Bath Accessories Add Polish, Functionality

From meeting practical needs to catering to the personal taste and style of the homeowner, bath hardware and accessories can be the key to creating fully coordinated, highly functional bathroom spaces. While these add-ons don’t necessarily take center stage, they are crucial to pulling together the look, feel and utility of the room. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN.

One key trend impacting the bath accessories market is that designers and consumers are looking toward smarter use of limited space – which often takes the form of multifunctional accessories. According to James Hamilton, product manager at Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA, “Adding functionality in any space of the bathroom will add value for the homeowner. For example, adding a glass shelf to a toilet tissue holder adds utility to what has traditionally been a very basic item in a bathroom. Now the homeowners have a place to set their cell phone or keys in a space that previously did not provide any storage space.”

Doug Mockett, CEO of Manhattan Beach, CA-based Doug Mockett & Co. adds that bathrooms are increasingly expanding into personal living spaces, creating a need for innovative hardware. “With convenience and style leading the way, bath design is taking a whole new approach,” he says. “One new aspect in particular is the idea of finding clever ways of integrating additional power options throughout and streamlining them into the overall design.”

A consistent design that takes the overall bath into account is also crucial, manufacturers agree. Kevin McJoynt, v.p./marketing for Danze in Woodbridge, IL, notes, “Carrying the styling/décor through the entire bath is still an important factor when designing a room. Accessories should always get their cue from the faucets, shower components and other elements dictating the room’s décor. Matching the finish and detailing through to the accessories makes a room look finished and professional.”

CLEAN LINES

In recent years, there’s been a big turn from the ornate, traditional style toward a more contemporary style with clean lines, a trend that continues, manufacturers say. Larry Jacobs, president of Ashley Harris Marketing, marketing agency for Strom Plumbing by Sign of the Crab in Rancho Cordova, CA, says, “I don’t know if it’s the desire for the clean lines or just the efficiency of the cost of the clean lines. They don’t want a lot of the gingerbread kind of stuff. We’re just seeing [design get] as simple as possible.”

Noah Taft, senior v.p., marketing & sales for California Faucets in Huntington Beach, CA, agrees that there is movement toward understated design. “There seems to be less of the flaunting ‘look at me’ design that characterized some design prior to the recession. I think people are yearning for much-needed stability right now, and high-quality materials like solid brass, and clean lines, speak to this,” he says.

Hamilton says that contemporary styles have been the most popular for accessories over the last few years. This includes clean lines, round or square in shape, but also a balance so the design isn’t too minimalist, he notes. “To some degree, the bath hardware and accessories have to complement the style of the bath in which they are being utilized,” he states. “Crystal handles are starting to return to bath faucets. Black and/or white finishes mixed with chrome are being used more and more in bath and shower hardware. These design and styling cues require organizations to be flexible to provide products that can easily fit the décor of that bathroom.”

Fancier traditional styles aren’t completely gone, however. McJoynt says that while minimalism leads the way, more ornate, traditional styling is still desired by some homeowners.

FINISH TRENDS

Though some new finishes are easing their way into the market, there hasn’t been significant change overall, manufacturers say. Polished finishes still lead the way, with some demand for stainless and brushed finishes as well.

“Polished finishes are making a big push in the way of bath hardware,” says Mockett. These polished chrome or stainless fixtures can enhance the overall design, he notes, especially in modern settings. Additionally, a polished finish can complement a vibrant color scheme, he states.

Fred Salati, director of Amba Products in Atlanta, GA, adds, “We find the most common are brushed and polished stainless steel. Often, brushed stainless steel matches with brushed chrome and polished stainless steel with polished chrome.”

Jacobs says, “Chrome is still the number one finish, and I think that will continue for some time just because of the ease of care.” At the same time, he adds that a weathered brass look is also big. As for materials, he says people still want solid brass, regardless of the coating.

McJoynt agrees. “Solid brass is still the best material, which represents quality and durability.” He adds that while chrome and brushed nickel are still the most popular finishes, distressed darker finishes have also gained ground.

Hamilton sees polished chrome and satin nickel as the most popular finish choices, followed by polished nickel and oil-rubbed bronze. He also agrees that solid brass is a popular material for bath hardware and accessories.

Taft notes that while satin nickel remains popular, polished nickel also has a rising appeal. “The warmth of the nickel tones adds an understated elegance to the fittings, contributing but not overwhelming the fittings’ style and shape,” he says. “As for materials, solid brass remains by far the gold standard. Extremely durable, yet soft to the touch when properly produced, true brass is also the easiest to finish in just about any decorative finish. Stainless steel is also increasing in popularity, but remains more limited than brass in terms of flexibility to plate in myriad finishes.”

