Furniture style, vintage looks and more upscale medicine cabinet styling are hallmarks of a bath vanity market that caters to individual tastes.
By Daina Darzin
All of these needs are being met by an increasingly complex and varied bath vanity and medicine cabinet market, according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Today's hot style isanything consumers want it to be. "We've seen very ornate Old World stuff, Arts and Crafts and Mission looks, and some [styles] that really didn't fit neatly into any package," notes John Troxell, design director for Wood-Mode Inc., in Kreamer, PA.
"The biggest thing is, people are looking to customize and express their own individuality in their bathroom [with] a semi-custom look," echoes Allison Kurtz, marketing manager for Robern, in Bristol, PA.
Manufacturers agree, however, that furniture styling is a prevalent trend, no matter which era of furniture it evokes. "People are excited about furniture detailing anything that makes it look like you didn't just buy a standard vanity," says Sandra Luttchens, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry, Waterloo, IA.
Troxell cites period architectural styling, and table looks with
a skirt in metal, wrought iron, wood and other materials, as new
hot choices. "Vanities tend to be on the fanciful side," he
Similarly, Stacie Gilles, manager of marketing communications for Decora, in Jasper, IN, sees a growth in open shelving and glass doors to display decorative items, along with such furniture touches as bundt feet, tapered legs and flutes.
Mark Conde, product manager for the Red Lion, PA-based Yorktowne Inc., adds that this trend extends to medicine cabinets, with "fluted columns flanking either side, rope or beaded moulding, and accent pieces that are incorporated into the vanity or medicine cabinet to give it that real custom furniture individual look."
Manufacturers emphasize that furniture looks aren't limited to Old World styles. Kurtz cites glamorous 1930s-1940s looks, with "a chrome, porcelain authenticity" as an up-and-coming trend.
"Retro looks are popular," adds Gilles. "People like those smooth lines. You're seeing a lot of Shaker moving into the bathroom, with finishes you might not normally see, [such as] a Shaker door with a heavier glaze."
"We have a free-standing Arts and Crafts [vanity] that's selling like crazy," agrees Luttchens. "We're also seeing [a look that is] more transitional not real contemporary, but with softer lines, not so much detailing, [with] a simple, tapered leg."
Adds Sarah Reep, ASID, CKD, CMG, StarMark, Inc., makers of
Fieldstone, Sioux Falls, SD, "Traditional still sells the most in
all areas of the home. Contemporary influences are showing up in
the kitchen, which will ultimately emigrate to the bath." She adds,
however, that traditional looks aren't as elaborate as a few years
In kitchen cabinetry, the high-end market is veering toward contemporary styles, exotic woods and clear, minimalist finishes, but this trend has yet to reach the bathroom, manufacturers agree.
Troxell explains that painted finishes, crackle glaze and
antique painted looks reinforce an Old World, antique look. Darker
woods and finishes are also coming into vogue "for something more
dramatic in the bathroom: People are going for that elegant feel,"
adds Gilles, who further notes that traditional white cabinetry
remains a bathroom mainstay.
Reep, on the other hand, cites the popularity of multi-step finishes in monochromatic, soothing colors with fewer brights or accent colors.
Consumers want to experiment with different finishes in the
bathroom, believes Luttchens. "They're reluctant to do something
really innovative in the kitchen because it's such a large room,"
she explains. "But they'll experiment a little more in the
As for wood choices, cherry and maple still lead the pack, while Conde notes that thermafoils are still popular because they resist moisture; he believes consumers will often choose a less expensive wood in order to invest in furniture styling. Manufacturers also cite oak and pecan as other vanity choices.
EnDure Waterproof Cabinetry, in Streetsboro, OH, now offers cabinetry made out of polyethylene, roto-molded plastic. "It doesn't peel, chip, stain or rot [and] it holds up to a lot of abuse," notes Todd Hurst, commercial sales and marketing representative for Endure. The cabinets feature a raised-panel design and a textured surface that avoids the shiny, plastic look.
