Vanity Thy Name Is...

 Vanity Thy Name Is...

Furniture looks dominate today's vanity market evident even in the array of contemporary, transitional and retro designs while glazed and painted finishes also remain strong.

By Daina Darzin Manning

The form and function of the bathroom has clearly changed over the years, from a place to simply cleanse one's self to a luxurious dream space designed for spa-style relaxation, retreat and glamour. And nowhere is this lifestyle trend more apparent than with the advent of the furniture-style vanity.

Once, that look was the province of upscale, edgy designers, who often took their clients to flea markets and antique stores to pick out a vintage dresser, and then had it plumbed and fitted with a sink and faucetry.

Now, brand-new, furniture-style vanities are available in every style, price point and market, from hand-carved, hand-painted Old World looks to sleek contemporary styles featuring chrome legs and exotic veneers. And the trend seems to be increasing market share every year, according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Furniture galore

The changing function of the bathroom has helped to redefine today's bath vanity with a focus on fashion over function. As Scott Korsten, director of marketing services for Showplace Wood Products in Harrisburg, SD notes, "Bathrooms are becoming bigger, more ornate, more of a personal shelter where people can go into their private area and enjoy the features they've put in." It's no surprise, then, that unique, furniture-style pieces are increasingly in demand as a way to personalize that space.

"Baths are going the same route that kitchens have gone," states Laurie Galbraith, design and training manager for HomeCrest Cabinetry in Goshen, IN. "Rather than a functioning room, it's a retreat or display area. It's an area where you can get away from it all."

Furniture styling adds to that feeling of a personalized bath sanctuary. "People want vanities that look like a custom-designed furniture piece," declares Kim Dunn, marketing publications specialist for Wellborn Cabinet, Inc., in Ashland, AL.

Jeanine Laitres, sales and marketing administrator for Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe, WA, adds that instead of the large vanity with two sinks, couples are opting for two furniture-style vanities, providing even more of a separate, individual space for each.

Manufacturers' opinions vary as to the stylistic trends for vanities. While some insist ornate Old World looks still dominate in furniture-look styling, others believe contemporary, retro and transitional work just as well, and are gaining popularity.

"Our customers have not come to us for contemporary looks," says Korsten. "Most of the things we're doing are more traditional, [with] legs, fillers, onlays [to] give vanities more of a furniture feel."

Korsten adds that Showplace's styles don't evoke a particular era, while Tom Skipper, v.p./sales for Habersham in Toccoa, GA, cites Old World 17th and 18th century designs as popular for his company. "We do a grand European [style]," he notes. Habersham sometimes reproduces actual antique pieces, but most of the company's line re-interpretes themes from those eras.

Sandra Luttchens, director of design and training for Omega Cabinetry in Waterloo, IA, cites "a lot of applied moulding and intricate detail. We're also seeing more distressing and antiqued finishes Glazes are extremely hot right now."

"I don't really see it going as far as contemporary," notes Laitres. "It's leaning that way, but I don't think we're completely there yet. [But] I do find it's leaning more towards the vintage look."

Galbraith sees "a backlash from all of the ornate and Old World styling." She cites "a little bit of retro, that clean Scandinavian look" that evokes the Danish Modern furniture of the 1950s and early 1960s as a hot up-and-comer. It's a style that looks particularly striking with a glass vessel bowl, she adds.

"We're seeing three trends," says Luttchens. "Old World, a cleaner transitional look and a lot of paint or opaque finishes with a beaded door, for more of a coastal look."

But Marcello Marcantonio, v.p. of Irpinia Kitchens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, insists that "contemporary is definitely coming back. Clean lines, slab doors people are looking for a very sleek look." Marcantonio cites furniture pieces with chrome legs as a stylish contemporary look.

Another way to combine a furniture look with contemporary is to attach the vanity to the wall, "like it's floating," says Galbraith.

Marcantonio believes the suspended approach can also work for more traditional styling often matching wood species of the cabinetry with a wood-framed mirror.

Finishes and woods

The clear, natural finish, a popular choice in kitchen cabinets, has not translated to bathroom applications. There, paints and glazes are still strong: for instance, Luttchens cites a pewter glaze over a cream finish, a particularly attractive choice when matched with brushed finish faucetry. "A lot of the door styles have rope or beaded trim and that glaze really pulls those colors out," she elaborates.

"We're seeing [more] earth tones. Those seem to be a lot more prominent than the lighter pastel colors," says Laitres, "darker greens, brownish earth tones."

