Vanity Fare

On the heels of a long stretch where renovation and remodeling projects took a back seat to conservative spending and personal restraint, consumers are beginning to spend once again. Bathrooms especially, being of smaller size and usually a smaller budget, are the focus of much of this new spending.

While plumbing and fixtures are seen as the jewels that adorn the space, it is often the vanity that acts as the focal point. Current tastes dictate vanities that are more streamlined, with the beauty of the piece emulated in the wood grains and finishes rather than ornamentation.

“It appears that great opulence is not the fashion for the North American consumer,” stresses Steve Wilcox, product designer and spokesperson for Sagehill Designs, in Cerritos, CA. “The styling and design of interiors in general reflects this more conservative approach.”

Consumers are moving away from ornate traditional units at higher price points to a cleaner, more casual look with great functionality at good values, agree George Tsai, chairman, and James Lin, president, Bath Division, Fairmont Designs, in Buena Park, CA.

Wilcox notes that because consumers are becoming more informed, responsible and thoughtful of the products they buy, bathroom designs are now more restrained in scope and budget.

“Consumers who are shopping for products need the perfect balance of style, quality and value to be enticed to make the purchase,” he says.

Smooth and Simple

The trend toward cleaner, smoother lines in the bath reflects what is being seen throughout the home with regard to cabinetry, reports Scott Korsten, marketing director, Showplace Wood Products, in Harrisburg, SD. “I can only guess it has something to do with homeowners making changes that they feel simplify their lives,” he says.

“The master bath, in particular, is their oasis from the world around them that at many times feels out of control and uncertain. So, making the room feel comfortable is a priority,” he stresses.

Jacob Goren, president, Empire Industries, in Paterson, NJ, agrees that vanities are becoming much more contemporary, with very, very clean lines – smooth and simple. “All of the antiquing and handcarving is gone,” he reports.

“Many styles now are hybrids, choosing the best design elements of several styles,” says Wilcox. “If I had to give them names it would be ‘Casual Traditional’ and ‘Casual Contemporary.’ These have an element of the traditional or contemporary, but they are dressed down and more approachable. Rigid period styles are less meaningful at the moment, with perhaps the exception of a Craftsman or Arts and Crafts style.”

Many bath vanities are designed to look like standalone pieces of furniture, which aligns with the trend of the bath having the feel of a living space, according to Rod Brewer, v.p., marketing and product development, Mid Continent Cabinetry, in Eagan, MN.

“This type of bath vanity looks like it was a piece of furniture taken from another room in the house,” explains Naomi Neilson Howard, founder and CEO, Native Trails, in San Luis Obispo, CA. “For instance, the antique white, distressed finish and country charm look of Native Trails’ Savannah looks like it could belong in a living room or study.”

Dura Supreme is seeing a strong trend in furniture-styled vanities that use turned posts to create a freestanding look, according to Karen Wistrom, ASID, v.p. of marketing, Dura Supreme, in Howard Lake, MN.

Goren’s take on the popularity of vanity legs is a more contemporary one. While he notes that legs are still very popular, he cites his company’s line that features legs with stainless steel on the underside as the style that has really taken off.

“Stainless steel legs paired with a simple lined vanity in matte or gloss” has enjoyed significant success, says Goren. “Gloss is definitely coming back; we saw this starting to come back three or four years ago.”

The Full Spectrum

Consumers often take bigger design risks in the bathroom because of its smaller size – “with more dramatic use of color and style,” says Wistrom. Whites, blacks and brighter colors are all finding their place in the bath.

“I know a few companies that have introduced different colors and are doing very, very well with them,” says Goren. He reports that they work especially well in kids’ bathrooms, where there people are more daring and there is more of a demand for unusual colors.

“I don’t know how long that trend is going to last, but there is demand for multiple colors,” he stresses.

While espresso was hot for a while, this year white and black and everything in between are being used. The right color choice can make the room warm and inviting or stylish and dramatic.

