Faucets Get Flair

Bath sinks and faucets are an essential part of creating a space that reflects the owner’s personal tastes and style. The selection of these elements is important to creating a cohesive design that will enhance the feeling of comfort and refuge that today’s consumers so desire. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN, who see demand for creative sink and faucet options on the upswing.

Consumers are consistently more educated about product choices thanks to the Internet, and consumers continue to want to transform their bathrooms into their own private spas, says Sergio Magarik, founding partner of Port Washington, NY-based Kraus USA. As such, “The conventional perception of plumbing and bathroom fixtures has recently begun to change from static pieces of hardware to dynamic and exciting centerpieces of luxury,” says Magarik.

Naomi Neilson Howard, CEO/founder of Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA, concurs, noting that she’s seeing a lot of innovation in sink design, from interesting shapes and sizes to unique applications. “People who are interested in custom design, whether new build or remodel, whether in master baths or powder rooms and guest baths, look to insert their personal taste and sensibilities into their designs,” she says.

“The bathroom is the space where people start and end their day, so it’s an important room from a design perspective. Picking the right products, finishes and elements for the space can help homeowners achieve feelings of serenity and peace, or inspiration and energy, depending on the room’s look and feel,” adds Paul Flowers, senior v.p. of design for German-based Grohe.

Derek Taylor, product manager at Hansgrohe, based in Alpharetta, GA, says that consumers do not want to be restricted to the norm when it comes to a bathroom faucet. “They want to have a large number of faucets to choose from, with different heights and shapes,” he notes.

In selecting new products, Jonathan Wood, senior v.p. of sales and marketing for Brasstech in Santa Ana, CA says that personal style still has the most influence. “The premium and luxury market will always be driven by the desire to help consumers achieve their vision for their home,” he states.

Clean and Simple

While styles are increasingly individualized, there is a clear trend toward simpler design, manufacturers note. Jeanine Murray, brand manager for Danze in Woodridge, IL says, “Overall, designers and homeowners tend to be seeking more and more simplistic, clean design. With new construction slanted toward “for rent” vs. “for sale,” many bathrooms and powder rooms are generally smaller, with more mainstream contemporary styling to appeal to a wider audience.”

Erik Ambjor, president of Sonoma Forge based in Petaluma, CA, says his firm has seen increased demand for single-hole faucets that provide a cleaner look in the bathroom. “This style doesn’t take up as much (counter) space, which makes them popular in smaller rooms as well,” he adds.

Jack Suvak, senior director of market research and insights at Moen in North Olmsted, OH, agrees that single-hole faucets are popular because of their streamlined appearance, as well as their seamless/uncluttered look on an upscale countertop.

Flowers emphasizes, “Homeowners are not only continuing to compose spa-like spaces, but are looking to create cleaner, more industrial spaces as well.”

The Finish Line

While most manufacturers agree that chrome, brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze finishes lead the market for bath faucet finishes, there’s a growing desire for other options as well.

“While polished chrome and nickel still dominate the overall market, designers still search for a unique, more individualized look for their more discerning clients,” says Ambjor. “Some of our more rustic looking and/or ‘living’ finishes fit the bill for these customers,” he adds.

Taylor says that some manufacturers are doing pewter, gold, copper and textured finishes as well as some unconventional, whimsical colors. “While these might be ‘on the rise,’ they might not quite take off and have staying power,” he cautions. “Trendwise at this time, chrome and brushed nickel are the most popular finishes. In our experience, these lighter finishes continue to remain at the forefront of consumers’ minds,” he adds.

Murray says that bronze tones, antique copper and even black have commanded the attention of many designers and homeowners, citing the popularity of Danze’s recently introduced tumbled bronze finish. The finish is obtained by tumbling the products in a drum after the finish color has been applied, resulting in a natural, unique finish each time, she says.

Suvak adds that, in addition to new finish colors, consumers are looking for functional features in their finishes, such as Moen’s Spot Resist finish, which, as the name suggests, resists fingerprints and water spots.

Material Matters

Material decisions are being impacted by current and upcoming legislation that mandates that the weighted average lead content in pipes, fittings and fixtures used to convey drinking water cannot exceed 0.25% on wetted surfaces, says Allison McKinney, product manager for Delta Faucet, based in Indianapolis, IN. “This is something that has a large influence on the materials we use to manufacture our products,” she says.

Wood adds, “In our business, we focus on brass forming and finishing. The primary changes in base material have to do with new formulations of low lead brass to meet the coming 2014 industry requirements.”

Diverse materials continue to be seen in bathroom sinks, from traditional ceramic to natural stone and copper. Neilson Howard has seen a movement toward the use of copper, partly due to recent studies confirming that copper is naturally antibacterial, she says. “Today’s homeowners really seem to appreciate an antibacterial option for the bathroom, and copper being a natural material [makes it] even better.”

Magarik adds, “Ceramic sinks offer diversity in shapes and styles, providing them with an advantage over glass and stone.”

On the other hand, Michael Zimber, founder and president of Stone Forest in Sante Fe, NM, sees a strong demand among the luxury market for sinks made of rare and expensive marbles from Italy. “We are doing quite a few custom projects in these high-end materials,” he says.

