Everything Old Is New Again

In past years, one overriding trend seemed to take over the kitchen market. Remember the short-lived excitement over PVD-coated, shiny brass, the year when everybody, but everybody, had to have a satin nickel faucet?'

Today, a more sophisticated and well-informed consumer market knows about all the available options'and homeowners increasingly want to make an individualized statement.

"The most important trend happening today is choice," declares Chuck Burhans, president of Blanco America, in Lumberton, NJ. "The idea of personal choice in everything from design, configuration, bowl depth, material, custom accessories, matching options for primary and secondary sinks, and more, has really been gaining speed in the last two years. The other trends are great to acknowledge and discuss, but personal choice is really what consumers are after. It's what drives everything else."

In short, a designer may well be planning a starkly industrial/minimalist kitchen for one client while executing a homey, rustic Tuscany space for another. And there'll be plenty of trendy choices in faucets, sinks and water accessories for both, according to the manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Streamlined Options

Today's design landscape may have a myriad of parallel trends from which to choose, but one major theme is "less is more." Even traditional styles these days sport more of a sense of space, with less clutter and more breathing room that showcases the beauty of antique details.'

"I view what's happening as 'modern comfortable,'" says Burhans, who thinks functionality concerns will keep most homeowners away from more extreme minimalist contemporary looks. "While the desire for more modern styles certainly prevails, consumers also want function and convenience." "We've never gone for stark contemporary, even though you see it in a lot of magazines, because it's a cold look," echoes Dick Isaacs, national sales and marketing manager for Harrington Brass Works, in Allendale, NJ. "People tend to want to be warm in their kitchens."

In the metropolitan high end, however, minimalism flourishes, in both sleek European versions and more rugged industrial/loft looks. "This is a smaller market, but a very important one," thinks Steve Sorensen, director of marketing services for Elkay, in Oak Brook, IL.

"The trends are going away from the heavy ornate styles in a kitchen, more to a soft contemporary look," believes Joan Bostic, v.p./sales and marketing, KWC America, Norcross, GA, a subsidiary of KWC Switzerland. She also sees 1920s Art Deco-influenced looks as an up-and-coming niche. "It's an elegant era that people are really starting to enjoy having in their home," she notes.'

Lou Rohl, CEO for Rohl LLC, in Costa Mesa, CA, reports that he is bringing his company's retro Michael Berman bath line'which takes its design cues from vintage modes of upscale transportation such as ocean liners and luxury trains'into the kitchen.

The commercial, pro-look wave that started with appliances is also translating to sinks and faucets. "Homeowners really want to be perceived as experienced cooks and experts in the kitchen," believes Burhans, who sees sinks and faucets following the commercial spirit of the appliance category for a new level of "pro-sumer" products for the serious cook.

Inventive Hybrids

In most cases, the pro/industrial approach to a sink starts with stainless steel. "Consumers are still having a love affair with stainless steel," believes Jim Ray, v.p./sales and marketing for TEKA USA, in Tampa, FL.' "[Steel] offers many advantages: aesthetics, corrosion resistance, easy maintenance, design possibilities for hand-crafted and custom work," adds Celine Marcotte, marketing and communications coordinator for Julien Inc., in Quebec, Canada. The bottom grid is increasingly becoming a standard feature, along with options such as cutting boards and baskets.

"Some people are doing colanders now," notes Bostic. She also sees a trend towards multi-function accessories that will make for less clutter around the sink area. Of course, hot water spigots, soap dispensers and purified water dispensers are increasingly must-haves, "as required for the ultimate food preparation and work area," notes Marcotte.'Water filtration is also becoming a mainstay. "We offer it within the main faucet, but also as a separate pull-out hose, so it's multi-functional'it can also be used to fill the coffee pot, [and as a pot filler]," notes Bostic.

Though some whole-house systems put filtration into the main faucet. "Consumers predominantly want a separate faucet for their water filtration system," believes Burhans. "Part of the reason why is a flow issue.' With increased filtration comes a reduced flow. They don't necessarily want to deal with that every time they turn on the faucet."

As for the shape of sinks to come, in the mainstream and builder markets, "the standard top-mount, double-bowl sink still dominates," says Gary M. Fuqua, v.p./marketing, FHP Kindred USA, in Hatfield, PA. For those searching for something less square looking, TEKA's Ray cites rounded or D-shaped bowls that "offer a softer, more elegant look and work wonderfully with the thicker countertops. They also transcend styles'[they look] great in a modern setting or a more traditional or vintage design."

For the truly adventurous steel is now manifesting itself in interesting new shapes'the apron and the angular zero-radius (90' angle, no curves), such as Blanco's new Blancoprecision Series. "Zero-radius sinks are coming on strong," confirms Elkay's Sorensen. "We are [also] introducing a new line of these sinks."

"Julien's newest collection reflects exactly that: squared sinks, with angles rather than radius, a very commercial, architectural and professional approach," echoes Marcotte.

