All is Vanity

All is Vanity

The furniture look reaches new heights while medicine cabinets take on stylish new looks and features. 

By Daina Manning

Furniture Look leads

But Karen Merz, president of Vintage Vanities Ltd., in Tavernier, FL, points out the disadvantages to this approach. "We started out with that," she notes about her company's custom pieces, "but we found that, by the time you cut into it, it's worthless. If you make a mistake in the conversion process, you're starting from scratch. There's [also] a lot of old glue and adhesive in old furniture [and these] really don't hold up well to the conversion process. So we thought, we're going to make [new vanities] and make them look as old as possible but with new construction, so they'll withstand the test of time."

The furniture look is not limited to antique looks, manufacturers emphasize.

Jeff Ptacek, product manager for StarMark Inc., in Sioux Falls, SD, cites a growing interest in table-like vanities "with just a few valances and legs" that adopt a plain, streamlined Arts and Crafts or Shaker style.

Mark Conde, product manager for Yorktowne, Inc., in Red Lion, PA, also cites a table with no storage and perhaps a clean-lined Asian influence as an up-and-coming trend, often paired with a vessel bowl.

"The Arts and Crafts movement has stayed very strong," agrees Felten. He adds that frequently, consumers who utilized an Arts and Crafts or Shaker look for the master bedroom will want to continue those design elements in the bathroom, including Mission-style vanities with matching wood-framed mirror. He also mentions other 20th century vintage styles, such as Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern, as adventure picks on the high end.

Similarly, Charles Bearman, program coordinator for Sokee Corp., in Monroe, WA, says his contemporary design-oriented company does "a lot of radius fronts, a lot of pastel and light colors, painted or white veneers, plumbing out of the wall." Another contemporary style removes the toe kick and attaches it to the wall, and then adds under- cabinet lighting for a dramatic effect.

Many consumers, of course, still want the additional storage provided by a traditional, large vanity, notes Conde. Additionally, on-the-floor styles are available in a variety of price points for every family's need. But even with a traditional approach, the furniture look comes into play with additions such as onlays and korbels. An in-between choice is also available via vanities that are off the ground on legs or decorative posts, providing storage with a lighter, airier feel, says Conde.

"Everybody likes a more unfitted look. They want a lot more detailing and ornate focal points," agrees Sandra Luttchens, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry, in Waterloo, IA.

The furniture approach also takes a cue from kitchen cabinetry in applying more complex, multi-step finishes, glazes and physical distressing such as rub-throughs, those surveyed agree. Darker woods and finishes are indicated for many furniture looks, though the perennially popular Shaker styles mandate a lighter palette.

The new trends in faucetry more matte, brushed finishes, the advent of stainless steel and oil-rubbed bronze have also contributed to the tones consumers pick for their vanity. "We're coordinating glazes to work with those finishes," says Luttchens.

Ptacek mentions a taupe glaze that's a good match with steel, pewter and nickel faucetry.

The choice in wood species is also taking a cue from the kitchen. "Maples are still really strong [for vanities]," notes Ptacek, who adds that sales of cherry have also increased greatly. "Standard oak is relatively dead," he adds. However, more specialized high-end oaks are used in Shaker styles, he notes.

In high-end applications, Merz also cites mahogany and European pines, as well as vanities that combine wood species, such as walnut and oak. Bearman says the exotic Japanese veneers that are popular for Sokee's kitchen cabinetry are also hot for vanities.

The advent of the furniture look has one other disadvantage, even with large sizes (34" - 36" high) there's less vanity storage, which leads designers to explore other options. Ptacek believes consumers are installing a linen cabinet in a different room or hallway as one possible storage option.

Bath Cabinets
The lack of vanity storage has contributed to the resurgence of the medicine cabinet or, "mirrored bath cabinetry," says Eric Phelps, marketing manager for Robern, in Bristol, PA, a subsidiary of the Kohler Co. "At Robern, we don't sell medicine cabinets," he quips. "A medicine cabinet is what your grandma used to have, with a razor slot [and] rust."

In the past, "people had a frameless beveled cabinet," says Raymond Lombardo, president of Afina Corp., in Paterson, NJ. Now, they want something different and unique and bigger. Lombardo cites 47"x36" triple-door cabinets "with integral lighting built along the top, with a frame surrounding the whole thing" as something that the company has done very well with.

