Not So Far from Heaven

Not So Far from Heaven

Custom finishes, coordinated suites and transitional styling mark the latest in bathroom sinks, lavs and faucetry.

By Daina Darzin Manning

In the bathrooms of yesteryear, "design" usually meant the towels matched the tile color. The bathroom was, first and foremost, a utilitarian space, not style-directed.

These days, the bathroom has emerged as a haven from a stressful lifestyle, an emotionally charged environment that consumers hold dear. "It's the transformation room," declares Gary Pember, director of product marketing/bath for Moen Inc. in North Olmsted, OH. "It's the place you go from sleepy to awake, from dirty to clean, from stressed to relaxed. It's the location where one pampers oneself."

It's no wonder, then, that beautiful design and style are just as necessary as function in today's bath sinks, lavs and faucets, according to the manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Transitional Style
Home buyer demographics are gradually switching from Baby Boomers to Generation X, with the attendant changes in style preference. Ornate Old World looks are still popular, especially in some markets, but the trend overall is for transitional or "simple traditional" looks. Mark Savan, general manager for Creative Specialties International, a division of Moen, Inc. in North Olmsted, OH, cites clean lines, plus a traditional heritage, as a winning style combination.

Pember points out that a minimalist approach is not limited to contemporary looks. For those who want a historical cue for their design without an elaborate look, the 20th century is emerging as the new source of those cues. Faucetry designs from the 1920s through 1950s still have a homey, traditional feel, but with much simpler, sleeker lines than those that evoke the Victorian era. "People are rehabbing and refurbishing [homes to make them look] like the olden days, like your grandmother's place used to be, whether it was on the farm or in the city," believes Jeff Pratt, v.p./sales for Danze Products in Bolingbrook, IL.

"The buzzword with architects and designers is 'transitional,' " notes Avi Abel, general manager, Watermark Designs, in Spring Creek, NY. "It's not traditional, it's not contemporary, it's somewhere in between like that Art Deco look of the 1920s and '30s. That's what's coming back. You can dress it up or dress it down. With more traditional components, it'll look traditional."

With more contemporary accessories and a modern finish such as satin nickel, the same faucetry will take on a more contemporary look. "There's a lot of flexibility it's a very interesting look," Abel adds, noting that faucetry of that era doesn't necessarily have to be the period-appropriate shiny chrome matched with a white pedestal sink. It's also a look that allows for traditional elements mixed with the newest technology, something that's important to consumers.

"[Designers] are mixing elements, and you're getting some really exciting looks out there," Abel notes. "They can mix [transitional faucets] with copper sinks, glass sinks they even do wall-mounted versions of the transitional look."
Sophisticated homeowners have long espoused an eclectic approach to home design and this can be applied to the bathroom, as well. For instance, Alan Danenberg, director of marketing services for Elkay in Oak Brook, IL, cites a well-received recent display that featured a stainless steel sink with a copper Victorian faucet. "There's a lot more eclectic design work being done," he believes. "People are really putting their own stamp on things."

Personal Taste
For today's consumer, individuality is key. Not only do people want a gorgeous bathroom, they want a unique, customized look. They pay "a lot of attention to finding a faucet that suits a particular bathroom persona or theme," notes Joel Williams, spokesperson for Price Pfister in Lake Forest, CA. Whether choosing a traditional porcelain lever, single-control faucet or a minimalist, ultra-modern one, "people are really trying to pick a faucet that reflects the room image that they're trying to achieve," he notes.

In this search for individuality, consumers are branching out to finishes that will give their bathroom a more custom look.

"People are getting away from chrome and shiny brass," believes Savan. "They're getting a little bolder in styles, and we're seeing a proliferation of finishes."

Consumers also want their finish of choice to be incorporated throughout the bathroom. "[They] want to purchase a complete bathroom," declares Pratt, "matching fixtures, matching accessories, and as many finishes as possible to give them choice." A major trend in manufacturing is to introduce a new line with a whole suite of products, not just a faucet, he adds. "[That] makes it much easier for consumers to pick a particular product and know they can find matching accessories."
"You have a lot more connectivity with accessories [like] towel bars, toilet paper holders," says Pember. "We find a need for consistency in the metal objects in a bathroom," adds Savan. "If I have a brushed finish on my faucet, I want a brushed finish on my accessories."

"People want more of a coordinated look today," agrees Michael Isaacs, president of Mico Designs in Chicago, IL. "If they're going to do the faucet, they want the Roman tub set, the shower pieces, the accessories, to match."

"We just introduced lighting to our line so you can get matching light fixtures [with] your faucets," says Abel. "We're also doing grab bars, and vanity legs for the consoles." Mirrors, tank levers and towel bars can also be part of an overall coordinated look.

As for color, in the past, color in the bathroom often meant aqua or pink fixtures and tile, of which the homeowner then got sick, and spent a lot of money replacing, grumbling all the way.

