Essential Accents

For a long time, accessories and hardware in the bathroom were more of an afterthought than something planned from the beginning. Times have changed, however, and increasingly, these products are being seen as more essential to the overall look and feel of the space. These “finishing touches” pull a look together, bringing a design to life and add functionality, as well as style, to the room. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News who see bath accessories and hardware as essential accents in today’s bathroom designs

“Consumers are investing more time and consideration in the selection of their bathroom accessories,” says Lou Rohl, CEO/managing partner of ROHL LLC in Irvine, CA. “It is an integral part of the entire design process. It’s these distinctive details that make a space – a beautiful shaving mirror, towel bars and architectural robe hooks. Design elements that might otherwise be lost in a larger space can truly shine in a bath or powder room and make a bold statement.”

Jeff Mathison, principal designer for the Liberty Design Studio at Liberty Hardware Manufacturing Corp. in Winston-Salem, NC, believes that the overall design style of the bathroom impacts both the function and style of hardware. “The trend is toward whole bathroom suite solutions, where a design encompasses not just the decorative hardware, but the lighting, the fixtures and accent pieces,” he says. Limited wall space, for instance, has created an increase in double towel bars, and the elimination of medicine cabinets makes shelves a convenient way to organize necessities, he notes. A more casual lifestyle has allowed for the use of multiple hooks as an alternative to traditional towel bars, he adds.

Billy Peele, sales associate for the Torrance, CA -based Doug Mockett & Company, Inc. says that continued growth of bathroom and adjacent closet space has placed more emphasis on the idea of the bath as an extended living space. “With stylized bathroom and closet spaces on display, hardware has become a more important focal point in enhancing the overall design,” he states.

In order to maximize the usable space for expanded storage, additional decorative shelving and hooks must be incorporated into the design. “Adding hardware is an easy way to create accents to complement the existing design, or to take a different direction and create a striking eclectic texture to the design,” notes Peele. “With just as much emphasis on the adjacent closet space as the actual bath, bathrooms are turning into luxurious showrooms with high-end fixtures, and are becoming an extension of the standard living space along with the rest of the home.”


Simple and Sleek

Gone are the days of ornate and fussy bathroom designs. A shift has been occurring over the past several years, and a sleek style remains the driving trend, according to manufacturers.

Matt Vecchiolla, national sales manager at Top Knobs, Inc., based in Hillsborough, NJ, says that the demand for clean, simple, modern designs hasn’t changed, but has been the trend for the last couple of years.

Greg Sheets, product marketing manager for decorative products at Archdale, NC-based Hafele America agrees that the clean, minimalistic look with straight lines and simple designs is a top seller. “People are trying to find ways of hiding or reducing the profile of the handle,” he says. Hafele has addressed the desire to hide hardware by offering options that blend in more, rather than being an accent piece.

Larry Chen, associate product manager/visual merchandising for GINGER/Newport Brass at Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA, says that the trend toward sleek styles can incorporate elements like more white on the walls, simple layouts or a vintage look with reclaimed wood or salvaged parts such as a piano top converted into a storage ledge.

Javier Korneluk, U.S. managing director for the Switzerland-based LAUFEN bathrooms says that limited space also has an impact on what people are looking for and the clean lines they desire. “We are seeing the need, more and more, for designs that require slimmer profiles on all of the products; slimmer basins, vanities, better shelving options – people always need to be aware of space limitations,” he says.


Design Style

Style choices are highly personal, and there will always be variations in what people are looking for, from ultra modern designs to more traditional choices. However, many manufacturers are seeing a strong shift toward transitional design that meets in the middle rather than swinging clearly toward either a modern or traditional look.