Alternately, the good old farmer sink is getting a fresh spin. "What's old is new," observes Fuqua. "Apron-front or farmhouse sinks give the kitchen a traditional, high-end, heavy-duty appearance, ready to tackle any cooking project."

But, in fact, today's neo-farmhouse looks don't have to be traditional, as demonstrated in Julien's contemporary steel apron line. "The once traditional classic farmhouse sink has been reinvented," notes Marcotte.'

"More and more, stainless steel is being used for the farmhouse-style sinks," agrees Burhans, "[though] it's still very much a niche market."

"[A steel farm sink] can have a country look in one installation, but can also be considered modern or contemporary in a different [one]," believes Marcotte. Another innovative advantage of Julien's version' integrated tilt-out drawers inside the sink or on the front apron.

Another genre-mixing idea comes from Elkay: "At K/BIS 2005 Elkay will introduce a line of geometric stainless steel sinks that mount onto the countertop like a vessel and will be available in three shapes: rectangular, square and circular," Sorensen reveals.'

A farm sink is also obviously attractive to consumers who want a warmer, homier style, and white fireclay is an up-and-comer here. "We're seeing a demand for larger, deeper, apron-front fireclay sinks," reports Rohl. "[Fire clay] is definitely replacing cast iron. The glaze and the clay fuse together, the material is homogenous'[it] wears almost as well as stainless, but is warmer to the touch.

"Initially, people were being true to the authentic farmhouse look, but now we see [the white farmhouse sink] moving more to the contemporary and even minimalist style, where people are looking to the fireclay apron sink to add depth and warmth to a contemporary kitchen," he elaborates.

For those who want the convenience of undermounts, the new idea is to have them in a color or pattern. Thus, the granite sink, which has long been a niche product, seems to finally be catching on. Burhans points out that Blanco "pioneered the use of material such as Silgranit in 1980, but they have only just begun growing in popularity in the last few years."

"Granite sinks are offering consumers an alternative to porcelain-coated sinks that have, for years, dominated the color sink market," thinks Fuqua. Granite sinks are extremely durable, will not chip, stain, or scratch, and can withstand exposure to high heat, he adds.'

An Industrial Revolution

A densely accessorized, complex, professional sink mandates a stainless steel faucet with a similarly industrial, no-nonsense attitude, those surveyed suggest. Burhans cites Blanco's Master Gourmet faucet as a good match for this application. "They're commercial-looking, distinctly modern and bold, big and tall. They have a definitive presence," he notes. "We expected these faucets would do well in their own niche, but the success has really been much more than initially expected."

Similarly, Avi Abel, general manager, Watermark Designs, in Spring Creek, NY says "industrial, restaurant-looking faucets" are the look of the minute.

Geometric, square-shaped faucetry also seems to be on the rise on the contemporary front, a good match to the above-mentioned zero-radius sinks. Sorensen also cites Elkay's new collections of Italian designer-influenced faucets that feature sleek, refined lines with such features as precise pivot-and-locking spout, a smooth-pulling spray head that retracts and releases easily and one-touch operation that lets the user switch effortlessly from spray to stream water flow.

In finishes consumers now have almost too many from which to choose, but stainless steel and shiny chrome seem to be the hot sellers at the moment.

"Stainless is so high tech, yet also eludes classic lines and pairs wonderfully with stainless sinks," says Ray. Chrome, on the other hand, has the authentic vintage look many consumers want, "and it always looks gorgeous," says Bostic. "Chrome is still the majority of what we sell because it does have that jewel sparkle to it. It's classic'50 years from now, it's still going to be an' appropriate finish."

For an adventure pick in a finish, some antique weathered finishes are showing up on starkly modern faucets and hardware. "We see it both in the kitchen and the bath, where people are tying to create more of a Zen or Asian look," thinks Rohl. "Where you have this contemporary style finished in Tuscan brass to add a bit of warmth, yet keep in that minimalist genre."

As for the much-touted wave of PVD coatings, many still really appreciate their durability, but others are returning to the somewhat higher maintenance, but more authentic look of real living finishes. "PVD will always be around," says Bostic. "It does provide a lot of options in color. But it's still not going to give a person the finish that a real pewter or chrome, a real metal, will give them. It's a duller finish'but it's sturdy, it should last a lifetime."

"There is some resurgence of living finishes today, but it's a relatively narrow trend," counters Burhans.' "People don't want objects that require a lot of care and upkeep." "It's an issue of quality over aesthetics," notes Abel. "PVD is still the strongest finish on the market, but [it] definitely does not have the look of a true electroplated finish."

"We never offered our faucets with any kind of PVD coating," says Rohl. "It took away from the authentic nature of these weathered finishes. When the consumer understands what the finish is all about, they know there's a maintenance issue, they're fine with it." The said maintenance issue, he adds, involves periodic application of a beeswax cleaner/protector. He insists that many homeowners will go for an authentic look over easy function. "Our classic faucets have done surprisingly well," Rohl notes. "People are opting for more of an authentic look [and will prioritize that over easier maintenance]."

