or two ago, such as some satin and oil-rubbed bronzes and brass.

"A contemporary product in a bronze finish is definitely a trend for 2011 and beyond," Singer says.

Danze has introduced a Tumbled Bronze finish that Detgen says is very unique in the market. "This finish option is softer than a distressed bronze and looks as if it has texture," he explains.

Jerry Bougher, marketing manager, Accessories, for Kohler Faucets, in Kohler, WI, notes that while the trend is leaning toward contemporary styling, "there is still a strong desire for traditional products. Some are even putting traditional finishes on contemporary products, such as polished or matte gold," he states.

While aluminum is gaining some use in decorative hardware, Bougher says it is not yet prevalent in bath accessories. "That may change, however, as material costs continue to increase," he says.

He also adds that colors are making a strong presence in Europe, and predicts that same trend will reach the U.S. in the next year or two.

Age-Old Questions

Products that promote Universal Design and sustainability are also in demand, as are products that can incorporate these without sacrificing aesthetics.

"As the average age of homeowners rises, thoughtful, designed-in conveniences are appreciated by the homeowner," Detgen says. "As far as bath accessories go, ease of use and accessibility are high on our design consideration list."

Bougher says that while products that promote aging in place are increasing in popularity, users don't want the products to scream, "Look at me, I'm old."

"There is an increasing need for these types of products, but they need to be tastefully done and offer the consumer function with a non-obtrusive design that they will not be embarrassed to have installed in their bathroom," he remarks.

Singer sees aging in place as an opportunity to design and create bathroom accessories with high-end aesthetic appeal that also promote greater functionality. Alno has launched ADA-compliant decorative grab bars in contemporary and transitional styles with a high-end look. "Who says if we need a grab bar to provide us with freedom and independence that it can't be a stylish designer-friendly product?" asks Singer.

Sustainability also continues to have a strong influence in the bath, and manufacturers agree that consumers are looking for sophisticated products to enhance their homes not only with style, but with eco-friendly features.

"As demand for environmentally sustainable products grows and evolves with consumer taste, products that can't compete at this level are either removed from the market, or forced to change their manufacture and design," says Wolma.

What's New?

Up and coming, Singer sees shapes and styles heading towards ovals, squares, rectangles and possibly even triangles. "Recycled materials are a plus; incorporating glass elements in design is the future, and for a little extra sparkle, crystal is a must," she says.

Euro-style simplicity will continue to be a strong trend, particularly when space is limited, manufacturers agree. Detgen notes, "Smaller-house footprints usually mean less area for bathrooms. Products such as double towel bars and robe hooks that can be placed in concealed spaces help maximize storage/space."

Bitterman says some of the newest products from Moen are designed to solve common problems in the bath. "Our Double Curved Shower Rods offer extra elbow room in the shower, add style and offer additional space for hanging towels or to separate the decorative shower curtain from the liner," he says.

What's Next?

Looking ahead, consumer needs and wants will continue to shape future product trends and, according to Singer, "Customers want high-end, exquisite craftsmanship, innovative functionality, and museum-quality products. They want to create the spa experience within the home."

Bougher reports that Kohler plans to keep expanding on the products it offers in each accessory collection to allow homeowners to customize their bathrooms and give them that spa-like environment they continue to desire.

Singer believes that future trending will also focus on all aging-in-place products with a high-end designer quality fashion. Bougher also sees more aging-in-place products making their way into the bathroom space, as well as greater ease of installation for products.

Fishman, meanwhile, says it is inevitable that there will be additional focus, development and use of more environmentally friendly products.

"Integrated products and those that help solve space and storage issues…with style" are the future, according to Bitterman. "In addition, the bathroom is becoming the center for health and wellness, so products will need to accommodate Universal Design and other well-being aspects in addition to stylish design," he concludes.

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