Mihai Subran, product manager for Richelieu Hardware in Montreal, QC, Canada says that Colonial and Victorian designs started to be replaced by the clean modern shapes and life-long transitional design about five years ago. “The highest percentage is claimed by transitional, and we still have not reached the peak of it,” he says. These transitional designs in bathroom accessories are in higher demand in part because of the budget-minded end user, who doesn’t want a style that will quickly be outdated, he adds. The colors of transitional design are mostly warmer colors such as Bronze, Antique Nickel or Brushed Nickel, he notes, but when the style is applied to bathroom accessories, Chrome is also a common finish to match faucets, he adds.

Luky “Jade” Ng, Axor Design Studio Manager for the Alpharetta, GA-based Hansgrohe North America agrees, noting, “Traditional is beginning to meet contemporary design to produce transitional products that have an older feel but keep clean lines that are easy for the user to maintain.” She also sees an emerging “organic” style, with elements of nature and fluid, natural lines. For finishes, she says, Chrome and Brushed Nickel are most in demand.

Korneluk says that, for LAUFEN, “Contemporary design still reigns supreme.” However, he adds that the company has seen the market shifting toward warming up these contemporary designs with innovative materials and colors.

Chen says, “Traditional styles still make a heavy impact, however, contemporary designs in certain markets seem to have an increased demand.” Many newer designs, like the Cinu collection in the company’s Ginger brand, tend to bridge a small gap between transitional and contemporary styles, he adds.

Because the design is a reflection of the house as well as the character and personality of the user, says Peele, vastly different styles can be created even with the same variable. “One common thread for hardware that is universally sleek in traditional or contemporary design is the use of Matte and Satin finishes. Satin Chrome is almost giving way to Satin Nickel, and softer and more subtle finishes tend to blend more with the walls and tile,” he says.

Vecchiolla says that, for a modern look, sleek designs in Polished Chrome and Brushed Nickel are in demand, while for a more transitional look, designers are going with a modern design in a more traditional finish such as Polished Nickel or Tuscan Bronze.

Mathison notes, “Currently we are seeing the modern style lean toward more simple, natural and warm details, whereas the traditional style is made up of classical influences, intricate details and bold sophistication.” Finishes are expanding beyond Chrome and Satin Nickel, he says, to include variations of Bronze, Pewter and ceramics. “Bath accessory designs have continued to evolve beyond traditional designs to include modern slim-line profiles and soft geometric shapes that work together with the other bathroom fixtures to create a seamless design statement,” he points out.

Mixing styles isn’t out of the question, either. Rohl says he is seeing this happen more frequently, with consumers perhaps pairing a traditional tub filler with a contemporary freestanding tub and transitional shower system. “Design doesn’t dictate that each element must come from the same collection, or even in the same finish,” he says. “Because there are no hard ‘design rules,’ accessories help bridge the gap between design styles and finishes.”


Elegant Accessibility

Accessibility issues are an important consideration in any aspect of bath design. Bath hardware can play a particularly critical role in keeping homeowners safe and able to efficiently utilize their spaces. But that doesn’t mean they have to settle for an institutional feel in an otherwise luxurious space. “No longer do homeowners have to settle for industrial-looking products. [Universally designed] products are now as beautiful as anything you’d see in a luxury residence,” says Korneluk.

Mathison adds that his company’s product designers are very aware of the aging population and the role that Universal Design plays in developing new products to meet their needs. “We strive to bring the same level of care and design to grab bars, benches and accessories that we would for decorative hardware. Universal Design is about giving the consumer safe and useful yet decorative products that blend with their style and personality,” he says.

Peele notes that, with easily interchangeable hardware and accessories, these elements can be changed throughout the room over time to accommodate an aging-in-place environment without straying from the design vision. “The addition of stylish grab bars and other safety features can lend itself to the overall design and doesn’t necessarily have to create a sterile hospital-esque feel,” he explains. “Edgy accents and lines can make a safety bar in plain sight help enhance the overall décor.”

Subran says he also sees an increasing demand for specialized hardware for older people. By adding touches of design and more fashionable finishes to grab bars, toilet seats and bathtub stools, functionality can be combined with design and specific usage with aesthetics, he notes.

