Fine Details

While function never goes out of style, the days when hardware and accessories were chosen primarily for utility’s sake are long gone. Although many consumer needs stay the same over time – a bathroom still needs a place to hang towels, a toilet paper holder, knobs and pulls on vanities and drawers – these fine details have become staples of style as well as function, and that is evidenced by the growing array of available style and finish choices.

Indeed, as the demand for personalized spaces continues to grow, particularly in the most private room of the home, designers are increasingly incorporating customized hardware and accessories to create a cohesive look in the bath.

Manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN agree that tying the bath together is key – right down to the hardware and accessories.

According to Larry Brodey, president of the Cranford, NJ-based Jaclo Industries, “Homeowners are looking for consistency, which can be accomplished through finishes and matching styles. The best-looking bathrooms have fixtures that feature an innovative finish throughout.”

“Designers want a complete design solution,” agrees Noah Taft, v.p./marketing and sales for California Faucets in Huntington Beach, CA. California Faucets has responded to this demand by introducing a line of cabinet knobs to match the firm’s faucets and accessories. “Increasingly, designers are seeing there are places you can get the entire package,” says Taft.

Skip Johnson, v.p. of marketing/communications for Rohl LLC in Irvine, CA agrees: “We feel that accessories are all part of buying a faucet or fixture,” he says. “Consumers appreciate that we’re a one-stop shop for all their accessory needs, so they’re not left to buy mismatched pieces after the initial faucet/fixture purchase.”

This desire to get everything at one place also comes into play in showrooms, says Glen Nathan, chief operating officer at MNG Hardware in Southampton, PA. “Plumbing and bath showrooms that have not previously offered cabinet hardware are incorporating the category into their showroom displays,” he says. “The showroom risks losing a customer if it does not offer all of the necessary components to complete a project.”

“There still is a desire for a complete coordinated offering of products: towel bars, lighting, hardware, etc.,” says Jerry Bougher, product manager, global accessories, Kohler Co. in Kohler, WI. However, he adds, “There is a growing contingent of eclectic or mixing of styles within the bathroom spaces.”

Manufacturers also say that the changing function of the bathroom affects trends in hardware and accessories. “Homeowners continue to seek economic alternatives for quick fixes in updating looks to fit changing styles,” says Melissa Decosta-Smith, product manager, decorative hardware, Liberty Hardware Manufacturing Corp. in Winston-Salem, NC.

“With different things in the bathroom, the accessories you need will demand different configurations than what we have today,” adds John Pelka, v.p. of marketing for Hickory Hardware in Nashville, TN.

“The bath is seen now as a relaxation area, and therefore people are bringing in other kinds of accessories,” agrees Jon Spector, president/CEO, Dornbracht Americas Inc. in Duluth, GA. Spector says that, as the bath area has grown, people are deciding what they will be using the space for, and establishing bath stations accordingly.

Tim Bitterman, senior product/brand manager at Creative Specialties International, a division of Moen, Inc. in North Olmsted, OH, adds, “Ten years ago, towel bars and paper holders were functional, chrome items. Today, they are an important part of the look and feel of the room. They have been upgraded with decorative finishes and innovative functionality, such as a spring-free paper holder. Accessories have expanded their presence in the bath through glass shelves, double towel bars, decorative tank levers, mirror frames and other unique items.”

Finish Lines

With finish options, manufacturers continue to see brushed and satin nickel, chrome and oil-rubbed bronze dominating the market. At the same time, there are a plethora of finish options for the more adventurous.

“Homeowners and designers are still favoring low lustre, subdued finishes,” says Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing for Danze. Inc. in Bolingbrook, IL. “Traditional styling is seeing more distressed/aged effects in finishes. For contemporary styling, chrome or brushed nickel leads in preference. At the very high end, polished nickel has become a hallmark.”

While Decosta-Smith agrees that satin nickel and chrome are the top finishes, she also states, “Venetian bronze is gaining popularity and becoming a must-have alternative to the traditional satin nickel and chrome.”

Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN agrees, “We still find a strong and growing interest in these types of finishes, as they provide a rich visual depth to the parts.”

Several “niche” finishes are also showing up. Taft has seen some increased interest in the use of crystal, both clear and sapphire blue, as well as antique brass, pewter and living finishes. Others see the use of some multimedia finishes, such as leather, wood and ceramic.

Lord adds, “The latest trend in finishes is that of a warm or weathered brass. This is not the bright polished brass from the 1970s, nor is it the more olive-toned antique brass from the ’80s, but rather more of a warm and inviting gold tone. Several forms of this warm brass with its rich texture and color combination are finding their way into multiple style categories.”

Style Preference

Style remains a mixed bag, with regional trends, demographics and personal preferences impacting trends. As a result, manufacturers remain divided on which overall style is predominant. While many see an upsurge in contemporary styling, others find traditional and transitional styles to be more common.

