Water Works

They say variety is the spice of life. Apparently more and more people agree – at least when it comes to designing the bathroom. While high-end consumers are punching up the “wow” factor in the powder room with uniquely styled vessels and faucets, variety is increasingly making the sink and its faucet a focal point for every bathroom in the home. Whether it’s a water-and-light faucet that’s as much art as function or a stained glass vessel sink with precious metal accents, a trendy – and sanitary – stainless steel sink for the master bath or dual-level, side-by-side vitreous china sinks with painted dinosaurs for the kids’ bath, pretty much anything goes, as long as it speaks to the personal desires of the client.

That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who note that, while the powder room often gets the most dramatic sink and faucet choices, master baths are also seeing striking sink and faucet choices selected to create a unique focal point.

Nor is there anything near a one-size-fits-all bath sink and faucet. Not only can bath style vary dramatically – even from bathroom to bathroom in the same home – there are an ever-growing array of choices available. And, with the plethora of materials and styles to choose from, designers are increasingly using the sink and faucet as a way of personalizing the bath, whether it’s a powder room, spacious master bath or whimsical children’s bath.

If there’s any one commonality, it’s that style and maintenance remain key, regardless of the size, shape, material or finish. Additionally, the continued trend toward using the bath as a private, luxurious spa remains a strong one – and that means consumers want their private spa to be gorgeous, with the faucet often acting as “jewelry” to finish off the room.

While contemporary designs are generally more popular on both coasts, with traditional choices finding favor in the South and Midwest, manufacturers and dealers note that geography doesn’t always impact design choices. Indeed, with the tremendous media attention given to the design field by television, shelter magazines and the Internet, today’s consumers arrive at kitchen and bath showrooms more educated than ever before, and they are far less concerned with what their neighbors have or what the prevailing regional style is. Rather, the goal is frequently to choose products that provide the bath with a one-of-a-kind look, regardless of the consumer’s budget.

For that reason, the greatest single trend seems to be…that there is no one single trend.

Versatile Vessels

Consumers are having a love affair with vessels. And, why not? With so many materials and styles to choose from, the vessel allows for the creation of a highly personalized and contemporary design statement that simply smacks of good taste. Jay Beaumont, v.p./operations for Wells Sinkware in Chicago, IL, says, “choosing a vessel becomes an individual design statement.”

Beaumont also points to the versatility of vessels as one of its greatest benefits. He notes, “In addition to adding a dramatic look to a countertop, they provide drawer and cabinet space beneath the sink, which is a feature that pedestal sinks don’t offer.”

Lenora Campos, Ph.D., spokesperson for Toto USA, in New York, NY, agrees. She points out, “Vessel lavatories and pedestal lavatories are challenging built-in cabinet-style vanities.”

Beaumont adds, “Porcelain vessels in unusual geometric shapes are very popular with our customers.”

Ken Fey, v.p./sales & marketing for Houzer in New Brunswick, NJ, agrees that vessel sinks are a hit with his customers. “Vessel sinks with integral overflows are a growing category,” he says. “Above-counter models are more popular than the drop-in designs, also bringing a dramatic element to the overall look of the room.”

While vessel sinks are most often seen in powder rooms to make a design statement, Beaumont notes that he has also seen vessels used beautifully in master baths. “New sink options can offer variety within the bath with more than just color difference. For instance, our mahogany glass vessel is a masculine take on tradition for the gentleman’s bath, while the milk glass or neutral-toned porcelain vessel gives the woman’s bath a lighter feel. Both suit a traditional décor, yet with a different look.”

“Crackled glass and milk glass are also very popular,” says Beaumont of the latest look in vessels.

Other hot trends in vessel sinks include stained glass effects with multiple swirled colors, unusual shapes (such as a flower), hand-painted designs and precious metal accents.

Stainless Style

When it comes to selecting a sink for the master bath, designers are seeing a willingness on the part of consumers to experiment with materials. Stainless steel, which has become a top seller in the kitchen, is gaining popularity in the bathroom.
Fey points out that stainless is both visually appealing and perceived as hygienic. “Stainless steel is the largest material category used in kitchen sinks; consequently, we are seeing a more general acceptance of this material in the bathroom,” explains Fey. “It’s probably the most versatile material as far as application to design is concerned. Depending on the design and finish applied, it can be used for traditional, contemporary or transitional designs.”

Fey sees the use of stainless steel in the bathroom as appealing to a broad spectrum of the population, as well. “A few years ago, only the most urban-based, edgy designers were using stainless steel in the bathroom,” notes Fey. “[Now] we see the trend toward a larger demographic use of stainless steel lavs, even in more traditionally conservative markets.”

Neither is this trend age specific, according to Fey. He explains, “Boomers like the ‘hip’ aspect of the application in the bathroom, having grown up with traditional china lavs, and the younger, aggressively ‘green-minded’ consumers are magnetized to the ‘non-disposable/lifetime use’ benefits as well as its fresh appeal. Given time, [I believe] stainless steel is going to be the new vitreous china,” he says.

Soft & Contemporary

Stainless steel, however, isn’t the only material in demand in the bathroom. Angela Scarbrough, director of marketing for Decolav, Inc., in Deerfield Beach, FL, says, “Materials [for sinks] will still continue to be glass, stone, vitreous china and stainless steel, but we think there will be growing demand for stone, stainless steel and solid surface.”

Fey notes that there has been an increase in demand for high-quality, rustic-looking bathroom sinks. Hand-hammered antique copper and pewter lavatory sinks have been warmly received.

Lang Riley, planning director for Native Trails, of San Luis Obispo, CA, agrees that the demand for copper sinks has “been strong for years.”