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

Accessories are all about adding utility and aesthetic appeal, and there is something to match every need, regardless of the style of the bath. With such an array of options, it’s hard to point to any particular “must have” accessory.

However, certain “tried and true” products continue to be standard in the bath. According to Hamilton, “Towel bars, robe hooks [and] toilet tissue holders are the must-have accessories in any bathroom.”

McJoynt adds that while he’s not sure there’s a ‘must have’ in accessories, there has been a focus on robe hooks of late. “Some are using several robe hooks instead of towel bars for a more casual look,” he says. And for those who prefer towel bars, he continues, double towel bars are a nice addition, particularly with limited space.

For Amba, accessories on the rise include sliding door hardware, as well as towel warmers and space heaters. “The trend has shown many [consumers plan to] remain in their current homes and intend to make improvements to their existing homes,” Salati says.

One of the biggest trends, he adds, is to replace the common towel bars with heated ones. These keep humidity, mold and mildew off of the towels and the bathroom, and can reduce laundry loads, allowing the homeowner to reuse large towels more often.

From Taft’s point of view, luxury drains are having the most impact on trends in bathroom accessories today. “People spend thousands of dollars on gorgeous bathroom shower installations, yet sadly finish them with a cheap, flimsy drain with visible screws. It’s like putting cloth seats in a Mercedes.” He notes that the company’s recently introduced StyleDrain Tile allows the incorporation of tile into the top of the drain to match the shower. “It creates the illusion of the drain disappearing,” he says.

EASY ACCESS

Americans are staying in their homes longer, and they need to outfit these homes in ways that ease the transitions they experience as they age. Nowhere is this more important than in the bathroom, where safety precautions and ease of entry are prime considerations. “People want to make a one-time investment in their home and then be able to age there gracefully, retaining their independence as long as possible,” says Taft.

Jacobs says that people close to or reaching retirement age have the money to spend on a downsized home, and are modifying these for ease of entry and ADA compliance issues.

Grab bars are critical to resolving accessibility issues. The problem with grab bars, according to many manufacturers, is that they tend to have an institutional look, rather than the personal style designers and homeowners are looking for. “This type of plain, industrial look hardly contributes to the overall design, so the idea is to help it blend seamlessly with the other fixtures and accessories,” says Mockett. “While the basic functionality in preventing slips and falls is still the main focus, simply adding a soft grip or oval design not only improves the grip surface and allows for more leverage, but can also lend itself to more aesthetically pleasing qualities.”

A linear drain can enable users to easily enter the shower enclosure without having to step over a curb, Taft says. Decorative linear drains support Universal Design without sacrificing the aesthetic, he adds.

Overall, “Universal Design has impacted most organizations to ‘think outside the box’ to develop products that have not traditionally been a ‘must-have’ accessory in a bathroom,” says Hamilton. For homes designed with aging in place in mind, he adds, items such as ADA-compliant grab bars, decorative shower seats and zero-threshold shower drains are critical.

TECH TALK

With technology an ever-present influence in daily life, it’s no surprise that technological advances have some impact on hardware and accessory trends. From simplifying the design process to the development of straightforward, easy-to-use products, technology is important, even if not in the obvious ways.

“To some degree, technology does play a role in hardware and accessory trends,” says Hamilton. “Technology can be used to attach shower plates with magnets rather than screws, resulting in a much cleaner, aesthetically appealing final product. Using small parts and other technologies, toilet tissue holders no longer require a spring loaded roller. The arm of the toilet tissue holder pivots upward to allow for a tissue roll to be easily changed without the hassle of a spring roller.”

More efficient products, such as Amba’s towel warmer technology, are also being developed. Using cables rather than heating oil, the warmers heat in 10 to 15 minutes instead of 30 to 45. Salati says that other advances include digital heat controllers for many towel warmer models, as well as the ability to modify wall bracket lengths, which is important when the wall is not level or there is tile on the bottom of the wall, but not the top.

Additionally, Mockett finds power and communication systems becoming increasingly important in bath design. “Bathrooms are experiencing growth and expansion, sometimes borrowing square footage from the adjacent rooms to showcase their newfound grandeur style. Power and data connectivity demands are growing virtually everywhere to keep everyone connected,” he says.

The emergence of 3-D printers has also had an impact, according to Taft. “This amazing and growing technology significantly accelerates time to market for manufacturers,” he says. This technology has also enhanced design abilities by enabling flexible and cost-effective experimentation, he adds.

McJoynt, however, says that because accessories are static products, technology has a limited role. “Spot-free, fingerprint-free is a nice application, but not prevalent in the accessories business quite yet,” he concludes.

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