These days, the trend in fixtures is toward white or neutral shades, such as biscuit and almond, or soft new neutrals, such as a very, very pale gray. Consumers still want color, but "in unexpected places," notes Faye Adams, new product development manager for Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN. "That helps them express their style and individuality."
In addition to towels and wall paint as sources of bright tones, a pop of color can come from the faucet. For instance, Adams cites a faucet line that features an easy-to-change-out color accent in the middle of the handle, which is available in multiple colors. "People can tie that little color accent to their walls, their towels, their tile," she notes.

The Finishing Touch
While satin nickel remains strong in the marketplace, brushed nickel is the strongest up-and-comer. "Chrome is still dominant, but brushed nickel is gaining tremendous popularity," says Pratt. "It's the color people are going after. Oil-rubbed bronze and earth tones are coming on. People want variety."

Similarly, Adams cites growth in "matte finishes stainless, even in the bath. Brushed nickel. [Finishes] with warmer tones, things that look more customized than what you'd consider your everyday reflective finishes, like polished brass."
Pember believes brushed nickel "could be the next chrome. The whole brushed textured finish, in the nickel and stainless color palette, is extremely popular."

Stainless steel is, of course, a dominant force in kitchen design, but is making inroads in the bathroom, as well, especially in more contemporary applications.

Danenberg says Elkay's line of stainless steel bathroom sinks, which the company has manufactured for many years for commercial applications such as offices, is now making inroads in residential settings. "Stainless has really spread throughout the house," he says. "The design and decorating books show quite a bit of stainless and other metallics in light fixtures, accents, stairs, cabinets. It's everywhere. It gives a very contemporary, but flexible look because it can go with any color."

For vanities, Danenberg says people are often using stainless undermounts with solid surface or granite for a classy, elegant look.

Along with steel, oil-rubbed bronze continues to be an up-and-comer at the high end. However, these days it's more likely to have a coating, rather than be left as a genuine living finish.

"I believe [the living finish] is a short-lived fad," says Abel, adding that the trend is toward a lifetime warranty on faucetry. Adams points out that, with a genuine living finish, the shower components will discolor faster than the sink faucet, causing a mismatched look somewhere down the line.

But Danenberg counters that his company's living finish metal sinks are hot sellers. "It's a very dramatic look," he says.

"These can be undermounted, or they can be used as drop-in sinks." Available in copper and brass, with a choice of hammered, mirrored or satin finish, the sinks "will age and develop a patina," he elaborates. "A lot of people like a natural finish." He adds that consumers who want the sink to remain new-looking can use a copper or brass cleaner.

Whether living or coated, oil-rubbed bronzes and other matte, warm-toned finishes remain an increasingly popular choice. Adams says her company's Venetian Bronze line has "been a huge hit because no one faucet looks like the next. They're all hand-buffed," adding to the customized, individual feel of the product. "People like the idea that it's made [just] for them."
Now that brushed, satin and oil-rubbed finishes are becoming more mainstream, ultra-high-end designers are looking for something new and different for their clients. Today's adventure picks include copper, verdigris and wrought iron. Williams cites brushed brass as an up-and-comer in the Price Pfister line. He notes that new finishes are migrating to faucets from other parts of the house, such as hardware and door pulls.

Last but not least, there's good old chrome. A mass market mainstay, shiny chrome also, paradoxically, fits into the upscale trend towards transitional style, particularly for those who want an authentic 20th century look. "Chrome will always be popular, because of the durability and the shininess. It's a great
finish," says Pratt.

Dramatic Sink Design
They may never be a mainstream, utilitarian item, but there's no denying the dramatic impact of vessel bowls in a bath, manufacturers agree. "It's the show-off of sinks," says Adams.

"If you're trying to make a strong statement in the bath, you'll go for a vessel," adds Pember.

The vessel bowl's versatility, and capacity for unique design, can make it the centerpiece of a bold design statement. "We have cut crystal in a lot of variations," says Jack D. Olshen, president of LeBijou Collection in Miami, FL.

He adds that vessels are just as effective in contemporary applications. There, "glass is very strong," he says. He cites his company's burgundy and cobalt blue glass, which are available in vessel or drop-in models.

Crystal designs can also be painted for a reverse design, coming through the outside of the bowl, notes Olshen. "They're fired, the background is painted on and then they're re-fired. We're painting toilets as well we can match the vessel or lav with a toilet."

Several manufacturers caution, however, that the vessel is better suited for a powder room than a bathroom that gets heavy traffic. "They are harder to clean, they can chip more easily and they're more expensive," says Abel. He predicts the next generation of vessels will be more often made of porcelain or stone rather than glass.

"It looks fantastic, but it's not practical for everyday use for the average family [with] children," adds Pratt.

But Olshen counters that many master bathroom designs successfully include vessel sinks, often with two installed on a large his-and-hers vanity.

The advent of vessels has also changed the faucet end of the bath market. "Wall mounts are big," says Adams. "You also see faucets on risers quite a bit now."

Whatever style, material or finish a consumer chooses, one thing is certain: it will be a personalized statement, filled with specific items to make their bathroom their very own little haven. Concludes Adams: "[Consumers don't want to have] the same bathroom as their neighbors. They want to express their individuality." KBDN