Calming Waters

What’s new in bath sinks and faucets? There’s no one, simple answer to that question. Today, design trends in bathroom sinks and faucets vary dramatically depending on geographic location, with regional trends having a decided impact on market choices.

What’s hot in the Northeast is often passé in the West. What the urbanites consider chic may not be en vogue in the cosmopolitan areas. Add to this mix a very tough economy, which has led to more people renovating older homes rather than building new, and you have an eclectic mix of styles turning up in bathroom sinks and faucets.

“From the global economic downturn and the collapse of the U.S. housing market to political uncertainty about a new president, consumer confidence is down,” says Judy Riley, v.p. of design for Moen in North Olmsted, OH.

“And because American consumers are anxious, there is a psychological need for escape.”

Of course, there’s no better escape than the bath, and that means consumers are focusing on creating bath havens that are soothing, comfortable and comforting, with bath faucets and sinks that feature warmer finishes and softer styling.

SOFTENED STYLES

As is the case so often in tough economic times, consumers are turning toward the familiar comfort of traditional styles, although the “soft” contemporary look is also gaining momentum.

California Faucets has seen an increase in contemporary and minimalist design over the last couple of years, but also a resurgence in traditional in the past six months. “We’re seeing the blending of traditional and contemporary design, including unexpected combinations such as a rustic finish on a contemporary faucet,” says Noah Taft, California Faucets’ senior v.p. of marketing and sales, in Huntington Beach, CA. “Our interpretation is that consumers want a modern look, but don’t want to give up their traditional roots.”

Michael Wurth, director of design for Danze in Woodbridge, IL, says that as many people renovate older homes, traditional design is in demand. “We see people asking for very ornate styling or simpler traditional design,” he says.

“More design options are popping up that have a very eclectic mix of elaborate, rich traditional detailing and simple lines like those seen in contemporary styles.”

ROHL’s Traditional Collections – Perrin & Rowe and Country Bath and Kitchen – have had continued success for just this reason, the company notes, and the company recently launched the Vincent Series, a trans-modern/transitional collection, due to the increased interest in that style. Offers Lou Rohl, COO/managing partner of ROHL, in Irvine, CA, “Transitional design allows designers and consumers to have greater flexibility when designing a bath.”

SOFT SELL

While the traditional end of the spectrum continues to be hot, the soft contemporary movement has been the fastest growing trend, according to Judd Lord, director of Industrial Design, Delta Faucet Co, in Indianapolis, IN. “The forms have clean lines, but with softened edges,” he says. “There is an understated elegance achieved through nature-inspired forms that are often biomorphic in nature.” More people are identifying these types of contemporary softer geometries and environments as casual, which is a slight shift from a few years ago when casual had a bit more of a traditional flair.

Naomi Neilson Howard, president/CEO of Native Trails, in San Luis Obiscpo, CA, is also seeing a marked trend toward the soft contemporary look, with an emphasis on products that are aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. “Our newest copper sink designs exemplify this, such as Palisades, an apron front lavatory sink made out of recycled copper that pushes a bit to the contemporary side, but also fits in with other design styles,” she says. “It is a fairly modern design that combines both soft and hard edges with a warm hammered texture.”

Soft contemporary is popular right now because “products in this style offer the clean, minimal look for which contemporary is known, but in a softer version that offers greater flexibility in what materials and products will work well in that same space,” says Nicole Wittwer, senior product manager for color at Kohler Co., in Kohler, WI.

Jody Rosenberg, national sales manager for the Sunrise, FL-based Sonia, has noticed a push for transitional, contemporary and modern designs across the nation. “Even in traditional areas, we have seen sleek lines and designs grow in popularity,” says Rosenberg. “For instance, sink curves are getting looser and more sculptural. I think, overall, people are more inspired by a clean, clutter-free space that favors contemporary style over being ornate.”

Some markets have seen a rise in the clean, contemporary products, according to Hal Weinstein, founder and president Xylem Group, “but transitional design still rules the day,” he adds.

SINK STATEMENTS

Sink trends seem to be defined as much by personal taste as by any specific style. And just as with design styles, consumers are choosing to mix and match.

