Italian Simplicity

Italian Simplicity

Offering clean lines, high-level function and contemporary styling, singular and modular kitchen and bath products from Italy are now making headway in the U.S.

BY BARBARA CAPELLA LOEHR

Italian kitchen and bath products offer the contemporary look and clean lines that have been increasingly embraced over the past few years by the U.S. kitchen and bath market, note Italian manufacturers. As a result, it's no wonder that at the recent K/BIS in Chicago, the companies exhibiting their wares within the Italian Trade Commission's (ITC) pavilion made a huge splash.

Other European companies, such as Silestone by Cosentino, Abet Laminati, Zucchetti, Mobara, Valsan Bathrooms, Porcher, AGA and Enterprise Ireland which represents such Irish firms as Vitra Tiles and The Tipperary Furniture Co. also exhibited at the show in response to this growing demand for European kitchen and bath products. These companies, and those companies under the ITC umbrella such as Lady Cucine Srl, Jetair s.r.l., Mina, Brandoni, La Torre and PDP Box Doccia S.p.A., to name a few are enjoying a greater demand for their sleek, minimalist products, say European manufacturers.

Their products, along with many others that are coming out of Europe, showcase contemporary styling that features design simplicity and high function.

And while many of these singular products can be mixed and matched for an "unfussy," eclectic look, many more are being grouped as modular products, and as product suites.

STREAMLINED DESIGN
For years many companies stateside have been importing an increasing number of Italian and other European products such as cabinetry, faucets, plumbing fixtures and tile. Still many others have been bringing their

contemporary-style products directly to the U.S. The number is now becoming greater due to the increasing demand for kitchen and bath products that are contemporary and streamlined, note Italian manufacturers.

Indeed, an "understated modern look with clean lines, natural woods and finishes or natural countertop materials" from Europe, and especially from Italy, is gaining ground stateside, notes Lisa Nemrow, principal with Boston-MA-based Bis Bis. The company offers such kitchen and bath products as cabinetry, countertops and plumbing fixtures that are all designed and produced in Italy by companies such as Vetraria Toscana 2 (VT2).

However, adds Nemrow, "traditionalism is creeping back in."Giorgio Ameri and Annabella Ameri of Melbourne, FL-based Maverick International Trading and Consulting, Inc., concur, noting that while "contemporary design and minimalism are what the European trends are presently showing strongly for kitchens and baths the traditional-style kitchen and bath have always had their presence."

Maverick, which also has offices in Italy and Russia, represents seven Italian kitchen and bath manufacturers Caleido/ Co.Ge.Fin. Srl., Rubinetteria Giulini Giovanni SNC, Nouve Linee Bagno, Red Line SRL, I Valentini SRL, Speedy Idee Casa SNC and Zappalorto SRL in the U.S. Giorgio Ameri is Maverick's CEO, while Annabella Ameri is the firm's president and director of marketing and trade.

The Ameris add: "The bath, on the other hand, is recently living a new life, thanks to a very modern design, which is getting closer and closer to the aesthetics of the kitchen's."

The ITC also sees the interest in both the traditional and contemporary segments, noting the latest tile trends for each.

"Clean, modernist spaces are enhanced by state-of-the-art, through-body porcelains in a wide range of modular formats and colors. Cool neutral shades, elongated rectangular formats and rectified edges create simple, sophisticated looks," says the ITC, which cites Ceramica Viva's XiloBlack, Casalgrande Padana's Meteor, Fap Ceramiche's Vision and CO.EM's Lab-One tiles as examples of these trends.

As for traditional tile looks, the ITC points to a range of styles that encompass everything from "classic terracotta looks to intricately patterned surfaces in warm blues and yellows." It lists Vietri Antico's Puolo and Paipo, Eco Ceramica's Villa Romane, Astor's Cotto d'Epoca and Cerim's Ricordi-Cuoio tiles as examples.

The overall trend toward contemporary-style Italian products, in particular, can be attributed to the appeal of the creativity contemporary design allows, states Antonio Musso, president of Marblehead, MA-based Italbrass/Mondo Brass, Inc., which offers faucetry and sinks from Italian companies such as EVEN Design, Confalonieri, spa, and OPEN Kristallix, spa.

For example, he cites square design as a new trend making headway in the U.S.: "It's very big in Europe now, and it's becoming big here."

This sleek, contemporary look is something that Italy and the rest of Europe have been showcasing for years in kitchen and bath products to varying degrees, say European manufacturers. They believe the growing affinity for this contemporary style stateside can also be attributed to the fact that consumers are seeking less clutter in their lives.

Most of the hot looks out of Europe, and Italy in particular, are characterized by a simple, compact, minimalist design that "features smooth lines with attention to detail," says David Burchnall, v.p. of Wilmington, NC-based Danesmoor USA, LLC, which represents three Italian cabinet component companies Mobilclan Industries Spa, Friul Intagli Spa and 3B and one Italian lighting company DOMUS Line.

Amy Napoleone agrees with that assessment, adding: "The U.S. market adds a retro look to the minimalist qualities of the European market. This well-edited 'retro' look adds the warmth Americans seek." She represents EX: Inc., a New York City, NY-based firm that offers a variety of Italian kitchen and bath products.

That retro look Napoleone cites is taking "two to three routes," says Richard Moss, American Standard's and Porcher's U.K.-based communication manager for Europe. "For one, there's a simpler version of what we saw years ago, and another direction it's going is characterized by the mixing of 1950s and 1960s styles and colors," he explains.

NATURAL BEAUTY
Going natural also seems to be going hand-in-hand with the majority of the hot contemporary European kitchen and bath products, say manufacturers.