Rohl says, “For years, grab bars were only viewed as a safety element for the bathroom and were cold and institutional. Today, we’ve created a series of decorative grab bars that are both ADA compliant and beautiful. There’s no reason [homeowners] should have to sacrifice style for function.” The same holds true for toilet tissue holders, he adds. Manufacturers are now creating unique holders in a variety of styles that are as luxurious as the faucet or tub filler. “The key is to make these decisions a part of the design process, and take full advantage of what’s available,” he says.

Sheets says people are looking for products that are easier to operate, and are creating more exposed spaces and sliding, rather than swinging, doors. “With interest in Universal Design, there are probably a lot of people out there working on trying to find the next great thing for access, universal living and aging in the home,” he adds.

The concept of aging in place may also impact accessory trends to move toward higher-quality and longer-lasting finishes, says Chen, as well as a move toward more timeless styles and traditional designs.


Old Standards, New Favorites

Some accessories are deemed a necessity in any bathroom, while the desire for others is dependent on the vision of the designer and homeowner. While every bathroom needs a place for towels, toilet paper and storage, the products used to create these spaces are as varied as the people who use them. “We’ve seen designers and homeowners clamoring for interesting accessories that can add a real pop to their bath design,” says Korneluk. The Kartell by LAUFEN collection achieves just that, he says, with the use of plastics and seven colors to choose from. The collection makes use of all available space, he says, including a removable shelf that sits on top of the faucet.

Chen says that the top four must-haves are typically a robe hook, towel ring, toilet tissue holder and towel bar. “These can almost be considered necessities to complete a bathroom,” he says. At the same time, transitional designs are creating a niche for new accessories. “This could be inspired by transitional designs for bath faucets or simply a consumer-driven desire for more designs that bridge the gap between new and old,” he says.

Subran agrees that a towel bar, towel ring and paper holder are core accessories, and adds glass shelves and hooks, ideally matching the faucets, to the list. Some newer additions he has seen include matching curtain rings and flush handle, and, for more high-tech options, mirrors that are heated or include televisions.

Mathison says that new ways to increase functionality of the core accessories and bring new storage solutions to the bathroom are on the rise. Some of the new accessories resulting from this demand are double towel bars, towel bars with shelving or integrated hooks, and under-cabinet storage solutions, he says.

Ng adds, “People are opting for several robe hooks instead of towel bars for a less cluttered look. The double toilet paper holder is an oft forgotten upgrade that ensures the user will never be without a roll.”

The impact of technology can’t be forgotten, either. With the expansion of technology into every corner of the house, says Peele, the need for additional outlets is increasingly important. “Adding stylized, concealable electrical outlets that are not only convenient, but also decorative, is a key component of a functional bathroom and closet space. Sleek pop-up or hideaway options are extremely popular, and the addition of a water-tight seal is essential for use in wet areas,” he notes, adding that Mockett’s PCS34 grommet is a handy solution, with a UL certification for use in wet areas and the ability to be hidden when not in use.


Environmental Impacts

Consumers care about, and are asking for, products made through sustainable practices, say manufacturers. “Sustainable design and being cognizant of our environment have become more and more important to the customer,” says Korneluk. This can include low-flow products, and items that are hygienic, without the use of harmful chemicals, he notes. “The trends will likely continue to focus on these ‘green’ aspects while, at the same time, not skimping on fantastic design.”

Ng agrees. “Eco-Luxury is definitely on the rise. Consumers are getting smarter about buying high-end products that have the added value of being sustainable and/or environmentally friendly. Not only do they care about the product’s performance, they care about where and how it was produced,” she says. “With the eco-conscious consumers who are also looking to personalize, manufacturers are offering more options and fuller suites of products while still maintaining or improving their sustainable practices.”

Sheets says he has seen limited demand for antimicrobial products as well. “I hear people talking about trying to use more natural materials, like natural unfinished brass and copper, because of their tendency to have some antimicrobial properties,” he says. Haefele has tried to address this need with some new antimicrobial decorative hardware options.