Toys in the Bathroom

Toys in the Bathroom

European influences bring warm floors and towels to the forefront, with a whole new level of luxury warming up 
the bathroom hardware and accessories markets.

By Daina Darzin

The kitchen is usually the emotional and activity center of a family's home but it's the bathroom that satisfies its relaxation and sanctuary needs. Bathrooms are becoming larger and much more elaborate, with steam-equipped super showers, whirlpools with built in TVs and other luxuries that help to make the master bath the ultimate retreat. But, it's not just big things that create that sense of luxury. Every detail contributes to the overall bath sanctuary feeling from the finish on the hardware to the multitude of bath accessories that enhance the sense of comfort.

"In the past, people used their home to show off to their friends, but now it's more of a castle, a place where they can get away from the craziness of the real world," believes Dan Reinert, v.p./sales and marketing for Sussman Lifestyle Group Inc., in Long Island City, NY. "People are looking to add value to their bathroom, and also to make it more of a comfort zone."

"It's about trying to make people as comfortable as possible," agrees Don Kopis, marketing and communications manager for Easy Heat, Inc., in New Carlisle, IN. 

"They're looking for a little more elegance," adds Karen Collins, marketing communications manager for the Hartford, WI-based Broan-NuTone LLC. "You want to enjoy the bathroom. You want to go in and shut the door and [not have] someone banging on it," she quips.

How can industry players keep giving customers new products to meet these aims? According to bath hardware and accessory manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen and Bath Design News, they're looking to European-style accessories to start new American trends in comfort and luxury.

Warming up 

Especially in colder climates, warm floors and towels are a new way to make the bathroom a personal nirvana. In the U.S., floor warmers are still perceived by many as an innovation and a high-end item, but Kopis points out that in Europe, they've been a bathroom mainstay for years. 

"We've been trying to [increase] awareness that it's not necessarily a luxury," he explains. "Or, it's a luxury along the lines of a ceiling fan or a garage door opener." He elaborates that the floor warming systems are fairly easy to install, with cables under the substrate of the floor.

Ceramic tile is the optimum material for warming, Kopis explains; marble and other stones can also work, but take considerably longer to heat up (two hours vs. 20 minutes for tile). Whether or not warming is appropriate for linoleums and laminates is "currently a point of contention," says Kopis. "There's conflicting information coming out [from manufacturers]." Some softening of those floor materials is possible, though Kopis notes that the maximum heat for a floor heating system is 103 degrees, the equivalent of direct sunlight on a hot day, so a serious problem is unlikely.

The European home is also behind the advent of towel warmers. Upscale consumers have usually visited Europe at least once, says Reinert, and "they see that towel warmers are an integral part of the home [there]. They come back and they see they can do that in their own house." 

The two primary types of towel warmers are electric units that feature a heating element inside, which heats up fluid such as oil or a gel similar to anti-freeze. Other systems involve a hook-up with the hot water system of the shower; the towel bar is heated with water. The electrical units are more prevalent because they're simpler to install. 

Reinert explains that towel warmers are available in various decorative shapes and sizes, including a swing-away version that employs a pivoting hinge so the warmer can lay flat against the wall when not in use. The warmers come in a wide variety of decorative finishes, including many custom options.

Elegant touches
Exhaust fans and storage have always been a part of bathrooms, but these days, they're also an opportunity for expressing style and adding luxury.

Collins says decorative exhaust fans are the new hot thing. "They look very much like your hallway lights, like the beveled glass octagon shape," with a decorative metal trim like brushed satin nickel. 

Exhaust fans can go directly into a shower stall, enabling them to remove steam before it spreads through the room, she elaborates. For larger bathrooms with partitioned-off sections, several fans of the right size might be necessary for proper air flow. Proper duct work is also necessary to achieve the optimum effect.

"A lot of people only duct [fans] up into the attic; they're just taking all that heat and humidity and sticking it in the attic, where the mold and mildew can grow just as well," Collins explains. She adds that older fans have different duct work than the newer, quieter ones, and replacing an old fan without replacing the duct won't work. "You've just choked the fan down and made it noisier," she says. "The quieter fans typically displace more air and they need bigger ducting."

