Running With Tradition

Running With Tradition

A new take on traditional styles for bathroom sinks, lavs and faucets has led to a host of new product designs, materials and finishes.

by Anita Shaw

These individual preferences have led to the demand for more choices in colors, finishes, materials and design concepts. Not surprisingly, then, when it comes to today's bath sink and faucet design trends, color ranges are broader, faucet finishes are tougher, materials are more diverse and traditional and contemporary styles can stand alone or blend together.

New traditions 

"People are so overpowered by technology outside the home that there seems to be this desire to have the home be a retreat from that," comments Charlie McTargett, trade business unit manager for Delta and Delta Select Units, Delta Faucet of Indianapolis, IN. 

Today's traditional styling doesn't mean products identical to those of the past, however. Current products for the bathroom have been designed to offer a good crossover between traditional and contemporary, manufacturers agree traditional influences, with a twist.

"Traditional [faucet] styles used to be larger in scale, with thicker spouts and handle bases and more Americana," notes Lori LeTourneau, national sales manager for KWC Faucets in Norcross, GA. "Now, the trend is toward slimmer, more tapered designs that read more European in flair."

"Style preferences have changed from 'pure' traditional, such as Greek Revival and Neoclassical styles, to styles from the Craftsman period," observes Steve Bissell, marketing manager of sanitary products for the Kohler, WI-based Kohler Co. "Mission style, Shaker style and styles reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright are becoming more predominant," he adds.

Universal design is also growing more prevalent, according to manufacturers, which note that today's cross and lever faucets meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, without being specifically designed to do so.

"We've always had the desire to design products that can be used by the physically challenged so that they don't need to buy a commercial product that reminds them that they have this challenge," stresses McTargett. He adds that many manufacturers have gone down this path. "You see products that are very ornate and are very good looking, and yet they're designed so that a wide variety of people that have infirmities can use them. That's important today because the whole baby boomer generation is getting older."

"Consumers have begun to open up to new ideas," comments John Spector, director of U.S. operations for Dornbracht USA, Inc. of Duluth, GA. He notes that the company's most popular seller, Tara, is a reinterpretation of the traditional style, redesigned using the cleaner, reduced lines of today. 

"While there will always be a market for replications of traditional fittings and accessories, we have seen a rising consumer interest in new looks," he reports. "Meeting the necessities of functionality, the popular product of today combines this sense of history with the clean lines of tomorrow."

Whether they prefer traditional, contemporary or a blend of the two, today's consumers appear to be willing to spend more for upscale products that will last longer and add value to their homes. Claudia Juarez, strategic marketing research analyst for the Anaheim, CA-based LASCO Bathware, notes, "People don't want something ordinary when remodeling the bathroom." 

Widespread faucets are currently more popular than the mini-widespread versions, according to Juarez, even though they are a little more expensive. "People are willing to pay for it, because they perceive it as something of greater value," she explains.

Finishing touches
With the movement toward traditional styles, a wide range of new finishes has become available. According to Uhl, while polished chrome remains popular, polished brass is experiencing a resurgence at American Standard because it is now available in a physical vapor deposition (PVD) finish that makes it very durable. Satin and black nickel faucet finishes are also available in PVD from the company. 

McTargett notes that Delta's polished brass fixtures, which can be treated similar to chrome, have also met with significant success. Though the line is more expensive than chrome, according to McTargett, "consumers are willing to spend the money, because they believe it will last."

Still, a decrease in the popularity of polished finishes in favor of brushed finishes, "especially in the cooler tones such as brushed chrome," has been noted, according to Spector. "The bath is a personal space, and we see this growing 'emotion' in bath design creating a desire for warmth, both visual and tactile."

Keith Kometer, product manager for faucets at Kohler Co. agrees, noting, "Consumers are looking for warmer, metallic finishes such as nickel and bronze."

"Special finishes that are 'Old World' in feel are popular for faucets," observes LeTourneau. For example, she notes the use of oil-rubbed bronze and pewter to achieve a nostalgic appearance.

