Dark Victory

Dark Victory

Darker colors and cleaner lines mark dramatic furniture looks for bath vanities.

By Daina Manning

What kind of vanities do consumers want in their bathrooms? The answer to that differs depending on which bathroom is being referred to. Master baths, powder rooms and utilitarian bathrooms such as those adjoining kids' bedrooms all have different requirements, and increasingly separate trends.

On the high end, the master bath has evolved into a spa/palace/ retreat/wonderland that's bigger, more glamorous and more elaborate than ever before. The powder room, on the other hand, has emerged as a place to make a dramatic design statement. A bathroom that doesn't get a lot of use can encompass all kinds of otherwise impractical flights of fancy, and designers are taking advantage of this to really show off their chops.

And the "practical" bath? There, storage, a countertop material that will withstand nuclear attack (or several 6-year-olds) and an undermount sink for easy cleaning are the primary components, according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Furniture Look
"Furniture look" cabinetry in the bath is nothing new, but the trend is increasingly expanding from big, boxy vanities to other design styles, taking into consideration other needs for example, does the vanity match (or provide a contrast to) the storage system in the master closet, which is likely to be an adjoining room, or even one big, open space?

A suite of bathroom furniture is another hot trend. For instance, Angela O'Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn Cabinet, in Ashland, AL, sees separate armoires and freestanding furniture pieces with thoughtfully-designed interior storage as a trend, while Jeff Ptacek, product manager for Starmark Fieldstone, in Sioux Falls, ND, notes a demand for separate linen closets.

"With so much focus on organization [with] shows on HGTV, DYI, etc., consumers demand this to be incorporated in their designs, with more storage features for the space, [and] better pre-planned usage/function of space," O'Neill elaborates.

"People are very much into storage and gimmicks, hidden drawers, putting electricity in the cases where they can leave their hair dryer plugged in," adds Chuck Johnson, president of the Furniture Guild, makers of Vanity Flair, in Canton, GA.

James Lin, president, cabinetry division, of Fairmont Designs, in Buena Park, CA, states, "The furniture look does not necessarily mean less storage. In fact, storage designs can become more innovative, like our carousel cabinet." He also cites linen towers and a mirror valet as ways to solve storage problems.

The medicine cabinet has also become a more function-savvy storage piece, as well as a higher-quality one, with consumers demanding the same level of craftsmanship as with their other cabinetry. "People are doing a lot of renovating," notes Diane Mann, president of Mann's Manufacturing, Inc., in Canby, OR, whose millwork company recently rolled out a new line of high-end custom medicine cabinets. "We use only real solid wood, hand cut, hand fit, hand finished," she reports. "Customers can have whatever they want to match their d├ęcor."

Customization is important, Johnson emphasizes, especially in renovations, which might involve odd sizes to maximize small metropolitan bathrooms with their limited space.

A choice of styles
The other big change for furniture looks? The expansion into every design style. The trend may have started with designers taking their clients to antique stores to pick out a piece, which then got converted into a vanity. But, these days, furniture looks may be totally contemporary, as well.

"The bath environment is meant to carry a casual and relaxed ambience," says Lin. "These cleaner looks are [a natural for this purpose]."
O'Neill believes today's consumers want "freestanding pieces without the fuss sleek designs that utilize space to the max, clean surfaces and materials that are easily maintained. No one has time to clean any more," she says, "and who wants to?"

"Straight legs and lighter woods [are the trend]" according to Ptacek. For an industrial "loft" feel, stainless steel is making inroads as a sink material, in either a squared-off vessel or undermount. Plain white china or fire clay is another clean-lined simple material that lends itself to urban industrial style. Ptacek adds that consumers are also trending away from spending a fortune on a very ornate "statement" vessel, but rather keeping it simple and streamlined.

