Furniture Flair

The bath balances two identities within the modern home: a hub of practical daily activity, and a quiet retreat.

“Bathrooms are growing in size, trending toward a tranquil spa environment and an ever-expanding variety of uses,” says Jeff Ptacek, CKD, product manager for Sioux Falls, SD-based StarMark Cabinetry. “Add to the mix that customers want something unique – a reflection of their personal style – and the result is the growth of nontraditional storage options.”

Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News report this multidirectional shift in bath vanity design and storage options is partly due to the changing nature of how the home is viewed as a more permanent asset than it was a few years ago.

“The economy is a factor,” adds Steve Wilcox, director of product development and marketing for Cerritos, CA-based Sagehill Designs. “There’s always going to be a common need for innovative products that will get the attention of our sales force, wholesale buyers, and ultimately, the end consumer. But the x-factor is that these products also need to be considered a value at whatever price-point. This is no easy task, especially when you consider the economic environment. We foresee a more conservative environment for the near future and we see this affecting styling trends, as well.”

A home’s resale value is not the goal as it may have been in previous years; custom solutions rise to fit changing circumstances and the specific tastes of the homeowner, manufacturers note.

“The current trend is toward predominantly furniture-styled pieces in a definitive thematic context. Customers seem to want to achieve specific design themes in their bathrooms, as opposed to previous trends that were a bit more neutral in overall design aesthetic,” says Chris Stookey, director of engineering and product management for Liberty Lake, WA-based Huntwood Industries.

Custom is king, agrees Eric Joseph, marketing manager for Newark, CA-based Ronbow Bath Furnishings. “A customer always wants something that is specifically for their bathroom, and that is a tough requirement to meet. We make sure most of our bath furnishings are modular, meaning you can use multiple pieces to achieve the size and/or style you are looking for. Providing as many options as possible is key.”

Sandra Luttchens-Van Allen, director of training and communication for Jasper, IN-based MasterBrand Cabinets notes, “There has still been a call for personalization and customization this year, however we’re seeing a more ‘back to the basics’ approach – products made to last that blend with existing décor.”

Style Savvy

Manufacturers surveyed note that past trends such as cleaner lines, smarter, more efficient storage and the rise of vanities-as-furniture has continued.

“This year’s trends toward bathroom cabinetry seem to be a mix of contemporary and traditional. We like to call it ‘Neo-Classical,’ which is a traditional cabinet with some contemporary features,” notes Joseph. “Neo-Classical is for those who don’t want the radical contemporary design but want a step up from standard traditional design.”

Wilcox notes that the current market is keeping many companies in closer touch with the consumers’ realistic needs and wants.

“Our styles are more traditional, but there is a common theme of casualness in whatever specific style the customer chooses,” he says. “Our contemporary styles also have this casual theme. We are not taking any extreme positions regarding style, but rather providing thoughtful product designs that reflect the way consumers are living at the moment.

Transitional – the flexible style that bridges the gap between traditional and contemporary – has seen a strong upward shift.

“Transitional furniture style is still leading the market for us,” notes James Lin, president of Buena Park, CA-based Fairmont Designs’ bath division.

Others are finding that providing a range of options across style categories is playing it safe. “Contemporary versus traditional styling is a very personal decision, and we see them both in demand,” says Jennifer Lee, director of marketing/fixtures for Woodridge, IL-based Danze.

Still others see the continuing dominance, or possibly even a return to dominance, of traditional styling.

“While there are always new trends coming in and going out, what remains is still predominantly traditional storage in the bath, in terms of both style and design,” says Karen Wistrom, ASID, v.p./marketing for Howard Lake, MN-based Dura Supreme.

“We like to provide our customers with options,” adds Wilcox. “We offer a variety of features that allows the dealer to ‘customize’ our products after the sale, such as dual-height legs or interchangeable door panels for wood or glass, for example.”

Luttchens-Van Allen believes the economy has tempered individual themes from rivaling more traditional styles. “We’re seeing a variety of cabinetry – from minimalist modern to nostalgic traditional to Arts & Crafts. People are choosing to remodel their bathrooms in this economy, and are looking for styles that complement their homes’ existing décor,” she says.

Furniture, Form & Function

When asked if the market is demanding more furniture-styled vanities and storage cabinets from manufacturers, Stookey’s response is the norm: “Definitely.”

Lee notes: “Furniture-style cabinetry is definitely among the most popular we’re seeing in the market. It provides a very finished, warm look to the room. In many cases this style of cabinetry adds extra storage to the room. More and more homeowners seek out free-standing furniture-grade vanities instead of built-in cabinetry that appears to be their kitchen cabinet extension. Well-designed bath furniture provides character and style to the room, and smart solutions to accommodate storage needs.”

‘Bath furniture,’ as it is coming to be frequently called, brings the idea of the bath as a room to be furnished like any other in the home, and new styles reflect that sentiment, according to manufacturers.

The number of products available in this segment has been growing for some time. “It’s quite easy to find pre-designed furniture styles that complement a home’s interior details and provide concealed storage, as well,” notes Luttchens-Van Allen.

“This is definitely the trend that has gained the most steam in the last 18 months,” says Wistrom. “It’s not a fad; furniture details like turned columns, legs, feet and others are here to stay.”

“Feet and leg treatments are more commonplace, with open-shelving, reminiscent of bookcases or end tables in other spaces around the home,” adds Ptacek.

“Open shelving continues to grow in popularity and, if done well, can add a wonderful sense of décor to the room. It provides a natural space to display items and add a finishing touch,” says Lee. “However, it can’t be at the expense of having enough closed storage options within the pieces. Homeowners still demand a lot of storage in order to maintain a clutter-free environment.”