“Whites and shades of white are great colors to use with the aqua, watery spa-colors in tiles, towels and wall paints to keep the bath looking crisp, clean and fresh,” says Wistrom.

Taking it to the other extreme, black vanities are also becoming more popular. “Black can contribute a distinct elegance to a bath while adding a spa-like sense of calm and serenity,” says Neilson Howard.

Lin agrees that black is hot, noting that Fairmont Designs has had success of late with its Mirage collection, which is done in a black distressed finish with antiqued glass mirror on doors and posts.

“Dark colors enable the customer to play with intense and dramatic looks that they wouldn’t necessarily risk in a larger space, but are comfortable with in a smaller one,” comments Wistrom.

“Today’s finishes are medium and darker in tone, with names like Cognac, Tobacco, Chocolate Cherry, Merlot, etc.,” says Wilcox, who adds that equally important to the color are the details that go into a great finish, such as glazing and other physical and finish-distressing effects. “These additions really make a finish stand out from the rest.”

He notes that some lighter finishes are appearing as well, with some attractive textural finish effects. “I am also starting to see some styles that make liberal use of architectural references,” he says.

From a materials standpoint, woods with a more subtle grain pattern – such as maple and cherry – are doing well.

Neilson Howard agrees that vanities made out of stained cherry are creating a stir lately. “Cherry wood is known for its high-quality grain and rich color, making it a great candidate for a nature-inspired bathroom vanity,” she says.
Exotic veneers – bamboo, zebrawood, vertical grain fir, etc. – are also coming on strong in the bath and powder room.

Mission Organization

While style is high on the wish list, functionality is just as important. Homeowners realize they may be spending more time in their current home than they originally planned. The seven-year starter house may now be home for 15 to 20 years. Therefore, it is incumbent to make the space more livable, more functional.

“[Homeowners want] durable cabinet construction, a select choice of materials, ample and flexible storage options, a selection of matching mirrors and accessory pieces to complement the vanities, and ample surface area on which to work,” says Wilcox, who adds that modular components are also a flexible option dealers are looking for.

“This influence means [homeowners] are increasingly likely to add organizational features to the space; cutting out clutter and keeping the space visually appealing go hand-in-hand when developing bath designs,” says Korsten. “For couples, having his-and-hers vanities is also a priority, providing space for both to ready themselves in a more time-efficient manner.”

Where two vanities are used, there is often a taller wall cabinet dividing the space; this cabinet may have organizational drawers near the bottom and a door with shelving for towel storage above, according to Korsten.

Pedestal and wall-hung lavatories are also on the rise. “This means that the designer needs to be more creative in their design of case goods to provide adequate storage,” Korsten notes.

The vanities themselves are likely to include some type of convenient storage option, as well as ample counter space, particularly for master baths, according to Neilson Howard. “Self-closing drawers are coveted by some, while others prefer shelving – simple, open shelving for holding towels – or cabinet doors to hide cleaners or utilitarian items.”

Dura Supreme even has a cabinet with a full door that pulls-out to reveal storage for curling irons, flat irons and hair dryers so that the counter surface is not cluttered with these items and their cords.

“In addition, we are seeing more roll-outs being used in bathrooms, along with open towel storage, which adds a nice ‘pop’ of color in the bathroom,” says Wistrom.

Goren agrees that open shelving is extremely popular. “Open shelving gives homeowners extra space,” he says. “We offer a lot of vanities with an open shelf on the bottom.”

Other innovative features include LED lighting in vanities or wire management in lit medicine cabinets.

But, above all, drawers with soft-close glides, and doors with soft-close hinges are quickly becoming the standard.

Consumers are starting to insist on extremely high-quality hardware, including the best drawer slides, hinges and soft-closing drawers, concurs Goren.

“Any units not equipped with these features are not up to expectations,” says Lin.

“The vanity used to be the most important part of the bathroom, but it was cheap,” says Goren. “Now, people are looking for quality, and are willing to spend as long as they can see the quality. It’s something they really can feel and see."

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