A growing awareness of the impact people have on the environment and a larger desire to care for the planet brings an expansion of the use of natural materials and earth-friendly products as well.

Design Demands

While the sink and faucet must fit with the overall bathroom aesthetic, current designs are allowing for greater flexibility, manufacturers say.

“What’s great about current design trends is that you no longer need to fall under just one of the design categories: traditional, transitional or contemporary. When it comes to plumbing fixtures, combining different finishes and styles can make a huge difference and bridge the gap between categories,” says McKinney. “Also in line with this sentiment is the recent emergence of ‘soft contemporary’ styled products, which blend features from both contemporary and transitional design styles,” she adds.

Wood agrees: “We continue to see the desire by customers to mix traditional and nontraditional elements to create their own look.” For instance, Wood points out that a consumer might choose a contemporary style product, and then have a traditional old world finish.

Suvak says that the décor of the bath tends to lead choices for bathroom faucet options, but there are two ways this can play out. Either the faucet matches the overall style, or the faucet contrasts the style. “‘Mix and match’ is a strong trend we see among consumers who are confident enough to express their personal style by creating contrasts between their bath faucet and other interior objects,” he says. “For example, the room might be designed in a very traditional style, but the faucet chosen features a very modern, linear design – to provide rich contrast to the rest of the room.” While he sees a trend toward modern designs, he says that traditional styles are still the most popular with consumers.

Murray notes, “The only real ‘trend’ in popularity across the board is that there is no trend! It’s very individual.”

She continues, “The vanity area is often a focal point within the bathroom, whether it’s a small powder room or an expansive master suite. The sink and faucet are an exclamation point to the room’s décor.”

Manufacturers are also using interesting design elements to make vessel sinks a focal point, she adds. This in turn creates a demand for wall-mount and vessel filler faucets. “Incorporating these types of faucets into a room provides a beautiful twist on a typical lavatory faucet,” she adds.

External Impacts

Many of the same factors that impact other products play a role in what’s happening with bath sinks and faucets. “Green design, economic conditions and Universal Design are all important factors,” says Taylor. “In the end, the bathroom is meant to be a pleasant looking space, but also a functional, environmentally sound space that doesn’t break the bank for the consumer,” he says.

Murray agrees that green design and legislation, Universal Design and other factors come into play, but says they’ve become a point of entry. “Manufacturers such as Danze constantly take these elements into consideration when developing new and enhancing existing products. We have focused a lot of our initiatives into providing faucets that are water-saving, yet don’t sacrifice performance,” she says.

Suvak adds that consumers want green products to be convenient and cost-effective, and they don’t want to sacrifice performance. “The bottom line is they want ‘greenvenience,’” he comments.

The rise in the number of people in the home also plays a part in design considerations, says Flowers. “As the typical family dynamic continues to change, bathrooms are changing with it. As college kids and even grandparents move back into the home, the bathroom space now has to accommodate all age groups. With more people in and out of the bathroom, it’s important for homeowners to consider wear and tear on the products they use,” he says.

Economic factors impact the market in many ways. The recent downturn, says Magarik, means that demand for high quality, exquisite design and long-lasting durability must be balanced with affordable pricing.

Murray agrees: “There’s no doubt that economic conditions affect sink/faucet purchase decisions and trends. However, homeowners are savvy. They want great design, but value these days is also critical. They’re making more thought-through decisions and want it all…beautiful design, exceptional value, quality that reassures them…all within an experience that makes them feel good every day,” she says.

Suvak adds that the definition of value has evolved, and is not simply limited to price and brand. “Consumers have become more selective shoppers. Ever more discerning and intelligent shoppers are becoming increasingly demanding in their decision making. In many cases, their decisions now often require a pause for extra consideration, research or consultation from trusted sources,” he says.

Other manufacturers say that their luxury offerings are not as affected by the dip in the economy. On the contrary, the sales that seem to wane are those on the lower end, according to Zimber. “We are positioned in the luxury end of the decorative plumbing market and our high-end pedestal sinks and consoles continue to do well. This also goes for our bronze sinks, which are gaining sales momentum, while sales of the less high-end copper sinks are flat.”

Technology Buzz

We are a tech-savvy society, and manufacturers say that this must carry over into the products they offer. “As technology increasingly becomes a seamless part of Americans’ daily lives, people are expecting to see it more integrated in their kitchens and baths,” says Flowers. “Europe has already adapted digital technology in the bathroom, and we should continue to see this trend grow in popularity in U.S. homes.”

McKinney agrees that technology is playing a key role in product design in the bathroom. Delta’s Touch2Oxt Technology features a 4" sensing field to which the faucet automatically responds when a user approaches. When hands are moved out of range, the faucet shuts off the water flow, she says.

Murray adds, “We approach technology from a very practical viewpoint…we don’t believe in incorporating it just as another gimmick. We use it when it enhances performance for eco-friendly products, adds quality and durability or adds to the overall functionality of the product.”

At Hansgrohe, Taylor says what he’s seeing is that, rather than the development of new technologies for aesthetic purposes, people are more concerned about an evolution toward even more responsible manufacturing practices than before and the increased use of sustainable materials.