"Mirrored cabinets have always been design neutral," agrees Phelps. "As a result, sometimes that became an afterthought there wasn't much excitement." Now, all that's changed with very stylish and unique choices.
Framing is central to the new-and-improved bathroom cabinet, manufacturers agree. "In the past, you basically just had a box on the wall," says Phelps. Now, with a surround frame, "[the cabinet] looks like it belongs."

"Our specialty is 60 different frame styles," notes Lombardo, who adds that very Baroque, ornate wood frames in antique gold or silver finishes similar to a museum-style picture frame are big sellers. "People want to bring a sense of fashion and warmth in their bathroom environment," he explains.

Phelps cites plated aluminum finishes that tap into Kohler's PVD technology as a new way to bring highly durable faucetry finishes to the medicine cabinet. The new finish is available in chrome, brushed nickel and Monaco gold, a muted gold shade. "It allows us to tie the mirrored cabinet into the accessories of the bathroom," he notes.
Phelps adds that Robern's new

cabinetry has a modern look, but its clean, crisp lines also work in a transitional or even traditional setting. "If you're doing it in chrome and you're doing a traditional [bathroom], the chrome is your tie-in."

For another contemporary look, Lombardo cites Afina's Tribeca cabinet which features a very clean, sleek stainless steel frame as a popular pick.

For a vintage 20th century option, Phelps mentions Robern's Fairhaven cabinet, which has an old time New England look with crown moulding and inset door with a knob. The cabinet is available in a painted aluminum that Phelps insists is indistinguishable in look from wood, but far more durable in a moist bathroom

In addition to increased style, the new medicine cabinet also has increased function and size via extra depth. "One thing we continually hear from consumers in a powder room application is, 'I've taken out my vanity and replaced it with a pedestal lav,'" says Phelps. Except now, the medicine cabinet has to be deep enough to hold that extra roll of toilet paper. A new 8"-deep cabinet is now available in a half-recessed, half-surface application, providing a lot of storage without a bulky kitchen cabinet look.

Internal options like defoggers and outlets to keep an electrical razor or toothbrush charged and concealed also adds to a cabinet's function, concludes Phelps, putting the new cabinets more in the category of a bathroom appliance.

Topping it off
Marble and granite were most often mentioned as vanity top choices for the high end, while solid surface with an undermount sink still commands a significant portion of market share because of its practicality and easy cleaning. "You don't have to clean around the rim," notes Luttchens. Laminates are popular in low- to mid-range projects.
Several manufacturers mentioned Zodiaq and other engineered stone products as up-and-comers because they combine a realistic stone look with easy care. Conde adds that consumers often pick a more upscale top for the bathroom than for the kitchen, where more square footage of a material is required. "The bath becomes a showplace that's about 'look what I have,'" he explains.

For a unique upscale look, Merz cites her company's fossil stone tops, quarried in the Philippines.

Of course, wood is the most furniture-like top. Felten insists Owen Woods' technology which combines a sealer with a vinyl additive as a base coat, followed by a catalyzed varnish makes his company's wood tops highly durable in any application, and insists that 50% of his vanity customers choose a wood top. "[The tops are] impervious to water," he says.

"A thick finish does the trick," echoes Bearman, who says his company's wood tops work just fine in all applications.
But Merz cautions about her company's antique furniture looks with wood tops. "Our pieces are powder room pieces. Common sense applies you don't leave water and toothpaste standing on [a wood top] for weeks." For vanities in a high traffic area, Merz recommends a stone top. Felten notes that a dark colored marble or granite is Owen Woods customers' most popular stone pick to accompany dark Mission vanities.

The vessel bowl is also a high-end powder room pick. But manufacturers caution that this look is not appropriate for heavy traffic applications.

Some manufacturers insist the vessels are a very high-end, media supported trend rather than a consumer driven one, but Bearman insists, "The people who are doing our cabinetry are very high end, so we're seeing a lot of vessels."
Conde adds that the vessel is a hot pick for empty nesters, baby boomers with a lot of disposable income and no kids around to abuse the furniture. "It's a show piece," he says.

For consumers looking for an upscale look in a traditional bowl, Luttchens notes that, "We're seeing a lot of decorative undermount bowls," for instance, one with a mosaic look.

Whatever look they choose, style wins over price point, concludes Felten. "When someone has a certain look in their master bedroom that they're trying to match in their master bath, probably the fifth question is, 'how much'?" he says. "Price is still part of the thought process, but it isn't the first thing they ask." KBDN