Water Effects

As a new generation of architects, builders and homeowners emerges, so, too, does a new set of trends. Clean contemporary designs, natural sustainable attributes and ease of functionality are the earmarks for the latest crop of products making their way into the bath. This is especially true in bath faucets, which focus not only on water conservation, but on water delivery systems that mirror the flow of water in nature.

Likewise, bath sinks are showing cleaner lines, more organic forms and natural materials that tie into the trend toward sustainability.

Ziggy Kulig, CEO of Graff in Milwaukee, WI, sees a preference for bath sinks and faucets leaning toward contemporary designs, and believes this has to do with the green movement being spearheaded by the younger generation.

“The up-and-coming generation of homeowners wants to simplify their lives and their surroundings, and they stay away from overproduced products that don’t have a good story and a purpose,” he explains.

Farshad Tafazzoli, founder and president of Zoli in Boca Raton, FL also confirms growth in contemporary styles for the bath. “Globalization and travel are exposing Americans to nontraditional designs,” he says. “The younger the target audience, the less likely they want what their parents had in the house.”

While transitional continues to be the largest seller due to its versatility, the greatest impact is coming from the growing penetration of contemporary style as a percentage of sales, according to Hal Weinstein, president of Xylem Group in Cumming, GA. “We are seeing some markets where this is now 20% of the market, where it used to be only 8% a few years ago. Younger buyers, the European influence and loft conversions are just some of the things that are driving the contemporary style.”

“There is a strong emphasis on spare, clean architectural design with a contemporary European look. European style brings the minimalism to many contemporary designs,” confirms Ed Detgen, v.p. of marketing for Danze in Woodridge, IL. “Geometric shapes, clean lines, simple design overall: The combination of those elements with some of the beautiful finishes can bring a striking look to a bathroom.”

While minimalist European style has a strong influence on products preferred by this next generation of homeowners and designers, the group is also drawn to a more natural look and feel with regard to these items.

“Our designers, both here and in Europe, draw inspiration from the natural and the built environment,” says Kulig. He cites Graff’s Luna collection as an example of a nature-inspired product, as its gentle curve is meant to emulate the sliver of the moon it’s named for.

Eden Bath also draws inspiration from nature for its bath sink designs. “Our sinks are very focused around organic shapes, and the materials used to create them are natural materials such as stone, wood and copper,” says Shawn Gusz, sales & marketing director for Eden Bath in Puslinch, ON, Canada.

Gray Uhl, director of design for American Standard in Piscataway, NJ agrees that a lot of today’s product design inspiration is coming from nature. “Home fashion is changing as more people take a closer look at all of the choices they make and the impact those choices have on the world around us,” he comments.

Drawing upon nature is a great way to bring a subdued, calmer, softer look or feeling to a room, according to Detgen. “Whether it’s through a warm finish, such as oil-rubbed bronze, or through a natural water flow through the spout, these are ways to subtly, but elegantly, impact the design of a room,” he states.

Making the Transition

While contemporary is seeing a lot of activity with regard to bath sink and faucet design, traditional remains strong as a perennial seller. However, transitional is still garnering the largest share of the market right now.

“We continue to see a lot of interest around transitional style, both in plumbing products and overall room design,” comments Lou Rohl, COO/managing partner of Rohl in Irvine, CA. “Transitionally styled spaces work well because they offer a classic, enduring look that can be updated effortlessly.”

“In these current economic times, many homeowners are fixing up and doing ‘repair and replace’ instead of total remodel,” Uhl adds. “The transitional style allows for a personal eclectic statement. The homeowner can update while they replace.”

Most transitional designs, however, are an interpretation of a style that has already been established on the market. “Real ‘clean sheet’ designs are few and far between, and many of these are not accepted in the marketplace due to their uniqueness,” says Weinstein. “People have a tendency and a preference to purchase things that have staying power and look familiar, so this tends to limit the amount of truly unique designs that get to market.”

Designers can add a singular detail or create an architecture not often seen to provide visual interest in the bath without going over the top. Because it’s somewhat unique to the viewer, just applying a simple twist along the length or profile of a common arching spout can provide the right touch, according to Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN.

“There is often a hint of Art Deco or Art Nouveau influence found in this vein,” he explains, “and objects such as this become quite transitional and can be pushed toward one end of the style spectrum or the other depending on the finish in which it’s presented. Both of these directions rely on simplification and feed into the eclecticism now completely accepted in interior design, really allowing one to bring their own personalities into the space while keeping the ‘visual clutter’ down.”

It could be argued that, today, the definition of transitional is changing. According to Lord, “Five or so years ago, the definition of ‘transitional’ encompassed objects with a bit of a traditional flavor and detailing, but not completely formal traditional. Today’s objects tend to have cleaner lines, leaning more towards the contemporary end of the spectrum.”

Lord continues, “While designers continue to reinterpret familiar architecture in fresh ways through form, finish and texture, the desire for less visual clutter is now driving a cleaner, more minimalist approach to designing interior objects. Today’s life in general is busy and hectic, with a tremendous amount of sensory overload. This trend toward simpler and crisp, clean lines provides a bit of a calming effect within our sanctuaries.”

However, Lord stresses that crisp, clean lines do not translate to stark, geometric Euro-inspired designs. “Instead, a lot of what we’re seeing could be termed more as ‘soft contemporary,’ for example, designs that are nature inspired or more biomorphic in nature,” he comments.