Sandra Luttchens, director of design & training for Omega Cabinetry, in Waterloo, IA, cites mid- to dark-tone finishes, a general departure from the lighter finishes, as a popular trend. These finishes combine with plain steel legs for a popular, modern look.
"The key here is mix and match," Lin concludes, "[for instance], a legged vanity console [that combines] metal and wood."

Johnson adds that Asian-influenced style is also a significant facet of the contemporary market. "Asian minimalist, the zen look [utilizing] feng shui, that's very popular," he notes, citing his company's vanity that's "a big round drum done in exotic woods, mahogany, zebra wood which is very cool with stainless steel tube legs." Another Asian style features a mullion door with rice paper behind it for the look of a shoji screen, he adds. "The rail under the top extends beyond the case so it looks more architectural."

Overall, wood species for bath vanities dovetail kitchen trends, with cherry and maple leading the way on the high end, though "builders are still choosing oak and thermofoil for tract housing," says O'Neill. Lin cites oak, ash, maple and alder, as well as several exotic species from South Asia as strong sellers for his company, while Ptacek sees a rise in lyptus imports from South America.

Furniture vanities also lend themselves to the transitional looks younger homeowners prefer. "We continue to see these styles gaining ground across the country," says Lin.

"Many people are remodeling homes today to keep the feel of the home as it was originally intended," adds O'Neill. For instance, a Craftsman home implies a vanity that echoes Mission-style cabinetry (or a pedestal lav in the powder room). Or, many California southwest homes have a Mediterranean/Art Deco feel that lends itself to the glossy lacquered finishes and glamorous but streamlined styling of that era. A '50s retro look might pick up on Danish Modern and its simple wood structures.

In fact, recent wood coatings make it possible to have an all-wood vanity, though some believe this is a fad. "An all-wood cabinet is a bit boring," thinks Lin.

"I don't see wood tops as a strong choice for the bathroom," says O'Neill. "It's trendy, but not lasting." Manufacturers also note that the amount of coating one needs to put on wood to make it workable in a bathroom ends up compromising the material, in effect putting a layer of plastic over the wood.

O'Neill cites marble, granite, quartz and solid surface as the overall trends in vanity tops. "Cultured marble is still strong for [the lower-end market]," she adds, noting that today, solid surface often takes the place of laminate.

The addition of open shelving in a vanity also brings in the opportunity for new materials and storage choices. Luttchens mentions towel storage underneath the sink, while Lin cites baskets that can serve as pull-outs.

The vanity's shape can also be altered to display decorative plumbing, extending the finish and style of the faucet down to a lower level.

Powder rooms
While the master bath trends toward as much opulence as possible, the powder room goes for maximum adventure. "The powder room starts the trends," says Johnson. Because it's usually a small space, and one that doesn't get heavy traffic, it's a perfect environment for a dramatic theme that would be over the top in a larger room.

In some markets, this can be a very formal, ornate Old World look, though manufacturers disagree about this look's popularity. "[It's] definitely declining," says O'Neill.

"It is still going strong if done with taste and high-quality construction," counters Lin. "All of our drawers are dovetailed, and we use ball bearing slides across the board."

Ptacek also mentions rustic shabby chic looks as an option. "You're seeing rub-throughs, the cottage-y look," he notes.
"They're reverting back to more traditional lines of trim," adds Mann, "going for a more formal look, the old style, from [17th century] England, [with] crown moulding and appliques." She cites white stain, which gives a white look, but with a bleached out or high white look, with wood grain, as a choice.

"Traditional is always going to be with us," concludes Johnson.

Whatever the style, the wood is likely to be darker. Luttchens sees dark, warm woods like cherry contrasted with light tones elsewhere in the bath as a prominent trend. Johnson also mentions black walnut for a dramatic finish, which is often used in more contemporary or Asian-influenced looks. Overall, "Customization is key for consumer choices today," says O'Neill.

Concludes Lin, "It's more than just material. Finishing is what really counts. Bath furniture is more than just cabinet doors, drawer fronts and headers." KBDN