Sink and Swim

Beauty and functionality make an ideal team in many areas, but nowhere more so than in the bath. Whether kitchen and bath designers are creating a master bath, guest bath or powder room, the marriage of these two ideas is critical to the space’s overall design.

As such, the sink and faucet are gaining greater importance in the bath, and designers should take note of the evolution of these products in order to stay ahead of the curve. Cleaner, more modern looks, updated sink shapes and decorative options, darker faucet finishes and environmentally responsible products are among the hottest trends being cited by manufacturers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Modern Times

“While 80 percent of homes in America are traditional, we’re seeing certain geographical areas demanding more transitional and contemporary designs,” explains Lou Rohl, COO and managing partner for Rohl LLC in Irvine, CA.

“Contemporary designs and more contemporary-leaning transitional designs are outgrowing the demand for traditional designs by big strides,” Jason McClain, marketing communications manager for Alpharetta, GA-based Hansgrohe, reports.

Al DeGenova, director of marketing communications and training for Grohe America, agrees: “There is a steadily growing interest and demand – especially from cosmopolitan urban centers – for European minimalism.”

“Minimal modern is increasing in popularity, which is being driven significantly by urban high-rise condo developments and younger homeowners who identify largely with contemporary looks,” he adds.

However, it is also imperative that the product retains a sense of warmth, no matter how contemporary or sleek its design, stresses Eric Moore, interior designer for Kohler, WI-based Kohler Co.

The widening of styles has led to an increase in available product options, including more luxury items, which provides the ability to make a bold statement in the bath.

“Consumers are looking for that one unique piece that create the ‘wow’ factor for their space,” reports Kathleen Sarniak, president and COO for Jeanette, PA-based JSG Oceana.

Beauty and Function

A major factor in choosing the right sink and faucet for a bath is the type of bath it is, and what its function is going to be. The master and guest/family baths continue to be rooms where function is primary and beauty of secondary importance, as opposed to the powder room, where function takes a significant back seat to the overall look.

“People tend to be ‘bolder’ in the powder room with their product choices,” states Mike Wurth, director of design for Danze, Inc. in Woodridge, IL. “This seems to be a room where people feel free to take risks, while the master bath is more about high function and spa-like extras.”

The master bath is often designed with two sinks – a “his” and “hers” – sometimes in two separate areas of the room. The trend here is also toward larger sinks, again with a nod to function.

“The larger space available in the master bath allows for more of an overall design statement,” notes Rob Muller, director of marketing for San Luis Obispo, CA-based Native Trails. “The size of sinks varies with the available space in the bath.”

“In powder rooms, we’re continuing to see interest in textures and designs that make a bold statement,” confirms Muller.

“For instance, we’ve brought the apron front sink, which is usually found in the kitchen, into the bath with our new Calypso sink. It can serve as a focal point for a smaller space.”

The vessel sink is gaining in popularity for all the baths in the house, as its design becomes more functional and its presentation more striking.

Toto USA’s new Kiwami Collection of vessel lavatories fits this idea, and works well in any number of bath designs, according to Lenora Campos, spokesperson for Morrow, GA-based TOTO USA.

“Vessel sinks are becoming more popular because of the nature of their versatility,” Christina Yerep, marketing coordinator for JSG Oceana, stresses. “The glass sink is more of a work of art and a sink alternative than any trend.”

Muller offers: “[Vessels] continue to be a popular choice for copper lavatory sinks. Products like our recently introduced Maestro Mandala vessel – with its sleek design – tend to stimulate the interest in vessels among consumers.”

Moore is seeing more artistic interpretations of vessel sinks, particularly in shapes, as the traditional oval shape is being challenged by more eclectic configurations such as hexagonal and rectangular looks.

Finish Line

There is also a fair amount of competitive jostling with regard to faucet finishes being requested by consumers, manufacturers agree.

Chrome is still the most requested finish, but only slightly more than brushed nickel or nickel finishes, according to McClain.

“Over the past two years, [nickel] finishes have gained steady ground on chrome and, in the case of Hansgrohe, brushed nickel sales are now almost equal to chrome,” he comments.

DeGenova adds: “Chrome remains the number-one seller, with brushed nickel the leader in the ‘finishes’ category.

Meanwhile, oil rubbed bronze continues to remain a strong third.”

While McClain agrees that oil-rubbed bronze has remained strong from a demand standpoint, “we don’t see it making huge jumps in sales because it is more of a nice finish for traditional or eclectic bathrooms.”