Another prevailing trend is the heavy stain, which provides a strong color but still allows some wood grain to show through. Luttchens sees a trend towards darker colors like walnut and mahogany.

On the high end, Skipper cites hand-painted finishes and hand-painted art as a particularly striking look for a vanity. "We have artists from all over the world to do those," he reports.

Similarly, "our best seller has a lot of hand-carving," notes James Lin, executive v.p. of Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA. "We have some country French, Italian and Bombay, [an Asian/Indian look]."

As for wood species, maple and cherry continue to be strong sellers, with oak making somewhat of a comeback. On the high end, more unusual picks prevail. Marcantonio mentions exotic veneers like pear woods, bird's eyes and sycamore, while Lin cites knotted pine and alder. "A knotted appearance gives a different look to a cabinet," he explains.

Topping it all

Naturally, the change in vanity style has greatly affected the sink and vanity top markets and vice versa. Specifically, the advent of vessel sinks has definitely affected vanities, those surveyed report. "It allows [for] more of a creative flair," thinks Korsten. "We're also seeing a fair number of decorative bowls that are built into the countertops [with] designs built into the bowl."

Korsten notes that vessels are often paired with a wood top for the vanity, an up-and-coming trend. Additionally, the vessel bowl has led to lower vanity heights to compensate for the height of the bowl: 31" for a vessel versus 34"  for an undermount or drop-in.

Galbraith notes that consumers are also adjusting heights to reflect the heights of the homeowners. "It's not uncommon to see three different [heights]: his, hers and a make-up height," she says.

The elaborate, luxurious trend in bathroom design is often exemplified by a granite or marble top for the vanity. "People are more willing to spend money on the tops," notes Korsten. "It speaks to the whole concept of putting more money into the bathroom. They're upping the budget in all kinds of areas."

For those desiring that look, but one with a higher durability factor, manufactured stone products are making strong inroads in the bathroom. "Quartz products in the bath area are a new thing," believes Gary Kroll, v.p./strategic planning for Transolid, Inc. in Mooresville, SC. "It provides the look of granite, but it's stronger and it doesn't have to be sealed."

Manufactured stone provides a consistency to the grain, and a large surface with no seams which is particularly good on a large surface such as the top of a traditional,

two-sink, built-in vanity. Quartz products are also available in colors not found in natural granite, Kroll elaborates. "There's a half-dozen popular colors that most people stay close to, but we have many more color options than the granite industry has you can go further afield if you want to."

But Laitres notes that most people don't want to go that far. "[People want] colors that blend," she thinks. "I'm not seeing a lot of drastic and dramatic color differences."

"There's very light to very dark and everything in between as far as colors go," thinks Galbraith. "That painted look is very popular, and the distressed look."

A mainstay in the kitchen, the stainless steel countertop, is an upscale adventure pick for a contemporary bathroom, Galbraith adds. It's a particularly striking look when paired with a modern-looking vessel bowl.

For those to whom function is key, solid surface countertops remain a popular pick because of their durability and the capacity to include an easy-to-clean integrated bowl.

Storage solutions

One downside to the furniture trend is the comparatively smaller amount of storage available in the vanity itself, which has prompted both consumers and manufacturers to come up with new and different solutions.

"It's the same situation as with a pedestal where do you put all that [stuff]?" laughs Galbraith.

Many solutions exist, however. "We see continued strong use of tall vanity cabinets," says Korsten. The free-standing armoire is another strong trend, providing additional storage for towels and grooming products while adding to the furniture look of the bath.

Alternately, a built-in linen closet can take care of the storage issue. For the bathroom adjacent to the master bedroom, consumers may also elect to store towels and the like in the bedroom's closets.

Overall, the furniture look has given rise to the suite of furniture for the bathroom a look that sometimes even moves into the master bedroom for a unified look. "You can take the drawer bases and move them right into the bedroom as dressers," says Luttchens. "We've also got linen [storage] 48" high, with or without the mirror."

Lin, on the other hand, insists his company's furniture-look vanities feature a lot of storage, so additional pieces may not be necessary. "Functionality is very important, not only the superficial [appearance]," he notes.

"There's still plenty of room for built-in storage," echoes Dunn.

Counters Luttchens: "A lot of times, people are willing to sacrifice storage for looks these days."

But, whichever option a homeowner chooses, today's market is sure to provide a perfect solution for the ultimate stylish bath, manufacturers concur. KBDN