“There is still a significant mix of preference. We see as much difference in styling as we do in personal taste among individuals,” says Detgen.

Nathan sees the greatest call for products with a transitional design, but says this varies by age group. “First-time homeowners and middle-aged people are going for a simple, clean look, while older consumers in their potential last home are going for a more ornate style.”

Brodey says, “Contemporary designs with clean and simple lines do very well on the West Coast and in the Northeast. A more modern look is often the choice of city dwellers. However, most of our customers prefer a transitional style, which mixes traditional and contemporary design.”

Lord says there’s also been a noteworthy uptick in contemporary designs. “While demand remains strong for more ornate and authentic designs such as the Delta Victorian Collection, a trend toward clean design continues to gain in popularity,” he says. “There’s a new generation of designers reinterpreting the more classic and period styles of yesterday to a fresh and updated look,” he adds.

Decosta-Smith says, “Consumers still prefer that hardware have a casual or traditional design in simple, restrained styles. These products are stylish yet informal, and focus on comfort and livability.”

Johnson adds, “We continue to see that the master suites are very focused on more traditional looks with luxurious, spa-like designs. Our consumers travel the world and come home wanting to recreate the spa-type experience they’ve had abroad. They want the Old World feel with all of the modern conveniences.” He adds, however, that they’re also seeing what they call a “Town & Country” trend, which mixes both Old World and modern aesthetics in style and finish.

Universal Design

Manufacturers are seeing more importance placed on products designed for safety and ease of use. While the need for highly functional products is high, designers and consumers are also demanding that these products have the same sense of style as the rest of the bathroom.

“Strong human factors, functionality, safety and good aesthetics are not mutually exclusive and, as such, design solutions are always approached to accommodate as many people as possible,” says Lord. “The growing aging population will continue to drive next generation accessories to account for the additional ergonomic factors. From stylish grab bars to spring-free toilet tissue holders to tilting mirrors, we remain mindful that good design is that which works for all ages.”

Bitterman adds, “Consumers prefer the same style in their grab bars and other bath safety items that they find in their accessories, faucets and lighting. It has resulted in decorative grab bars, designer finishes and the like on items that meet ADA and other code requirements. Consumers are using decorative grab bars as towel bars; they love the look, and want the added functionality of an ADA-compliant grab bar.”

Brodey says, “An easy way to make a bathroom more livable is by installing a grab bar, which fortunately doesn’t even resemble a safety mechanism anymore. Years ago, the only option homeowners had for grab bars was stainless steel, which made their personal living space resemble an institutional-looking public restroom.” He notes that Jaclo offers decorative mounting flanges, which conceal the mounting hardware that usually is exposed on unattractive industrial models.

“The traditional home that serves you well when you are healthy won’t always take care of you when you break a leg or hurt your back,” adds Brodey. “Even young people want a home that will take care of them and their families. For a young parent, a grab bar comes in handy when bathing a young child and looking for extra support.”

Johnson says that Rohl has introduced a hands-free faucet that incorporates Universal Design principles and enhanced water efficiency without sacrificing aesthetics.

Radiant floor heating is another key Universal Design element, says Sharon Mangino, general manager, U.S. operations, for Warmup, Inc. in Danbury, CT.

“It allows homeowners with allergies to remove carpeting and enjoy tile and wood floors without being cold. For disabled individuals, especially if they are in wheelchairs, the comfort of heat that is generated from the floor also creates a more comfortable environment,” she says.

Myriad Choices

So, what are the must-have offerings?

“There are requests for heated towel bars or units to keep towels warm,” says Bougher.

Accessories that offer organization solutions or perform more than one function are also in demand. Bougher offers Kohler’s Margaux Valet as “an example of taking two concepts and turning them into one great idea. You take the functionality of a robe hook and add a hanger. It’s great for a robe or to set out your suit for the next day.”

Detgen says, “The deck-mounted lotion/soap dispensers help alleviate clutter on the deck and bring complementary style.”
The toilet paper holder is also adding some style to the bath. Bitterman says, “Our pivoting paper holders are spring free, allowing for effortless paper changing.”

Simple installation is where new technology comes into play for many manufacturers, Lord says. “New mounting systems are making it easier to mount the accessories and swap out for a new style. Doing something as small and affordable as adding a new coat of paint to the walls and updating the fixtures and accessories can have a tremendous visual impact on a space for very little time, money or effort,” she concludes.

Little Things

“The ‘little things’ are being noticed,” says Detgen. “Even the tank lever is expected to coordinate with other hardware styling and finishes.”

Nathan agrees, “More choices in vanities, faucets, tubs and toilets allow people to be more creative and encourage them to take more risks to accentuate the environment,” he says.

“The end user is becoming more engaged in the design process and, in doing so, is looking for customized solutions,” says Spector. He adds that the Dornbrachts’ Symetrics system is designed to allow the user to customize function, while the format is laid out by the architect, creating crisp, clean lines.

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