According to Napoleone, in terms of tile and other surfacing products from Italy and the rest of Europe, the natural look is in. In particular, she points to "natural stone in softer brushed finishes, glass mosaics in a variety of colors, sizes and finishes, natural colors, glass tiles and tongue-and-groove plank cork flooring" as popular products.

"In general, we are doing a lot more with natural materials, in both custom and semi-custom production," adds Nemrow.
Overall, Nemrow is seeing the increased use of metals, woods and glass combined in natural applications, along with more natural finishes and more earthy or spicy color palettes as leading trends in Italian kitchen and bath products. More specifically, among the leading trends in Italian countertop products that she sees is the use of stone in unique applications, as well as the use of concrete, lava stone and glass in unusual applications.

Moss points to an increased interest in lighter woods and metallics. And "stainless steel that has been in the kitchen for 10 years is taking off in the bath now," he adds.

As for color in the bath, Moss believes that while white is the preferred color for plumbing fixtures because it represents the color of simplicity, "colors are beginning to emerge mainly from Italy that are a little 1950s-ish, but are combined with beautiful, flowing shapes."

"Great attention is devoted to sink (washbasin) novelties, both [with regard to] contemporary/ modern and the traditional/classic styles that contribute to the set-up of the character of both the kitchen and bath. Resins are [frequently] used, but so is real stone, or a mix of various materials recalling the production of years past that is reworked in a modern manner," note the Ameris, who add that there's increased interest in designer faucets. They point to the growing popularity of the Giulini brand as an example of this trend.

Nemrow also notes the current popularity of cast and cut-stone sinks. However, Musso sees glass as a still-popular choice for sinks.

In terms of cabinetry, Nemrow says the mantra of clean lines and natural finishes and colors reigns supreme now. While there are more traditional elements such as beadboard being applied to the cabinetry Bis Bis is producing today,

Nemrow says that "cleaner lines are in playWe are not seeing a lot of frills or embellishment."

Based on the reception of the Italian cabinet components Danesmoor offers, Burchnall believes there is an interest in not only natural woods and natural finishes, but also in high-gloss finishes and wrapped cabinet components that mimic the look of natural wood.

For example, he says, while there's a demand for solid wood components, which Mobilclan currently offers in popular wood species such as "knotty" European oak, there's a demand for five-piece doors and drawer fronts wrapped in foils, PVCs and true veneers that Friul Intagli offers in looks that mimic cherry, dark and light walnut, and European oak. Burchnall also points to the interest in high-gloss finishes that mimic woodgrains, such as those from 3B that mimic the look of cherry and birch.

GOING 'MOD'
While singular European kitchen and bath products that exude simplicity and high function are hot stateside, many modular products and product suites from Europe are gaining ground because they make creating one cohesive design easier, note European manufacturers.

For instance, "we are getting good response on modular [cabinetry] units, with free-standing columns and appliance units. These have a contemporary look with traditional accents," offers Nemrow. These also feature lighting, countertop and tile options. In terms of showers, Bis Bis is "also doing a lot more with integrated systems" that include, for instance, a Corian shower pan paired with an Italian-made glass enclosure and showerhead.

In addition to the modular design Nemrow cites, Musso also sees product suites becoming big in the U.S. "In Europe we are matching everything, from accessories and sinks to faucets and lights. It's the very trendy thing right now,"
he says, noting that, in response, Italbrass/Mondo Brass, Inc. offers a suite design.

In the same vein as suite design, Moss notes a movement toward offering a range of products divided into categories defined by lifestyle. As he explains: "There's a movement toward designing more by customer lifestyle, as evidenced by those designs coming out of France and Germany. So, we are designing a range products that fit different lifestyles and tastes, such as Feng Shui, loft living, classical and retro."

Moss cites "criss-cross design" as another result of designing for customers' varied lifestyles. "Marc Sadler, one of our designers, would design a tub or a lav or faucet, and give customers choices for what they want and make that into a collection," he says.

Moss also believes there will be further experimentation with modular bath design from Europe in the future, with individual shower, lavs, etc. that can all be mixed and matched.

LOOKING AHEAD
As for future trends, European manufacturers say they are noticing an ever-growing demand
for European kitchen and bath products in the U.S., due to their design and advanced
technological capabilities.

In fact, Moss believes that five years from now, European bath design, and bath design overall, will "probably be driven by technology. There is a lot of experimentation with that now. There will be showering done through technology, faucet design will incorporate new technology and even the way lighting is done and materials are worked will be influenced by new technology."

There will also be a move toward even more ergonomic design in the bath, he adds, with larger tubs and showers being designed exactly for the person using them.

While Musso and Burchnall both believe the crystal ball is a little too cloudy to truly predict the next hot European kitchen and bath products and trends, they do also offer some thoughts.

Musso believes that the most innovative designs from Italy, in particular, will continue to make headway in the U.S, and, more specifically, he ventures that "square design will last for a couple of years."

Burchnall believes that the next new design challenge the Italians will take on is reconstituted leather as a finish for slab cabinetry doors, but whether it will be the next "hot" item still remains to be seen.

But while individual trends may vary, it seems clear that European products will continue to make headway in the U.S. as American consumers continue to value the kind of high style most often associated with European design. "Americans have always been fascinated with Europe for the high quality of European products and the history behind them," note the Ameris.

It is because of that fascination that Italian products, in particular, will continue to punctuate the U.S. kitchen and bath landscape, the Ameris note. In fact, they believe, over the next five years, Italian kitchen and bath products will penetrate more of "the top fascia of the market." KBDN

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