"I think you have a dividing line," notes Isaacs. "In the medium- to lower-range faucets, you're going to get a lot of the PVD-coated finishes. But when people get up there and spend a $1,000 for a faucet, they want the living finishes."


Dealers See Strong Demand for Fireclay Farmhouse Sinks and Chrome Faucets

The farmhouse sink certainly seems to be the trend du jour in the real world, though the new batch of contemporary stainless styles haven't quite reached consumers.

But some imaginative takes on the old classic have materialized nonetheless. In his mostly traditional market, David Heigl, CKD, director of CabinetWerks Design Studio, in Lincolnshire, IL, notes recent projects which have included a hammered copper farm sink with a patina. Another kitchen featured a farmer sink carved of solid soapstone.'

But, for the most part, "It's more of the [white] fireclay and a traditional look," reports Molly Korb, MK Designs, CKD, CBD, in New Castle, CA, who also says the farmer sink is on the rise.

Rebecca Gullion Lindquist, CMKBD, owner of Lindquist & Co. Kitchens and Baths, in Duluth, MN, says she encourages her clients to think functionality. "I sell a lot of higher-end sinks, I've never had any difficulty upgrading people to [top-of-the-line] sinks," she explains. "I take a really functional approach to sinks because, in my opinion, the sink is the hardest working appliance in your kitchen."

"It's important to invest in something that's functional, and that's going to last forever. I like the D-shape bowl [in predominantly stainless steel sinks] because it will accept the largest roasting pans. 'I put a lot of sinks with integral drainboards in my projects, and my clients seem to love them," she says.

The D-shaped single bowl combined with a drainboard makes for a spacious, effective workspace even in a small kitchen, she believes, adding, "If I'm not doing the D-shape, I'm doing a fireclay farmer sink. Clients are bringing me photos of those. They really want the farmhouse look."

For faucets Korb favors the integral pull-out, which leaves room for more accessories such as the ever-popular soap and hot water dispensers.' Satin nickel is big in her California market'chromes much-touted comeback hasn't made an impact yet.'

Lindquist, on the other hand, uses chrome all of the time. While she believes finish is ultimately "a client-driven decision, I tend to go for function again.'And I think a chrome faucet is a lot easier to maintain than a brushed stainless, [which] shows every water spot."

Heigl reports that he has utilized shiny chrome in retro Art Deco-inspired kitchens, but pewter and brushed nickel are still the mainstays of his market. For style "they're all doing gooseneck faucets, either wall-mounted or deck-mounted," he reports.'

Korb adds that pot fillers are a must-have for her clients. As for accessories, "50% of my kitchens will have water filtration, [and] some of our refrigerator people are already including that," notes Korb.'

Heigl adds that sometimes his projects include a second filtered water faucet, for instance, on an island, but hooked up to the same filtering system.'

Lindquist doesn't get much demand for water filtering, but admits her market is an anomaly: With a supply of amazingly clean, cold water from Lake Superior, Duluth is one of the few markets where people still happily drink water from the tap.


Chrome Still Tops Consumers' List, Survey Reveals

While nickel finishes'satin, polished and brushed'have made significant inroads with consumers over recent years, an old standby still tops consumers' list for faucet finishes: chrome.

That's according to the NPD Houseworld, a division of The NPD Group, Inc., a Port Washington, NY-based research group. NPD Houseworld is focused on tracking the appliance, housewares, home improvement and home textiles markets. The firm recently reported its findings with regard to kitchen faucet unit sales in the U.S. It found that between January and December 2004, 9.6 million kitchen faucets were sold, translating to $776.2 million dollars spent over that time period.

Based on those unit sales, NPD reported that the top three faucet finish choices among U.S. consumers are chrome (reflective silver), stainless steel/nickel (matte silver/pewter) and white.

While the trend toward chrome, according to the NPD's findings, would appear to be strongest in the lower income brackets, it was still a solid choice for mid-to upperend consumers, with 16.7% of unit sales falling in the $45,000 to $59,999 income brackets, 10.2% of sales falling in the $60,000-$74,999 income brackets, 12.8% falling in the $75,000-$99,999 income brackets, and 11.8% falling in the $100,000-$149,999 income brackets.

Not surprisingly, chrome was less strong at the ultra high end, with only 3.9% of unit sales falling into the $150,000-plus income brackets, according to NPD data. Kitchen dealers recently surveyed echoed the findings that chrome is gaining ground in the kitchen faucet market. This especially true for clients looking to create a an Art-Deco-inspired theme.

See story, Page 80Kitchen faucet manufacturers see a similar picture, noting the following trends:

  • In finishes, satin nickel remains a mainstay, but, as in the bath, 'good, old, shiny' chrome is making a major resurgence.
  • While the trend of the last few years moved away from real living finishes toward PVD coatings, on the high end, the pendulum is swinging back to the more authentic look of real patinas on oil-rubbed bronze, antique copper, etc. However, PVD coatings remain popular due to their durability.
  • Combining a traditionally vintage faucet finish, such as antique copper, with a contemporary-looking faucet style is another way to create an eclectic look, or a serene Asian-influenced feel.
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