Form & Function

Form and function matter! At least they continue to matter to the design-conscious consumer looking to customize the bath space. In that most intimate of spaces, it's no surprise that savvy shoppers are searching for vanities that will make a powerful design statements. And, they're not letting go of the idea that they, too, can get organized. The key continues to be incorporating the right storage options behind the vanity style, no matter what the look is, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Indeed, manufacturers see consumers increasingly taking advantage of the many options available, customizing their vanities and storage spaces to ideally suit their tastes and needs. Additionally, they are increasingly moving toward personalized furniture-style pieces for the vanity and other storage cabinet, with popular styles running the gamut from traditional to transitional to contemporary.

FRONTRUNNER: FURNITURE

Most manufacturers agree that the biggest trend in the bath vanity is the free-standing furniture style. Sandra Luttchens, CKD, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo, IA, agrees that there is "a definite trend toward furniture styling," adding that those pieces are "unfitted and more formal pieces."

Sarah Reep, ASID, CKD, CMG and director of design for KraftMaid Cabinetry,
in Middlefield, OH, explains that the vanity can look like fine furniture and even be coordinated with the furniture in the bedroom.

Apart from the master bath, the free-standing, furniture look continues to be popular in the powder room, as well. "People are interested in more fashion options for this part of the home," comments Reep.

Luttchens sees the bath vanity as a "dynamic element of a powder room." She adds: "With the multitude of furniture-inspired vanities, it is easy to create very sophisticated small spaces."

FLAIR AND PRACTICALITY

"There seems to be a race between the kitchen and bath for which room the consumer will be more willing to go to the edge of their fashion envelope on," believes Steve Stark, CKD, v.p./sales and marketing for Prestige Cabinets, Inc., in Independence, KS.

"I think," Stark adds, "the bath wins by a few lengths."

Others in the industry are likely to agree. Tristan McManaman, marketing director for Walker Zanger, in Sacramento, CA, explains that the nationwide trend toward creating spa-like sanctuaries in the home bath continues. "Many," he adds, "are furnishing their home-spa- and boutique-hotel-inspired baths to include more exotic materials, design-driven fixtures and real furniture." And the vanity is, of course, at the center of this movement.

Although many manufacturers note that consumers tend to purchase traditional designs, they also note that those traditional designs are being updated. "The consumers are looking for design first and foremost," says McManaman. He adds, "Customers are looking for strong design statements that reflect personal style and taste and luxurious natural materials."

Additionally, he says he's seeing more demand for modern styles, but maintains that traditional styles still edge them out, despite the growing movement for an updated traditional look. Phil Lee, director of sales and marketing for RonBow Materials Corp. in Haywards, CA, splits the difference, reporting that "traditional styles with a modern look" are a definite trend.

Luttchens, on the other hand, has been noticing more demand for art and drama. She's been seeing an increase in requests for contemporary, Arts and Crafts, and Island/Caribbean styling for vanities. Other manufacturers report a trend toward an Oriental, or Asian-influenced, look. Lee specifically mentions demand for "Asian, Indian and even Middle Eastern fashions."

Laurie Galbraith, design & training manager for HomeCrest Cabinetry in Goshen, IN, says that "period and Old World styles are still popular, but a new wave of modern and Asian themes is evolving."

Galbraith adds that "green products are being requested and used when they work within the consumer's budget." She also explains that "urban locations will be more inclined to select a modern look – with lots of glass and glass tiles in all decors."

Reep concurs that traditionally styled vanities are selling well. She adds, however, that the contemporary look is likely to eventually attract a wider audience with its "clean, uncluttered and easy-to-maintain" features.

James Lin agrees. As president of the cabinetry division of Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA, he maintains that "there are two sets of style that will always be in demand – traditional and contemporary with a clean look."

He predicts, however, that, more than anything else, a "clean look will lead the trends for now… The market is leaning toward fine lines, airy spaces and simplicity." The casual, island style is gaining popularity as well, adds Lin.

COLORS AND STAINS

Manufacturers point definitively toward dark stains as a popular choice for bath vanities. Many agree, however, that this trend, while still strong, is also competing with a move toward lighter paints. Lee says bolder but basic colors such as dark walnut and Colonial cherry are hot. Lin agrees, but asserts that "Espresso finish takes the lead… and black is gaining popularity."

