And, there's polished chrome, which still finds itself in
upscale bathrooms for retro looks, which pick up on the white
porcelain-plus-chrome configuration of bathrooms of the 1920s
through 1950s. "Chrome is still chrome," concludes Kartzman. "It's
like vanilla ice cream."
The advent of glass vessel sinks has prompted a whole new product category decorative exposed plumbing. And it, too, is available in a variety of finishes to complement any bathroom.
"You have beautiful oil-rubbed bronze faucets, and a beautiful glass vessel sink," elaborates Kartzman. "We're launching a whole division that will have traps, supply lines, valve shut-offs, drains, all that stuff [in exotic finishes]. We'll also have toilet handle levers that will [match]."
"That's becoming much more popular," agrees Carpenter, citing "fancier supply lines that complement the rest of the room, in brushed or satin nickel, or satin chrome." He adds that valves can also be designed in a variety of styles, "from traditional with cross handles on them, to totally modern valves that are all round edges. We even carry one that has a stainless steel screen in it to filter out what we call line trash before it hits that really expensive faucet."
Zieger notes the overall design trend toward translucence and visible mechanics, as evidenced by the popular iMac computers. He elaborates, "An interior designer did an interesting thing with our product. The designer mounted a shower system against a glass wall and then exposed all the plumbing."
Another innovation in shower accessories is Interbath's In Touch Organization line, which integrates designer shower storage with the actual hand shower system. "If you have a hand shower on that bar, you don't have to add another piece of hardware to clutter up the environment," notes Zieger. The modular system comes in different sizes to hold multiple bottles of shampoo and other products.
But, the most oft-mentioned up-and-comer in bath accessories and hardware is surely the towel warmer, which is rapidly making inroads into the mainstream market.
"We're seeing a sharp growth in our towel warmer line," says Dan Reinert, v.p. for the Long Island City, NY-based Sussman Lifestyle Group, makers of WarmaTowel. "When you step out of the shower, [you] get that great feeling that you had as a child when your mother pulled towels out of the dryer to wrap around you," he explains. "You have that feeling of warmth and comfort."
Many consumers discovered towel warmers during trips to Europe, Reinert elaborates, where they're a staple in hotel rooms and homes. "Everybody thinks, 'boy, that sure would be nice in my house in Maine,'" quips Carpenter.
However, the towel warmer market isn't limited to cold climates, manufacturers report. "We sell a lot of [them] in the South," says Reinert. "People use them in the summer, when the air conditioning is on all the time and the homes can be somewhat cold. They also have the ability to dry towels that stay musty all day because of the humidity."
"Towel warmers are [also] great for getting rid of mildew," adds Hunter. "One of our largest markets is in the Gulf States."
"People are putting more and more money into their homes," notes Dircks. "Heated floors and towel warmers are completely in line with that." He adds that the technology of the systems is improving, leading to lower price points. Carpenter adds that the newer models are easier to install and require less electricity than earlier versions.
Other technological improvements include customization, such as programmable timers. Towel warmers are also increasingly available in a wide variety of finishes and styles, with customized orders possible, as well. Hunter also notes an increase in sales for very large warmers, as much as 6-1/2' tall for multiple towels.
There are two kinds of warmers the standard electric, and the hydronic, which uses circulating hot water to heat up the towel bar. The hydronic systems are more economical, but require more elaborate installation. Electrics are more commonly used in remodeling work, while hydronics find themselves in new construction and additions where a more elaborate installation of pipes can be included in original plans.
While some believe the towel warmer is likely to remain a very high-end item, "We sell to EXPO [Design Centers]," counters Hunter. "They seem to feel these products are becoming very mainstream."