Simple Style

Gone are the days of designs filled with fussy, overdone details. With the crazy pace of modern life, people are looking to ditch the clutter, especially in the bath, and designers are responding by creating peaceful, personalized sanctuaries. Intricate carved designs on cabinetry can work against this desire for simplicity, – all of which is driving the trend toward cleaner lines and a more simplified look in vanities, according to manufacturers surveyed by KBDN.

“It seems the carved, gaudy, heavily molded looks are on the wane,” says Denny McLaughlin, executive sales manager, Bertch Cabinet Mfg., Inc. in Waterloo, IA. “Simpler designs, Shaker or, in some styles, even a slab door with simple lines are the most popular today.”

Phil Lee, director of marketing, Ronbow Materials Corp. in Newark, CA agrees. “The demand seems to [be] less design – the minimalist look, or ‘less is more,’” he says.

Rod Brewer, director of product and design, Mid-Continent Cabinetry, in Eagan, MN, attributes the trend to the desire to have a very organized house. “People want to have simple, uncluttered lifestyles,” he asserts.

Dawn Robinson, showroom specialist, VitrA USA in Suwanee, GA, states, “The sort of elaborate details that were popular in years past are certainly attractive, but they are often hard to clean and add lots of cost. Most consumers list easy maintenance as being a priority for their products – the more decorative scrolls, engravings, etc. just cause more places for dirt and dust to settle. Most pieces today are cleaner in their features – they even go so far as to leave off handles and drawer pulls altogether and feature touch opening and closing that operates on soft glides.”

But while the details are becoming simpler, designers are still looking for pieces that reflect personal style and taste. “Today, it is about choice,” says McLaughlin. “Discerning customers want to have classic looks, but want their selection to be unique.”

Steve Wilcox, product development manager, Sagehill Designs in Cerritos, CA, says, “Consumers want more of a ‘custom’ feeling to the products that they buy. Therefore, the more detail or unique styling features we offer at a value, the more they seem to gravitate toward them.” He adds, however, that this does not mean adding needless ornamentation to a design. “Rather, it means adding features that have meaning and that the consumer either functionally or emotionally relates to.”

Functional Furniture

Nothing adds a personal touch to a home like furniture, and this holds true in the bath, as well. The gravitation toward furniture-style vanities allows designers to help clients create the personalized spaces they crave. According to manufacturers, the use of furniture pieces is one of the most prevalent trends in the market.

“Furniture-style vanities are still very hot. Homeowners love the idea of turning their baths into mini ‘sanctuaries,’ a place to escape to within the home, if only for a few moments. Furniture pieces can make this happen,” says Lee.

Furniture pieces help give the room the unique touch that homeowners are looking for.

“People don’t just want boxes hanging on the wall anymore,” Brewer states.

Karen Wistrom, ASID, v.p. of marketing for Dura Supreme Cabinetry in Howard Lake, MN, agrees that the freestanding vanity is more popular than ever. She notes that, when the trend first came on the scene, people were taking antiques or items that weren’t intended for the bathroom and adapting them for bath use. While the look was great, the inability of finishes on those items to stand up in a high-moisture environment made them impractical long term. “Cabinet manufacturers are taking advantage of this by offering high-grade finishes that are impervious to moisture, and capitalizing on that whole look for bathrooms,” she says

“The versatility and storage options of a furniture-style vanity can’t be beat, and with all of the options on the market, people have a lot of styles from which to choose for personalizing their baths,” adds Robinson.

Jody Rosenberg, national sales manager, Sonia America in Sunrise, FL, views furniture-style vanities as a need rather than a trend. “Everyone needs added storage in the bathroom, and furniture is one way of getting it.”

Transitional Shift

Geographic location has a great impact on what style designers are using, according to manufacturers. While many see more contemporary designs in large urban areas and a leaning toward the traditional in rural locations, a merging of contemporary and traditional design seems to be occurring more frequently throughout bathroom furniture design.

“Short-term design trends to watch seem to favor either a casual contemporary design with some traditional influences, or a traditional design that has been thoughtfully simplified to represent the basics of a style,” says Wilcox.

Brewer is seeing a movement toward what he calls “style assimilation.” He cites as an example owners of a very modern home choosing a vanity that looks like an antique bureau, or a turn-of-the-century house with a modern suspended vanity in the bath.