Riley, however, sees a trend toward a “softer, contemporary look.” While many copper sinks were viewed primarily as “rustic” in the past, the handcrafted sinks found in today’s market are actually considered more contemporary.

“Using warm, natural materials such as copper, and using handcrafted, artistic sinks is a way to soften a modern look and keep it from feeling cold,” comments Riley. He continues, “People want to balance their bathrooms with products that have stories behind them, products they can connect with on an emotional level and feel at peace with.” Riley also points out that “high-quality, hand-crafted products never go out of style.”

Scarbrough anticipates a trend toward a more natural look to shapes and materials for the bathroom sink. She states, “While square and round shapes are still popular, they are starting to get softer edges.” Scarbrough also points out that “neutral colors are the most versatile” and, therefore, remain popular.

More and more upscale consumers are reinventing the bathroom with unique designs and materials. The trend is perhaps best summarized by Campos. She says, “Homeowners are interested in something that is distinctive, one-of-a-kind…functional works of art with shapes and textures that appear organic.”

Faucet Trends

The faucet was once largely ignored – unless it malfunctioned, of course. Today’s fine array of artistically crafted faucets, however, do far more than just providing water. The faucet is a showpiece, a functional work of art. Demand for different finishes and styles vary, but manufacturers agree that the faucet is playing a larger and larger role in completing the overall look of the bath.

According to Ed Detgen, v.p./marketing for Danze in Woodridge, IL, variety is more important than ever in tying into the trend toward personalization. “Homeowners want to give their bathroom a personal flair to capture their personality and taste, so the more options available, the better.” Detgen points out, “Demand for wall-mount faucets and vessel fillers continues to grow as powder rooms are fitted with a variety of lav bowls and vessels.” He also sees a growing trend toward contemporary design of faucets.

Detgen says, “Contemporary design has really seen a surge in the last few years. We expect this to continue as more downtown lofts/condos become prevalent in metropolitan areas.” He believes that minimalism is “key to contemporary design,” often taking its cues from European motifs. As a result, single-handle, side-mount faucets with sleek, simple designs are among those in demand.

“Minimalism remains the dominant trend,” concurs Campos, although she acknowledges strong sales for traditional styles in some markets. She points out, however, that designs offering “simple curves, straight lines and design symmetry” for a clean, contemporary look are hot. Campos also says that today’s faucets are more “substantial in size,” with larger diameters and taller heights, which draws more attention.

Eiji Sasaki, U.S. operation manager for San-Ei Faucet Manufacturing Company in Osaka, Japan, with product distribution through Sanicor International, notes, “Faucets were all about sleek design.” He explains, however, that today, “the designs for the faucet body have become slightly bigger,” with the rounded and square-shaped faucets gaining popularity. Sasaki thinks that more faucet manufacturers will “start collaborating with industrial designers,” as they have at San-Ei. “More and more modern designs are being accepted now, especially with Asian influences in style, shape and ambience,” he points out.
The interest in minimalist design is clearly growing, according to some manufacturers of bath products. Jason McClain, marketing communications manager for Hansgrohe USA in Atlanta, GA, says, “Faucets with a more minimalist design, which are sometimes more angular and geometric, are more in demand now than just a few years ago.”

While contemporary, minimalist designs are building market share, there is no doubt that there is still a strong market for traditional designs. Period designs influenced by days gone by are also popular, according to Lou Rohl, chief operating officer for Rohl LLC, in Irvine, CA. “Styles that are reminiscent of old Italian villas or old country manses” are examples of this trend, says Rohl.

Finishing the Faucet

Most manufacturers agree that the hottest finishes for today’s faucets are satin or brushed nickel and chrome. McClain, however, predicts that “brushed nickel will equal or surpass chrome sales” in the next three to five years. “The finish is durable and more flexible in terms of matching décor, and it’s easier to clean than shiny chrome,” he suggests.

“Oil-rubbed bronze and polished nickel are also still gaining ground after a couple of flat growth years, and they’re replacing things like black and polished brass,” says McClain. He also points out, “The bottom line…is that the selection has grown from a limited number of finishes…”

Beaumont adds that “living finishes such as oiled bronze are finding their way from the kitchen into the bath.” Detgen agrees: “Specialty, premium finishes such as oil rubbed bronze also continue to be very popular throughout the country.”

Rohl contends that brass and gold are “gaining substantial popularity.” He also points to a small trend of adding a “bit of glamour to a fixture without being too glitzy.” One example Rohl mentions is using crystal accents in faucets to give the faucet something truly special. Is it any wonder, then, that more and more of today’s designers are viewing the faucet as jewelry for the bath?

Green Demand

Of course in today’s increasingly environmentally conscious world, some manufacturers are seeing a growing demand for ecologically sound products.

The green trend is definitely making headway in the bath, and McClain says that Hansgrohe is following this “green” trend closely. “We released a couple of electronic, water-saving faucets this year, but overall we will definitely have to expand this offering in the future due to growing demands from consumers and restrictions on water use,” he notes. McClain further explains that this trend has been around for some time in commercial applications, but designs for the home in the past were inadequate. Homeowners, McClain quickly notes, “want something a little more edgy or unique than what you might find in a commercial environment,” such as an airport or shopping mall.

Rohl agrees, “Green is becoming very important to the consumer.” He points out that, with more contemporary styles, “it is more about water delivery and function.” He adds, “Faucets crafted from only one piece of brass are appearing in more high-tech venues as well as modern homes. Touchless technology is becoming somewhat popular, too.”

Overall, manufacturers say there doesn’t seem to be a great demand yet for household faucets that will conserve water. But as resources become more limited and expensive, and society becomes more green conscious, this may be a trend to watch for on the horizon.

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