Lin agrees: "Dark espresso finishes still take the leading role" with cabinets.

Maple and cherry species are popular choices for vanities, according to Luttchens. She breaks down the demand for finishes geographically, stating that East Coast consumers prefer medium to dark wood tones or painted finishes. Midwesterners, she reports, tend to choose light to medium wood tones. Those on the West Coast are emphasizing dark brown and a "variety of painted finishes from white to creamy oyster and accented with glazes."

McManaman points to luxurious wood finishes such as "deep mahogany and waxed teak" as popular choices in the high end. He adds: "Strong complementary color palettes such as espresso and white or oil-rubbed bronze and white are popular."

Galbraith says there is a "plethora of options from both production and custom manufacturers." She explains that while some consumers stick with "traditionally stained choices, such as mid-tones of oak and maple, others see the opportunity to do something different in their private space, such as darker maple or rich cherry."

CUSTOMIZING IS KEY

There's not much new about Americans going after what they want. That idea continues to apply to the ever-growing demand for all designs personal. "Customization is the key word in our industry right now," concurs Reep. "Consumers want high style and designs that are unique for them. They want choices."

Lin chimes in: "Consumers are not happy with bread and butter vanities from home centers where everyone ends up with the same product. As remodeling becomes more popular, consumers are more design conscious and looking for originality."

Consumers are not just looking for a beautiful vanity. According to Reep, "Consumers are demanding more functional storage in their bath cabinetry – but not at the expense of style… There has got to be a blend of both form and function. They want more zone-specific storage." She points to the examples of tilt-out trays for toothbrush and toothpaste, cutlery dividers for keeping make-up and toiletries organized, and roll out shelving for easy access to towels and linens.

Other personalized choices continue to include varying heights of vanities. "The taller or kitchen-height vanity is a strong seller," states Galbraith. "Sometimes there might be a his-and-her height as well as a sit-down make-up area at table height," she adds. In addition, special requests for storage are also being met, says Galbraith. Providing a drawer on the bottom of the sink base, hamper baskets and make-up drawer inserts are all possibilities.

Luttchens points to even more options that are now available. "Interior solutions such as towel bars and grooming caddies to house hair dryers, curling irons, sprays and gels are popular to keep [vanity] counters clear. She adds that "larger mirrors are much more prevalent today, providing the illusion of larger, more luxurious spaces. This makes additional storage key in the vanity and linen cabinetry. Deep drawers are also important, both for bottled items and towel storage."

Stark proclaims that the days of a basic vanity are gone. "[Indeed, it has] given way to more functional storage and strong design statements." To that end, he points to "wall cabinets and tall storage, [which] are playing a bigger role in the bath."

STORING IT AWAY

Storage options in the bath are becoming ever more personal, and the demand is strong for options that de-clutter the bath, thereby making baths streamlined and stress-free.

Manufacturers note that privacy and neatness are key, so at the basic level Lin explains that "doors and drawers are still the choice of customers" looking to hide away their everyday toiletries, medicines, linens and other clutter.

"Storage is a huge trend in the industry right now that spans all price points and demographic groups," elaborates Reep. "People have really embraced the organizational trend. They realize that the more they can get organized, the happier and less stressed they will be."

Galbraith explains that "any type of field inserts or factory constructed unit that is specifically designed to store particular items" is part of this trend. "Toiletries, make-up and linen [storage] are all needs in bath design," she adds. One hold-over from the kitchen is finding its way into the bath, too: the appliance garage. In the bath, the appliance garage is a great place, for example, to store blow dryers or electric razors – plugged in, but out of sight.

Lin adds that he's seeing more demand for larger storage cabinets, such as 60" or 72" models. He adds, however, that the 24" through 48" bathroom cabinets are still the most popular choices made.

According to McManaman, consumers are paying more attention to storage cabinets than they used to.

"We're seeing storage as separate entities in the bath, creating room for bath furniture, and/or built into the architecture of the room," he reports. He concludes that "integrating storage units into the vanities is also a very popular trend."

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