Many manufacturers surveyed are seeing an overall rise in contemporary designs, which used to be localized in key urban areas. “Contemporary designs, however, have now become more in demand within the last three to four years nationwide,” says Heidi Finch, national sales manager, Julien Residential Division, Julien, Inc. in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. “Dealers who would once sell a contemporary item on occasion are claiming their ratio of traditional to contemporary is now 50/50 in many cases,” she says.

Sandra Luttchens, CKD, of Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo, IA, sees both traditional and contemporary designs remaining strong. “Styles are spanning the spectrum – from sleek modern looks that are finished in deep rich wood tones to light, airy painted finishes to ornate door styles on traditional designs with multi-layer mid-to-dark toned finishes that often include glazing and distressing options.” But, she has also seen the clean look other manufacturers described. “We are also seeing transitional styling becoming important in the bath, where the door styles are simple and clean, with closed storage and finishes that are clean without glazing and other embellishments,” she says.

Wistrom sees the bath, particularly the smaller powder room, as a place where homeowners get more daring with their designs. “The bath is a great opportunity for them to experiment with exotic veneers, which definitely looks more contemporary,” she says. “They’re willing to do it in a small powder room because I guess the commitment level isn’t as big.”

Location and Function

Many manufacturers see a variation in trends between the master bath and powder rooms, attributing these differences to the function of each space. Master baths are often larger spaces with a need for lots of functional storage.

“When designing for the master bath, there is much more emphasis placed on storage. Aesthetics still play a critical role, but storage emerges at the forefront,” says Luttchens.

Robinson agrees: “Master baths are more function-focused. This is where homeowners take care of their own needs and bathroom rituals. Products here need to have more thought placed on storage – such as areas to put hair products and makeup.”

Finch adds, “Far more thought is being put into the master bath than ever before, and the trend is to outfit it with everything you need, and more. Emphasis is placed on smart storage solutions for cosmetics, toiletries and practical choices regarding how to make the bathroom work for two people on a daily basis. The powder room, though still important, requires less thought in terms of practicality.”

Powder room designs tend to lean toward the dramatic, say manufacturers. “Powder rooms are public spaces. It’s the room guests use when they visit, so most homeowners want to do something a bit different or outside the box. It’s where they keep up with the Joneses,” says Robinson.

“Consumers are willing to get more daring in the powder room than in the master bath. I think the master bath is about functionality and the powder room is about the wow,” says Rosenberg.

James Lin, president of the Cabinetry Division, Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA, reiterates the importance of simplified cabinetry, whatever the location. “We don’t see too much difference between [the two areas], but [a] clean look is what the market needs.”

Top Surfaces and Finishes

Just as style varies depending on geographic location, so do finishes and top surfaces, manufacturers say. The choices available for each offer designers a way to create unique looks without the cost of full customization.

For finishes, stains edge out paint, and dark, bold colors are very popular, according to the manufacturers surveyed.

“Dark is hot. Our hottest new finishes are very dark on tight grain wood like birch, where the finish considerably masks the grain. Black glaze on a traditional cherry finish is strong as well. Paint will always have a position, as it works well with a ‘cottage’ look, but it is definitely a less prevalent finish than it was a few years ago,” says McLaughlin.

While Rosenberg cites Wenge as one of the hottest finishes, “white is coming on stronger since white is the new black.”

“Stained wood veneer in both light and dark tones is still very predominant,” says Finch. “The trend appears to be appreciating the beauty of wood tone and texture rather than masking it with opaque finishes.”

“Texture is a growing trend for finishes. The effects are often subtle, but they are definitely there,” says Wilcox.

Robinson also sees a preference for unusual finish choices. “Interesting finishes are hugely popular; as well as exotic woods and mixed media – mixing in metal or glass elements and lacquers over paint since the upkeep on them is so much easier.”

She adds, “We are seeing a rise in color choices for furniture that break out of the traditional molds.”

As with finishes, myriad choices are available in surface materials, from granite and marble to wood, glass or concrete.

Lin says, “Natural stone, such as granite and marble, are still the best fit for the bath.”

Other manufacturers agree that natural stone seems to be the preference, but they are also seeing a rise in demand for wood tops. “Although not the best top surface material for a bath, wood gives our vanities a more elegant look, as well as completing the ‘furniture’ feel,” says Lee.