“We have seen pedestal sinks grow in popularity in the last couple of years,” reports Rosenberg. “However, instead of the traditional pedestal sink that is very formal, people are looking for clean, minimalist and modern pedestal sinks.”

Wittwer claims that “wading pool” lavatories are gaining in popularity for their look and functionality. “Wading pools possess the look of a vessel with the functionality/ease of installation of a drop-in,” she says.

Vessel sinks tend to make a stronger visual statement, while undermounts make for a cleaner look and easier clean up, according to Lord. “More attention is being paid to the drains in these sinks as well, as they are now designed to be much more integrated or even nearly invisible, making for a unique appearance and a clean, uncluttered look,” Lord adds.

FINISH THE JOB

Whether it’s the psychology of the poor economy or merely a fashion statement, consumers are turning to that warm, comfortable feel when it comes to faucet finishes.

When discussing faucets, chrome remains the top-selling finish at Grohe, however, brushed nickel has now become a very close second. “We offer brushed nickel in most of our lines, of course, but another important finish in traditional/Old World designs is oil-rubbed bronze,” says Al DeGenova, director of marketing communications and training for Grohe, in Bloomingdale, IL. “Black and white are coming back into the bathroom; 20 years ago, these were top-selling bath faucet finishes and we’re seeing interest growing in these colors once more.”

Lord has also noticed that warmer finishes such as brushed bronzes and warm, brushed gold tones are starting to trend dramatically upward. “One of the appealing factors for these types of finishes is not only do they work on more traditional types of designs, but they also play very well on the clean, contemporary geometries of fixtures and accessories. Whether the bathroom space is contemporary or traditional, the color palette has continued to warm over the past several years and this latest trend of warm gold and bronze tones has found a nice balance between these two worlds,” says Lord.

While in architecture, nature patterns highlight the popularity of natural materials and colors inside and outside of buildings, Riley says that in the faucet arena, that translates into matte, brushed and distressed finishes.

Taft admits that chrome and satin nickel have always been top sellers, but now polished nickel is moving up in terms of market share. “While polished nickel has always been popular, it’s becoming even more popular because of the extra warmth and elegance it offers,” he says.

ECO-FRIENDLY DESIGNS

Whether it’s removing toxic chemicals or conserving water, consumers are more conscious than ever when it comes to sustainability and eco-friendly living.

“Water conservation seems to be top of mind for homeowners these days – as long as the perceived performance is not affected,” says Wurth. Water-saving faucets are growing in popularity with the encouragement of the EPA WaterSense program. By converting lav faucets to meet WaterSense requirements, water savings of more than 30% over the products they replace can be realized.

Moen stands behind the importance of water conservation, but the company is also concerned about protecting the “experience” of water. “We will not introduce a water-efficient product that does not meet high-quality performance standards,” affirms Riley.

This is an ideal echoed by Danze. “We’ve been able to maintain the integrity of the design and performance of our products, yet offer them in a water-saving option,” says Wurth about Danze’s product conversion.

Another way Danze is helping homeowners improve their home’s water consumption is through a new Low Flow Aerator Kit. The kit enables homeowners and builders to retrofit existing Danze lavatory faucets that are already installed in the home. The new aerator changes the flow of the faucet from 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) to 1.5 gpm.

Delta Faucet has made a decision to make all of its lavatory faucets water-efficient by reducing its flow rates to 1.5 gallons per minute. “In the bathroom, we found you simply don’t need that much flow to perform most tasks required,” says Lord. “From a selfish standpoint, we enjoy it as designers, as it allows us greater control over the water aesthetics as it’s exiting the faucet.”

Environmental compatibility is becoming key in the decision-making process, offers Neilson Howard. “People are taking responsibility for taking care of their planet,” she says.

“People will always be more apt to buy a product if it’s eco-friendly,” says Rosenberg, who notes that Sonia’s fireclay sinks are crafted from recycled fireclay. “And every little bit helps. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent green, but it is important that it is created from recyclable materials.”

For more Bath Sinks, Lavatories and Faucetry, please visit Products Gallery.

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