EnDure's product was originally designed for apartment owners and housing authorities, but makes a fine choice for a heavily trafficked family bathroom, explained Hurst. He touts it as a more durable alternative to laminate over particle board, which tends to swell and delaminate when exposed to water.
Whichever wood consumers choose, it's most likely to be topped by marble, granite or solid surface in upscale homes. Reep adds that engineered stone such as Corian's Zodiaq is making significant inroads in the vanity top market.
Troxell also cites glass countertops as a cutting edge, high-end
pick to top off a stylish vanity, often paired with a glass vessel
bowl. "It's a luxury look," he explains.
The trend toward furniture styling and the increasing popularity of pedestal lavs in powder baths has had one downside: where to put all the things that used to be housed in the huge vanities that are less fashionable these days.
For furniture-look bathrooms, the answer is often a second piece of furniture, such as a tall linen closet or armoire. Gilles points out that people like toiletry items to be hidden, so that counter space can be devoted to more decorative items. "We sometimes see the base cabinets in the vanity with nothing more above it," with wall cabinets added near the tub. Alternately, that area might be open, and the vanity cabinets might be accompanied by wall cabinets stacked above the countertop area "so you're getting all of your storage in one area," she states.
"There is still a great deal of need for storage in the bath," says Conde. "People are keeping their homes as tidy as ever as they put more money into them. In high-end vanities, I see the large, bulky configurations going away, and going to a simplified decorative look."
Manufacturers also agree that, in large master baths, two separate his-and-hers vanities are a welcome alternative to one large, bulky piece with two sinks. "You need a place to spread out your makeup and blow dryer and mousse," says Gilles, "but then you want to be able to hide that stuff away."
The need for additional storage has also rejuvenated the medicine cabinet market, manufacturers agree.
"I don't think people are aware of the potential of the medicine cabinet," says Kurtz, citing such niceties as electrical options within a cabinet, and mirror defoggers, as popular additions that add to a bath's overall sense of luxury.
She also notes the growth of decorative medicine cabinets that resemble framed mirrors as an accompaniment to pedestal lavs in the powder bath; similarly, the cabinets are making their way into hallways, where they can be used as a receptacle for gloves, keys, sunglasses and the like.
Peter Dircks, product manager for Broan-NuTone Group, in Hartford, WI, notes safety as another reason for medicine cabinets' resurgence: They're much safer than drawers or closets for storing medication and other things consumers don't want kids to get into.
Overall, medicine cabinet manufacturers are coming up with increasingly upscale and unique styles to meet consumer needs. Ray Lombardo, president of Afina Corp., in Patterson, NJ, cites "very unique framing [which] gives warmth and fashion to the medicine cabinet, which up to recently has pretty much been, mirror on the outside, and that's it."
Framed cabinets are available in either wood styles, which can be coordinated to the wood of the vanity, or metal, which corresponds to faucetry. For the latter, Lombardo cites pewter and satin silver frames as an accompaniment to the ever-popular satin nickel faucetry. For traditional bathrooms, he also mentions gold leaf as a popular pick, while contemporary looks work well with clean-lined metal frames.
Similarly, Kurtz notes wood frames, as well as ones that coordinate with nickel and chrome faucetry along with Kohler's new, hot French Gold color, (a satiny, less shiny gold), as strong picks.
Dircks also notes stainless steel as a strong choice. "Consumers really want a breadth of styles and looks," he explains. "They're really branching out." Trends vary from region to region, he adds. On the East Coast, for instance, people prefer frameless cabinets and beveled mirrors. Similarly, Reep cites tri-view mirrors with beveled glass as a constantly popular traditional choice, sometimes echoing furniture styling with additions such as fluted pillars on the side.
Lombardo notes that one downside of wood frames on medicine cabinets is matching them up to the vanity: For instance, two cherry woods might have different hues, as might two brown glazes.
Perhaps for this reason Dircks says that often, consumers are requesting unfinished wood frames on medicine cabinets. "It allows them the availability to customize," he notes. "They can paint it, stain it any way they want, or use crackle effects to create their own look.
"Consumers are being more daring," he concludes. They want to utilize home improvement and home décor to create a unique look "to make their home their own personalized cocoon." KBDN