Ceiling paddle fans are also becoming a bathroom item in larger master baths, she continues. "It's another way to circulate the air. That's critical not only for better health and environment, but also to protect your structure." 

Similarly, mirrors and mirrored medicine cabinets are now an opportunity for upscale style. Raymond Lombardo, president of Afina Corp., in Paterson, NJ, cites a wide range of frame styles, including brush and satin nickel finishes. He notes a broad spectrum of coordinating lighting, with sconces above a 36" or 48" cabinet. "It's much more elaborate, with more design and a sense of style," he explains. 

Collins cites beautifully designed medicine cabinets that disappear into the wall as another up-and-coming trend. "It looks like a flat plate of glass with a touch-type spring [to open the door] and mirrors on the inside, so you don't have to open the door, get your makeup out, close the door, open it, get another piece. The mirror is on both sides," she says. A high-end frame makes the cabinet look like a decorative addition. Stainless steel is a hot new frame choice, she adds, along with cherry wood with its dark, rich feel, or matte black for a contemporary look. 

Amy Zook, product manager for Knape & Vogt, Grand Rapids, MI, also notes an increase in style in interior storage, with wire, chrome- plated and high-gloss white drawer organizers for vanities and cosmetic drawers. "You see unique cabinet components that become a part of the storage, with interesting built-up shelves, nooks and crannies for holding soaps and rolled up hand towels," she elaborates .

Concealed tanks for toilets are another new style flourish, notes Frank Rossi, product manager for Geberit Manufacturing Inc., in Michigan City, IN. The tank is inside the wall, saving six to nine inches in a smaller bathroom, Rossi notes. "The china is wall mounted, so it's very easy to clean." 

Collins says other utilitarian niceties for the bathroom include central vac systems to easily pick up powder, little hairs from trimming beards and mustaches, and other small debris. Intercoms are also gaining popularity as a bathroom addition, as well as better mini-speakers for music, she explains. "If you're going to relax in thewhirlpool, [you might want] some music in there without having the radio sitting on the counter."
Variety of finishes 

Knobs, towel bars and other hardware have come a long way since the days of basic chrome and brass, manufacturers agree.

"We see transitional style as a very big deal," reports Jill Poser, president of World Accents Inc., in Houston, TX. In this respect, she notes her company's Paris Deco collection, which utilizes an Art Deco influence, "They're very simple shapes with a timeless point of view, but they definitely have a style to them." The finish determines whether the style fits into contemporary or traditional design, she adds. A polished sterling like a satin nickel with a colder tone has a more contemporary look, whereas a bronze has a warmer feel. 

Poser says an "Old World bronze" finish, with a softer, lighter look than oil-rubbed bronze is a particularly hot up-and-coming look. "I don't know if people want exact, matchy-match [looks for their bathroom], but they definitely want coordination," Poser notes, with design integration from product category to category.
Old World-style hardware is still popular, agrees Warren Ramsland, general manager for Top Knobs USA, in Belle Mead, NJ. But the firm has added simple, contemporary designs, too, especially in brass.
Overall, brushed nickel is still the finish du jour, but pearl nickel, a matte nickel finish on Delta faucets, is a new twist, believes Rossi. 

For another dramatically different and easy-to-care-for look, Rock Solid offers knobs, pulls, toilet paper holders, soap dishes, built-in shower caddies, and other bath accessories made of solid surface material that can be custom-matched to any solid surface countertop material, explains Lee York, director of marketing for Rock Solid Inc., Madison, WI.

Decorative finishes are also available for traps, grid drains and angle- stop valves, Rossi notes. "We're seeing that niche market taking off." The decorative fixtures are meant to be used with glass sinks, either see-through or colored glass. "That is becoming a very popular market," says Rossi. "They're finding styles that will fit any type of bath décor, from traditional to contemporary to even a country theme." KBDN