Satin nickel and polished nickel are also popular finishes among consumers, according to Rohl. “However, our more traditional Tuscan Brass, English Bronze and the new Antico Brass finishes are very popular, as well,” he says.

Wurth is seeing a surge in rich, dark textured bronzes, such as distressed bronze. “We are also seeing a very large move toward authentic-looking bronzes with a matte finish, slightly distressed and oil rubbed,” he says.

DeGenova foresees shifts in faucet and fitting colors. “We’ve just introduced Velvet Black and Moon White finishes in our ‘sensual minimalism’ design category – the Grohe Ondus line.”

Green Pieces

Material choices are also gaining attention in the bath, especially products that can be classified as environmentally responsible. Introducing “green-based” products, such as those that are manufactured using reclaimed and natural materials, can quickly differentiate a design, according to Moore.

Materials such as glass and cast iron are distinctive options, he remarks. “Cast iron, for instance, is a very durable material. Some 93% of cast iron is recycled or reclaimed material, and you can do dimensional colors with it,” Moore remarks.

Kohler has introduced a range of dimensional colors, including Sea Salt, Cane Sugar and Frost. “You can mix the materials and finishes to create cool environments,” he adds.

“The reusing of materials, such as crushed glass or porcelain, or incorporating natural elements in lavatories, is a burgeoning trend that will gain momentum as green design comes to the forefront,” comments Campos.

“Our customers are more aware and asking more questions regarding green products, and we are pleased that we can provide them with glass that is lead-free,” adds Yerep. “We are contributing to the green trend everyday by recycling our glass.”

Notes Jason Chen of Ronbow Materials Corp. in Newark, CA, “At long last, the use of natural material is more important to the consumer than ever, which is why we choose to use earthenware, such as vitreous china and glass [for our products].”

Water Watch

At first glance, technology and water conservation may seem at odds, but many of the manufacturers agree that there is common ground to be found.

“Meaningful use of technology may assist end users in providing more precise control over volume and spray patterns. Technology may also enable users to more readily conserve water and modify their behavior regarding water use,” explains Wurth.

To that end, McClain notes that by late summer, 95 percent of Hansgrohe’s faucets will be equipped with a 1.5 GPM aerator. “Today, the standard is 2.2. gallons per minute, but we know that our 1.5 gpm aerators don’t affect performance.

So, instead of doing the changeover a little at a time, we will move all of the faucets to low flow by the end of August,” he says.

DeGenova agrees that water conservation is an increasingly important consideration with regard to faucet choices, “especially if the designer can trust a brand to deliver product performance in a water-saving design.”

Grohe recently introduced its WaterCare line, which includes over 60 SKUs of water-saving bath faucets, kitchen faucets and shower products.

Rohl, whose firm also offers reduced-flow faucets, adds: “I think the demand for low-flow faucets is being driven by the hospitality and commercial developers. Residential owners are certainly aware of this trend and will incorporate low-flow technology as long as it does not impact their experience and comfort.”

Campos agrees: “These new luxury consumers place high value on sustainability as well as technological innovation and design – that is, they seek plumbing fixtures that are not only beautiful and technologically advanced, but also precision engineered to maximize water conservation.”

In keeping with the idea of water conservation, touchless faucets are also gaining in popularity, according to industry players.

“We are receiving an increased number of inquiries for touchless faucets for residential usage, with the two most popular demographic areas being the kids’ room, in order to control the use and delivery of hot water, and the senior market, for easier access on the part of the consumer,” states Rohl.

To meet the increasing demand, Rohl LLC has introduced two touchless designs – one traditional and the other contemporary – with more designs planned.

McClain adds: “Electronic products will become mainstream in the bath much more quickly because of the green movement and water savings they offer.”

The digital versions of the Grohe Ondus lavatory faucet are completely controlled via a touch-sensitive electronic screen, including water temperature, volume, presets for individual users, and standard functions such as brushing teeth and washing hands.

“Electronic faucets are the future,” stresses DeGenova. “However, we have a long way to go with regard to building confidence in touchless faucets for the home.” However, he speculates that, since these products are also highly conservation-friendly, the trend may move faster than projected.

In the end, the bottom line is that the concept of “luxury” has changed significantly in the bath, notes Campos. “It is no longer understood as hedonistic conspicuous consumption,” she explains. “Instead, ‘new luxury’ consumers are conspicuous in their efforts at conservation. Today ‘conspicuous consumption’ has morphed into ‘conspicuous conversation.

“For homeowners, the use of water efficient or ‘green’ plumbing fixtures has become an elegant mark of personal responsibility,” concludes Campos.

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