Which may explain why manufacturers such as Lin typically think of this type of storage as more appropriate for powder rooms, rather than master baths. “It is really only good in certain segments and types of infrequently used baths,” he adds.

Luttchens-Van Allen agrees: “Open shelving is more often seen in guest or half baths rather than master or children’s baths. High use bathrooms are better served with closed storage to keep the space looking neat and tidy; open, more decorative details are often found in lower traffic bathrooms. The exception to this is sleek, contemporary styling, which still lends itself to open shelves for exposed, color coordinated towel storage and minimalist decor.”
The compromise is a mix of open and closed storage to give the display space a transitional touch while preserving the privacy of one’s toiletries.

“Many homeowners like the look and décor options that open storage provide, but they still need the functionality of closed storage for a clutter-free environment,” Lee notes.

Americans like their toiletry items, but want their clean lines and surfaces clear, agrees Ptacek. “Taller vanities are good for this type of storage, as well as specially designed enclosed storage that has internals that pull out for complete organization of things like cosmetics, curling irons, toiletries, etc.,” he says.

Stains & Grains

Certain trends are harder to pin down, among them colors, stains and wood species. These seem to take a particular slant depending on the location, personal taste and price point of the product.

“Finishes are running the entire spectrum – from natural, to deep rich chocolate tones, to painted. It’s about personalization and the overall feeling or atmosphere the client is trying to attain,” says Luttchens-Van Allen.

“Colors for vanities seem to be more painted than in previous years. Distressing is gaining popularity, but I personally don’t see it as much in the vanity segment of the business,” adds Lori Seykora, director of customer service and training, Showplace Wood Products in Harrisburg, SD. She mirrors Luttchens-Van Allen’s thoughts on dominant wood species: “With the market as tight as it has been, we see cherry and maple sales continuing to dominate.

However, oak, being a lesser price point, seems to be the draw right now.”

Ptacek agrees with the assesment of maple and adds: “Alder is our fastest growing specie.”

Maple is a natural winner, says Wilcox. “It is a beautiful wood, finishes well, and is well recognized by consumers. Perhaps this is due to the more conservative nature of the market at this time.

“Regarding stains and finish treatments, we see a general trend toward darker tones, and we still see the need for unique physical and finish distressing. We use finish effects like dry-brushing, fly-specking, cow-tailing and other types of actual physical distressing to accent the overall look of the vanity,” he says.

Though Lin and Lee agree about the popularity of dark finishes, Lee notes that what makes the assessment of color trends difficult lies in the personal x-factor of the consumer. “Stains and colors are such a personal preference, but we have seen many homeowners gravitating to warmer, darker colors or more exotic veneers such as Zebra. We see increasing offering in Zebra veneer, from very restrained to very wild in pattern.”

There has been an uptick in unusual wood species requests, as well.

“We’re still seeing a dominance in maple, European beech, alder and cherry wood species, though we’ve seen significant increases in the use of black walnut, ribbon-cut African mahogany and bamboo, particularly in veneer-slab door styles,” comments Stookey. “When going with an unusual wood specie, most customers trend towards natural or lighter stains that don’t diminish the inherent drama found in the wood,” Stookey adds.

“As more contemporary pieces gain popularity, so do the darker finishes. Our Dark Cherry is one of the company’s most popular finishes,” stresses Joseph. A lot of our black pieces are gaining sales wise, as well. We just released a new finish called Antique Black, which is a matte black finish with some antique distressing, and it is selling very well.”

Future Furniture

Although the future is difficult to measure even during stable years, it is doubly difficult in turbulent times. Those surveyed by KBDN had optimistic predictions for both the industry and the future of bath vanities and storage cabinets in particular.

“We expect to see a proliferation of ‘pull/roll-out’ accessories. Though open storage has gained in popularity, the ergonomic benefit offered through ‘pull/roll-out accessories’ seems to have strong appeal to the end user,” says Stookey.

Ptacek agrees and predicts that the trend will move toward fewer actual cabinets, and more uniquely customized storage solutions will develop.

Joseph conjectures that the evolution of bath storage will only grow in importance to consumers. “That said, our focus will be to design cabinets with plenty of drawers and shelves, but with the clean lines of design.”

“Adequate storage is important in any bath environment, and the basics won’t change radically in the near future,” says Wilcox, who notes that quality and customization will be the driving concerns for manufacturers going forward.
Lee sees the trend in customization as empowering the designer and consumer to think outside the box, literally. “There will be more thoughtfulness in bath storage design. Rather than conventional shelves that divide the interior space of a vanity, we’ll see more side pockets on the door panels that allow easy access to everyday essentials. Also, organizational trays with handles in both front and back that allow the homeowner to organize things standing up will rise in popularity. Other unique storage solutions, such as the vertical double-tier pullout ‘spice rack’ drawer that provides easy access to must-have products [may come into play].”

“Open storage will remain big; showing towels and baskets in those open areas is the way things are going,” notes Seykora. “People are tired of the old closed-looking vanity that you can purchase anywhere. They want a unique piece that fits their lifestyle and décor. Vanities of the present fit that bill,” adds Seykora.

Luttchens-Van Allen notes: “I see multifunctional storage features becoming more important, as well as a renewed interest in lasting quality and sustainability. Personal time is considered a luxury, and future bath products need to reflect a world of escapism while providing practical accessibility to utilitarian items.”

For more Bath Vanities and Storage Cabinets, please visit Products Gallery.