Translating Trends into Creative Bathroom Design

Often the focal point in a bathroom, the vanity area seems to have blossomed lately. It provides a strong style statement that is sometimes subtle, but, more often – particularly in the powder room – it is a place where clients will be bolder in the use of color, features and furnishings.

With such a fun opportunity for creativity, bath and product designers have come up with some great concepts. These concepts and issues regarding the vanity are the subject of this column, which I was writing as I headed to Louisville to join Penny Chin and Ellen Cheever for our annual judging of the Decorá Cabinetry Design Competition. The trip gave me the opportunity to discuss the current trends and “state-of-the-art” with them, adding their thoughts to my own experience regarding two of the current vanity trends.

Furniture Style
First, let’s look at the use of furniture in the vanity area. We are seeing hand-painted or carved antiques or replicas that are being cut to house the lavatory. The look can be great, but there are some issues that need consideration.

Unless the furniture piece has been designed to accommodate the plumber, the fixtures and the plumbing, installation can be a challenge. Since these are frequently too shallow and/or too low to properly house the lavatory and the faucet, designers must shop carefully to find the fixture and fittings that will work. Often a wall-mounted faucet is the best choice, and when the cabinet is low, a vessel-style sink can be a good choice. Another issue is finding usable storage; where can you conceal the waste container or supplies? A number of our plumbing fixture suppliers are improving this situation by offering furniture pieces that are built to accommodate the plumbing and to make the best use of the storage pockets created by this type of design.

Additional attention must be given to the ability of the finishes on the furniture to withstand the intended bathroom use, and to the design of the top. The original wood top may have a marine or other finish that will minimize water damage, or a glass deck may be added for greater protection.

Still, how do we address the back-splash and the seam between the back of the furniture piece and the wall? A wood backsplash can be added – distressed and finished as desired, a new stone top with splash can be added, or the entire length of wall can be tiled with the furniture piece placed in front of it.

While these solutions address issues on the deck of the furniture, the design details of the furniture legs or base and the relationship of the back of the cabinet to the wall and particularly the baseboard must also be dealt with. Part of the beauty of using a furniture piece is the uninterrupted line of the leg or foot, but it must stand forward of the baseboard, leaving a gap between wall and cabinet. This may be okay for some, but it’s a cleaning challenge for others. When the furniture has a solid base, it can sometimes be notched around the baseboard, eliminating the gap. While designers are coming up with creative applications, these issues really point up the opportunity for our cabinet manufacturers to create best solutions for intended use. In my “study group,” there was a unanimous desire to see our cabinet makers and manufacturers move ahead in the furniture vanity business, bringing solutions to some of the challenges this concept creates. Masterful Design A second trend focuses on the separation of vanities in a master suite. This may be as simple as placing a tall element between two vanities on a single wall, or as extreme as placing one or both in separate dressing zones. Prompted in part by a desire for partners to complete their grooming in separate spaces, this concept also lends itself to varied height in the vanity area. Where one vanity might be taller and include minimum storage, the other might be lower and include space for seated use and storage of all things relating to make-up and dressing areas. In some more generous spaces, the placement of vanity areas back-to-back creates interesting opportunities for mirrors, lighting and visual impact. A current high-end trend, dating from older or grander homes, is the ultimate step of separate bathrooms, perhaps sharing only the shower or tub area. At the opposite extreme, where space is tight in a master bath, there is some interest in the concept of using only one sink, sometimes oversized and with two faucets. This idea is more prevalent in Europe, so some of the best examples come from that continent’s manufacturers and designs. In a restaurant in Australia, I once saw a design that included a single sink running under the mirror through the wall so that the men’s and the women’s restrooms shared the sink – an interesting idea. When you ask the average person what his or her priorities are in a vanity area, often counter and storage space top the list, making this a design direction to explore. Design Illuminations To finish these concepts, there are some great design ideas for lighting and mirrors that relate to the furniture-piece vanity or the separation of dual vanities – and, as one client put it, “who doesn’t benefit from more light in the vanity area?” To coordinate with the antique furniture pieces being used, we are seeing a number of framed mirrors being hung on the wall or suspended from above, and with them, we’re seeing decorative sconces or pendant lights. With ceiling heights going up, opportunities for additional lighting have expanded to include indirect or cove lighting as well as chandeliers to complement the antique sconces flanking that framed mirror. One of the more unusual ideas was done by a personal friend, a lighting architect, who used Plexiglas panels that were subtly painted to resemble the sky and lighted from above. When it comes to the split dual vanities of the master bath, trends seem to center on two distinct concepts visually. The first is the framed mirror already discussed. The second is a wall of mirror, which helps to visually expand a smaller space. This is sometimes framed with accent tile. Lighting at eye level with this installation can be done from behind the mirror, or with fixtures designed for mirror mounts. The world of medicine cabinet design has more than kept up with the latest trends, so any of these ideas can incorporate them. From powder room to master suite, vanity design opportunities seem limitless. These are just two of the ways that the vanity area has undergone significant change in recent years. Far from covering all there is, this taste will hopefully inspire even more in bath product and space design for the vanity area.