"People today are interested in making new money look old. This explains why the new finishes, other than polished brass, are growing in popularity," comments McTargett.

"Polished brass is a little bit bright and gaudy. Pearl nickel has a more dull and matted look, so you're buying something new that looks old."

A brilliant finish with a light matte texture, such as pearl nickel, can be mixed and matched successfully with other finish types, such as chrome and polished brass, McTargett notes.

"It offers people additional options when remodeling," he says.
Adds Gary Pember, group product manager, Bath, for the North Olmsted, OH-based Moen Inc., "More choices such as platinum, satin, black opal and various other material selections and etching details give consumers the opportunity for individual expression and uniqueness."

Color choices
Other remodeling options are gained through the use of color. While decorating in traditional style used to mean white, "there is a whole range of variations of white that are popular," notes Uhl.

Almond, a staple in most new homes just 10 years ago, is dying a rapid death, being replaced by the more designer-friendly biscuit shade, according to McTargett. "Designers like the color it's fresher, it offers more options and it's much closer to white than it is to almond," he explains.

John Scott, v.p. of Swanstone Products for the St. Louis, MO-based Swan Corp., sees more emphasis on coloration, as opposed to the solid colors of white. "I see a trend going to more of the granite looking colors to coordinate with the walls. There's a trend to make a uniform look in the bathroom. Instead of making tile walls, there are solid surface walls, which can be coordinated with the vanities."

With regard to sinks, china is still a popular choice, as are porcelain and Corian. Newer choices are also gaining in interest, however. Uhl notes that American Standard is showing stone as an above-counter lavatory.

Elkay Manufacturing Co. of Oak Brook, IL, is favoring stainless steel sinks for the bathroom. "In the past, stainless steel sinks were used only in commercial bathroom applications or in the kitchen," notes Elkay director of marketing services Alan Danenberg.

"Now, we're seeing the use of stainless steel go way beyond the kitchen. It's easy to care for, and it's sanitary, which is a major issue in the home today."

"In terms of style, the use of solid surface countertops lends itself to the use of stainless steel in undermount sink designs," continues Danenberg. He notes that stainless steel gives consumers more flexibility in the countertop to do anything colorwise. "If the consumer wants to change the color scheme of the room, then the sink doesn't have to be replaced. It's very neutral, and it picks up the surrounding colors."

Mastering the bath
Whether building a new home or just remodeling an existing one, contractors agree that consumers spend a great deal of their time focused on the bathrooms. Often, the bathroom is a true reflection of the homeowner's personal style, and it can become both a luxurious escape from the outside world and a central showpiece.

"For the master bath, there is more space being devoted to the counter, with double sinks becoming common," comments Spector. "We see growing interest in the wall-mount lav set, which opens up many design possibilities."

There is also a growing interest in the use of above-counter lavatories in the master bathroom. "The lav sits on top of the counter, acting as a piece of art or an object that is very functional and very useful," explains Uhl. "As consumers consider the above-counter lavatory, it allows designers and homeowners to bring more furniture into the bathroom, furnishing the bathroom in similar fashion to the rest of the master bedroom suite."
Powder rooms or guest bathrooms are often showpieces for the home, featuring upscale products and dramatic pieces for effect. In addition, higher-end pieces may be used to tie in to the overall design of the home. 

"Being the most public 'private room' in the house, the powder room is a space where one can push the limit," Spector emphasizes. "We find that this bathroom tends to be a jewel, either in opulent traditional styles or cutting-edge design. We are seeing a renaissance in the use of color, and fixtures that make more of a design statement."

For the future, manufacturers expect the trend in bath sinks and faucets to be a blend of traditional designs with contemporary influences. Spector adds, "The consumer is more and more sensitive to pure design. Function is actually less of a concern with today's buyer, as it is expected as the norm. What then distinguishes one faucet, or one company, from another, is design."