Elegant Accents

A bathroom isn’t complete without the accessories – the towel ring by the sink, grab bar in the shower, decorative mirror, toilet paper holder and more. Each has its own specific function, but together they share an important task – to pull the bath together and make the overall look more cohesive and polished.

The wide array of products available offers designers plenty of options, both in style and finish, but the real trick is tying them together in a coordinated, balanced fashion, say manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

As the overall design of the bath becomes simpler, so follows the design of accessories and hardware. “Whether it’s traditional or contemporary styling, many homeowners are gravitating toward clean, simple lines in their décor,” says Michael Wurth, design director for Danze, in Woodridge, IL. “Newer products tend to be simpler in design, lean and slightly smaller in scale.”

Andrew Shannon, marketing specialist for Milwaukee, WI-based Graff, agrees. He sees a trend toward cleaner lines and simple designs, with sleek and more artistic elements to maximize space, with minimal interruptions.

Adrienne Morea, president and creative director for Atlas Homewares in Los Angeles, CA, says, “I don’t think homeowners want the hardware to ‘take over’ anymore. The concept of it as ‘jewelry’ is sounding passé to me…. It’s earned its own ‘life’ as great hardware with style!”

Coordinated Style

Hardware and accessories are the icing on the cake – the finishing touches that pull a whole look together. As such, these products must be coordinated throughout the bath. “As accessories, they follow the style of the overall design, be it contemporary – clean lines [with] polished chrome finishes, or traditional – ornate carvings [and] antique brass finishes,” says Raymond Lombardo of Afina Corp. in Paterson, NJ.

“I think a lot of homeowners are building a look based on one great piece they find first: for example, a fabulous bathtub or vanity. The hardware and accessories need to complement the great piece, but not steal the show. That’s why transitional works so well,” Morea says.

Noah Taft, senior v.p./Marketing and Sales for Simi Valley, CA-based California Faucets, says the faucet sets the tone of the space. “People don’t pick out a towel bar, a toilet paper holder or a mirror and then pick the main fittings; it’s the other way around,” he says. “The accessories and the hardware afford you the opportunity to make everything match.”

Lou Rohl, COO/managing partner for Rohl Luxury Faucets and Fixtures in Irvine, CA, says consumers are looking for a complete suite approach, and accessories are a major part of accomplishing that. The Perrin & Rowe Collection, for example, offers bath racks, soap trays, double tumbler holders, shaving mirrors, towel rings and more to complement the line’s faucets. “It’s our goal to make it a seamless process for consumers to get a polished look for their bath,” says Rohl.

Jaclo Industries, based in Cranford, NJ, takes a similar approach. CEO Larry Brodey says “People go with our decorative hardware because when they are looking for new fixtures to match existing ones, we offer the finish that will make all of their accessories match seamlessly.”

Along with the importance of a seamless style comes a need for flawless functionality. “[The] function of these pieces is critical,” says Wurth. He uses mirrors as an example, stating that providing storage within mirrors is a huge advantage. “Homeowners can’t get enough storage,” he says.

An often overlooked yet must-have accessory is the towel ring near the basin, Taft adds. Placement of the ring is essential to good design and functionality. “People want that near the sink,” he says. “A good design is going to have something accessible so you’re not washing your hands and walking across the bathroom to dry them.”

Design Shift

When it comes to the design trends in accessories, regional differences certainly come into play. While many manufacturers still see a strong trend toward traditional styling, they also agree contemporary is taking hold, even in non-metropolitan areas.

“Traditional still dominates, but I believe contemporary is gaining,” agrees Taft. He sees a filtering of contemporary designs into more suburban areas, and sees another interesting trend, of contemporary lines in natural finishes used more often than in traditional designs. “You might see a really minimalist towel bar, but you’ll see it in oil-rubbed bronze or copper,” he says.

He believes this may be due to the fact that people in other parts of the country are more comfortable with rustic and natural finishes, but want to branch from traditional into contemporary. “This is a way for them to have their cake and eat it, too,” he says. “Oil-rubbed bronze and weathered copper make you feel a little more at home, but like you are also daring enough to dip into contemporary,” he adds.

“In more metropolitan areas, the trend is toward contemporary, architectural styling. However, with a surge of renovating older homes, estate homes, lake homes, etc., many homeowners prefer more traditional styling,” Wurth says.

