Sleek and Stylish

Years ago no one gave much thought to the little room where things got personal – but times have certainly changed. The days of practical, basic white and beige sinks, toilets and tubs in the bath are gone. The same goes for vanities, which are popping up with darker and bolder finishes and in a plethora of design options, from sleek and streamlined to free-standing and furniture-style.

It's no wonder, then, that they continue to take center stage, often times becoming the impact piece in the bath – especially, powder rooms.

That's according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News. They've taken note of consumers who want more than just function and more than just beauty from their vanity choice. Indeed, they continue to meet consumers' demand for both in one vanity, and their demand for vast selection so that they can choose one exactly suited to their needs and taste.

Additionally, storage is still a consideration within the vanity, but consumer demand is steadily growing for additional storage space in the bath, note manufacturers.

Vanity as Furniture

The "freestyle" vanity is even more popular than in the past, according to Jeff Ptacek, CKD, product manager for StarMark Cabinetry and Fieldstone Cabinetry in Sioux Falls, SD. "Consumers are demanding a larger selection of feet and leg styles. The legs are becoming taller for a more open, airy feel," he adds.

Len Campagna, president of Campagna Furniture in Scottsdale, AZ, agrees: "The trend for stand alone, freestyle furniture in the bath is growing."

Angela Scarbrough, senior marketing manager for Decolav in Deerfield Beach, FL, further categorizes this trend. She sees a strong demand for free-standing furniture pieces in the powder room. Scarbrough says that furniture pieces are still popular choices for vanities in the master bath, but also sees demand for full vanity pieces there.

While Jason Chen, general manager for RonBow Materials Corp. in Haywood, CA, agrees that while "traditional, freestyle furniture is a trend that will stay for a few more years," the trend will "veer more towards the merge of traditional and contemporary or 'neo-classic' styling."

Sleek & Updated

Most manufacturers agree that the latest styling for vanities includes clean, simple lines and a more contemporary look. Sandra Luttchens, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo, IA, sees the trend toward "sleek lines" with "clean slab door stiles and five-piece doors with wide rails and stiles."

Scarbrough expects to see a "bit of everything," in terms of styling. She also points to a "strong Asian influence in design," including the use of natural materials such as bamboo and "green designs," which are "earth-friendly and organic-looking."

Luttchens predicts a move into a more "cosmopolitan" look for vanities, with dark colors and "edgy" design. However, she expects the designs to still be basically traditional and appealing to most mainstream consumers. Chen asserts the latest trend is moving toward "traditional styles, but with a modern look." And Campagna adds that there's a trend toward using "radius patterns with fewer ornamental moldings and onlays."

Luttchens further predicts a "big move" toward an "island feel," characterizing the look as "upscale, casual, with deep browns and rich rattan inserts with coordinating mirrors."

Consumers are also looking for styling of "visual interest," Luttchens contends. To that end, different insert panels such as rattan or frosted glass offer a customization of the vanity that allows for a unique look. She adds that these inserts also "allow consumers to easily change the look in the future."

James Lin, president of the cabinetry division of Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA, also thinks the trend in bath vanities is moving toward a less ornate look, reflecting a "relaxed lifestyle." Lin's assessment is based on the fact that Fairmont's typical consumer is "a busy professional, possibly a working mother, who wants bath furnishings that are simple, functional and tastefully done."

Dark Choices

While Karen Wistrom, marketing director for Dura Supreme in Howard Lake, MN, agrees that "free-standing furniture is still the prominent trend," she believes that the larger overall trend in the bath vanity market right now relates to color.

"Lots of people want to make a statement in the bath," says Wistrom, adding, "It's a smaller room, and it can have lots of punch." She says a growing number of consumers are asking for darker colors such as dark cocoa brown. Campagna agrees, maintaining that the color trend is toward dark, natural wood finishes, while Chen believes that bolder, yet more basic colors are the trend. To that end, people are choosing "black, dark browns, walnut and rustic reds," says Chen.

However, Wistrom adds that, overall, the traditional use of a medium tone on a vanity is still currently the dominant trend.

Going one step farther, Ptacek believes there's still some demand for lighter colors, citing "yellow tones such as amber and butterscotch" as examples. Meanwhile, Wistrom weighs in again with her belief that there's only one exception to the demand for dark tones – the "coastal look," which features shades of white with beadboard. The lighter colors can offer a sleeker, almost contemporary look in the bath, she believes.

Overall, manufacturers say darker colors and wood tones are making a strong push, with some lighter hues and tones still strong. In the end, they say, geography seems to affect some color choices. For instance, Luttchens explains that Northeasterners seem to prefer more painted finishes, and Floridians opt for mid- to darker tones with glazes and specialty finishes.

Exotic Woods

While traditional wood species such as oak, maple and cherry remain in high demand, manufacturers of bath vanities see a trend toward more exotic woods.

Lin explains that alder mixed with exotic veneers such as zebra wood and ebony, as well as white oak and lyptus, are currently among the hottest picks. Wistrom says lyptus is a "new wood," a "mahogany look-alike… that is a hybrid of eucalyptus and is a fast-growing wood that regenerates itself from the original root after harvesting." She currently finds the "bulk of the interest" in lyptus in Florida and California – two places she feels are "more on the cutting edge," and therefore, more readily embracing this new wood species. Other exotic woods are also becoming popular, such as "white oak, beech and bird's eye maple with its oval patterned," she adds.

Campagna agrees that exotic hardwoods are in greater demand, and says "alder is growing in popularity." However, he adds that there's an increasing number of dealers who are complaining about the reliability of imported woods, and citing serious problems with "splitting and cracking," reports Campagna. As a result, he adds, "many dealers are seeking wood products manufactured in North America. [They prefer] dried, indigenous hardwoods to prevent splitting and finish failure."