“This brand of contemporary fits quite well into the ‘transitional’ style heading as well. These more contemporary-leaning designs, whether geometric or nature inspired, are often coupled with warmer finishes such as brushed bronzes and brushed nickels to bring an even friendlier, more inviting feel to the space,” he adds.

“Within modern, the direction is away from a stark, linear look toward a soft, simple and sleeker look,” concurs Ji Kim, industrial design manager for Moen in North Olmsted, OH. “Called ‘Soft Modern,’ it’s not hard and cold, but friendlier, warmer and easier to work with in the bathroom.”

Stylish Sinks

“Natural” and “modern” are the hottest buzzwords when it comes to bath sinks, with sustainable materials and natural looks gaining in popularity.

While vitreous china is still the number one choice in sinks, according to Weinstein, the more natural stone and glass remain strong alternatives.

“Glass and bamboo are newer materials that are entering the bath,” says Uhl. “Both are being used in dramatic new ways, but have a historical reference that is appealing.”

Even natural-looking sinks are becoming trendy, manufacturers agree. Gusz confirms that Eden Baths’ “organic-looking” sinks are the company’s most popular. “We’ve had great success with our Infinity Pool sinks which, much like an infinity pool, have a flat edge that the water runs over before it gets to the drain. It’s a very modern design.”

Aside from sustainable materials, Weinstein says there is another material to keep an eye on in the future. “Resin will be a factor in the coming years due to its versatility in being able to be designed into almost any shape and its ability to stand up to the harsh elements in the bath environment.”

Finish and Form

When discussing faucet finishes, polished chrome and polished nickel continue to lead the market. “They are easy to keep clean, their shine lasts and they coordinate with whatever other materials are being used in the bath, which makes them the most popular in the contemporary realm,” offers Kulig.

“Still, many homeowners prefer the ‘softer’ finishes, with brushed nickel leading the way,” notes Detgen.

Kulig sees a resurgence in satin finishes, which “give a slightly softer feel to a room.”

For more traditional or transitional rooms, Kulig is seeing a lot more requests for antiqued finishes such as antique brushed nickel, antique copper and antique brushed brass. Oil-rubbed bronze is also very popular for traditional rooms, he notes.

“Warm bronzes – especially those with a slight reddish or rose undertone and a brushed texture – work particularly well on the new products coming onto the market, complementing today’s popular wood tones and grains being seen on vanities and granite and other surface materials,” explains Lord. “These warmer finishes help to soften the geometry of the products themselves and add to the inviting nature of the space. It allows one to have less visual clutter without appearing sterile.”

“Bronze brings a warmer feeling that echoes nature in a familiar and comfortable way,” concurs Uhl.

Danze recently introduced a Tumbled Bronze finish that Detgen notes is a “softer alternative to the typical oil-rubbed bronze finish.”

A few surprising finishes are making a strong showing in the bath faucet market as of late. Gold and brushed bronze finishes are noteworthy, according to Kim, and aged brass is also making a statement, says Uhl.

In addition, nonmetallic finishes are catching the eye, including the ever-popular white and black. “White finishes blend seamlessly with other porcelain textures in the bathroom and make a nice addition to chrome fixtures,” states Kim. “The combination of white and chrome helps all of the elements in a bathroom come together.”

Likewise, black retains a classic, elegant appeal, and therefore remains perennially en vogue. “We’re seeing black and white more and more in stylish bathroom designs,” states DeGenova.

In addition to making a statement through their style and finish, today’s faucets are being designed to deliver water in a whole new way. Today’s faucets deliver water in much the same way nature does – in a swirling, waterfall-type flow.

“We’ve seen more homeowners gravitate to natural water flow in their bath faucets,” notes Detgen. “Laminar flow and other more natural ways to see and dispense the water add to the beauty of the design.”

“Our most popular faucets are still the waterfall faucets by far,” confirms Gusz. “Waterfall faucets typically have a wide spout where the water is spread out in a sheet, much like a waterfall. People absolutely love them.”

Fixtures of Responsibility

The move toward sustainable products and new regulations, such as California’s AB1953 bill, are changing the way manufacturers are creating their faucets. And as a result, it appears that lead-free, water-saving, and EPA WaterSense-compliant faucets are here to stay.

“Green has moved beyond a trend…it’s become a way of living,” confirms Detgen.

Kim believes that, moving forward, water saving will be less of an option and more of a mandatory measure.

Many companies have already converted their lavatory faucets to be water saving, providing the WaterSense standard of 1.5 gallons per minute, all without sacrificing performance. “That’s a water savings of 0.7 gpm, or 32%, which goes beyond the already conservation-minded 2.2 gpm standard mandated by the Federal Energy Policy Act of 1992,” reports Noah Taft, senior v.p./marketing and sales for California Faucets in Huntington Beach, CA.

As for what's on the horizon, Lord believes “smarter” faucets and tub/shower systems will be entering the market soon. “They will give users greater control over turning their faucets on and off, conserving water (which in many cases is heated), which in turn will help save energy,” he comments.

Products are being tailored to take advantage of the same performance with less material and water use, according to Uhl. “Above-counter sinks hold less water, but bring the ‘task area’ closer to the user,” he explains. “WaterSense faucets can now be designed to have a more sophisticated, ‘tailored’ look. We see this trend as only gaining ground. Conservation is the only way forward for all of us."

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