Brodey agrees. “As always, the contemporary products are doing best in the metropolitan areas and major cities, while the traditional products are still doing extremely well in other parts of the nation,” he notes. However, he has seen a growing demand for contemporary accessories featuring simple volumes and clean, sleek lines.

For Rohl, traditional looks with spa-like designs are still the focus in master suites. “Our consumers travel the world and then come home wanting to re-create the spa-like experience they had abroad. They want the Old World feel with all of the modern conveniences,” says Rohl. He also expects to see a greater interest in the firm’s Michael Berman Collection, which he refers to as “Trans-Modern design” – a softer, warmer version of contemporary, inspired by the streamlined modernism of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

Transitional design is the bridge between traditional and contemporary, and is a growing design choice according to Morea. She adds, “There are also more literal design trends continuing to gain popularity such as nature-driven designs and sculptural forms, but I am leaning toward transitional looks for 2009.”

Finishing Up

Finish trends are holding steady, according to manufacturers, who note polished chrome is still popular, as are brushed and polished nickel. Wurth says Danze also sees a great demand for oil-rubbed bronze, and a rise in distressed finishes as well.

In keeping with the idea of the bathroom being coordinated throughout, Taft says hardware and accessory finishes are the same as for faucets. He cites continued demand for satin nickel, polished nickel, polished chrome and oil-rubbed bronze, and is also seeing a slight uptick in weathered copper.

“We continue to see strength in our Satin Nickel, English Bronze and Antico Brass finishes, which support a trend we’ve identified called ‘Villa Romantica’ – a unique combination of Old World panache and modern technology,” Rohl notes.

Other manufacturers are seeing greater demand for the polished finishes. “Brushed nickel is taking a back seat to polished chrome and polished nickel, the former working well in bathrooms that need an icy-clean modern feel and the latter working well in the bathroom with a ‘warmer’ feel,” Morea says.

Shannon agrees, stating, “Stainless steel and polished nickel are leading the way in finishes.”

Attractive Accessibility

As the population ages, elements of Universal Design are more essential than ever. “Products that allow homeowners to elegantly age in place are typically top of the list of ‘must haves.’ At Danze, we use Universal Design principles and guidelines in every product we produce,” adds Wurth.

The need for functional products that allow consumers to stay in their homes longer cannot take the place of style, however. Manufacturers are well aware of the need for fashionable designs that also meet the accessibility needs of the user.

“We believe Universal Design and beautifully, authentically crafted faucets and fixtures do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Rohl says.

While the aging population drives the need for products that increase accessibility, designers still need to be conscious of the style their consumers want. “Baby Boomers are interested in products that don’t look geriatric, but have the function and accessibility they need,” says Shannon.

Brodey agrees. “In the past year, we have seen so many new designs put a luxury spin on aging-in-place products. The goal is no longer just function anymore. The Baby Boomers have definitely influenced grab bar styles and functionality,” he says.

To meet the demand for luxury grab bars, Jaclo recently introduced a contemporary grab bar collection. “When most people think of grab bars, they think of the institutional-looking fixtures in public restrooms, but our grab bars are available in numerous styles and finishes,” says Brodey.

Taft agrees that people want grab bars with style.

“They want it to have base rings that are either ornate or have some sense of design, and of course they want it in the proper finish,” he says. “It’s all part of coordinating throughout the bath. If you are going to have a faucet with a base ring and a rope design on it, you’re going to want a grab bar with a rope pattern,” says Taft.

Going Green

Some manufacturers say they haven’t seen green design concepts showing up in accessory and hardware trends. Others, however, see a rising consciousness and point out some elements that trend toward the green movement.
Taft notes that using solid brass as a material is one way hardware products can be more green, as brass is almost always recycled, given the cost of the metal and the ease with which it can be recycled. “You’re not going to find brass filling up landfills the way you would zinc and some of the other composite metals,” he says. Another way manufacturers can be environmentally friendly, says Taft, is through the use of PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) finishes. The process of PVD, he says, leaves no byproduct, and therefore is completely environmentally friendly.

Consumers and designers are also looking for lasting items, rather than items that will need to be replaced quickly. “Products manufactured with greater sustainability are growing in popularity,” says Rohl.

“Stainless is more than green, it’s sustainable, so many homeowners who are following the LEED example of environmental conservation are looking toward stainless,” Morea concludes.

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