While stone and wood are leading the market in the quest for a unique, personalized look, designers are branching out into other interesting materials such as glass, concrete, faux granite and even metallic tiles. “We are often hearing that designers are looking for that ‘something different’ and sourcing limestone and other natural surfaces as an alternative, regardless of the fact that they are very porous,” says Finch. “Surfaces such as concrete, glass and stainless steel, and solid surface materials such as CaesarStone, have also added beautiful, textured variety to the bathroom countertop,” she adds.

Behind Closed Doors

While closed cabinets are great places to hide secrets, manufacturers are seeing an increasing demand for open storage features, particularly for decorative accents. “Where I see most of the open storage is going to be with towel storage,” says Wistrom. “That’s a great area, too, because it gets color into the bath,” she adds.

“These open storage features tend to be a chance for the consumer to display some favored decorative items to enhance the aesthetics of the space,” says Wilcox.

McLaughlin adds, “Open shelves are more often for show than for storage.”

While designers may be using more open features to add accents to the overall design of the bathroom, manufacturers agree that closed cabinets are more in demand for actual storage needs. “Closed storage is very important for a space to feel organized and not visually cluttered,” Wilcox comments.

Rosenberg adds, “I think everyone has something to hide. With a busy lifestyle, being able to shove things in a drawer or behind a door is still more popular.”

Robinson agrees. “Closed cabinets are still the most popular, since they allow people the luxury of hiding away any messes. The standard pace of life is so crazy that many homeowners with families want storage, but they don’t necessarily want to see everything that’s being stored since they can get a bit messy from time to time. What I have noticed is that they want closed storage with lots of extra organizers,” she says.

“Closed cabinetry is vital for traditional design,” says Luttchens. “We are seeing a combination of closed and open storage for the contemporary market – open for towel storage, closed areas for toiletries.”

While Finch finds open storage more prevalent than ever before in contemporary designs, she circles back to the overall trend of simplicity. “Clean lines that lack clutter are the trend,” she says.

Custom Needs

While there is some market for fully customized vanities and cabinets, most manufacturers surveyed see more demand for semi-custom pieces, or customized standard pieces. “Choice is important, but the customer isn’t necessarily looking to design a custom piece from scratch. Customers want their inspirations to come from the manufacturer or the dealer’s displays. Standard components to creating a custom look are where the largest share of the business is.” Says McLaughlin.
Lee adds, “In a majority of projects, homeowners seem to pick out their finish pieces at the tail end of the project, which forces them to pick out standard pieces.”

“Tall vanities continue to gain share, and medicine cabinets and mirrors are taller now, too,” says McLaughlin, echoing the sentiments of many of the manufacturers surveyed.

“We can see vanities going higher,” agrees Lin. “That is why we raised to 35-1/2" overall height, including granite tops.”

Future Outlook

What are some trends to look for in the future? Manufacturers have varying thoughts on where the market will head.
Wilcox believes there are two areas to watch. First, he says to watch what they call “casual contemporary” styles. “The designs are simple in line, but feature excellent proportions and reflect a less-is-more philosophy.” He also says to watch for mixed media in designs. “Wood and metal combinations are fairly standard, but keep an eye out for interesting door inserts and accent materials to add visual interest.”

Finch says, “We believe the trend toward making the master bath environment one of the most important rooms of the house will only continue. Instead of seeing a distinct separation between the master bedroom and the master bath, we believe there will be a more open-concept environment that provides for more of a ‘relaxation room’ with all the amenities. Bath vanities are an extension of the bedroom furniture, where it all flows and complements each other. Privacy is still accomplished with corners and dividers rather than closed doors and broken-up bathroom spaces. Designers are getting more creative with this concept and are providing consumers with creative solutions to house the many luxury products the market has available.”

Robinson sees a big trend toward more Universal Design, both for ADA compliance and style and space variances.

“Homeowners and builders are a bit more adventurous than they’ve been in the past as to what sort of styles they put into rooms and in how those rooms are laid out,” she says.

She also finds environmentally friendly designs very much in demand. “Traditionally, in terms of the bathroom, when people think of green design they think of water- or energy-conserving products. But many homeowners and manufacturers are looking for furniture items as well that are made from more eco-friendly products and that use production methods that are easier on the earth’s natural resources,” she notes. “The trend toward earth-wise is definitely a focus for everyone these days.”

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