Water provides a sensory experience that is essential to the bathroom. Perhaps that’s why the bath sink and faucet remain such an integral design element to the space. While function matters, fashion takes center stage when it comes to the bath sink and faucet, with everything from the faucet finish to the texture of the sink material to the design of the water flow being taken into consideration to maximize design impact.
Today’s bath faucets are showcasing sleek designs, stylish finishes and a touch of “bling” to add visual interest. In sinks, organic shapes, timeless designs and nature-inspired looks are hot right now – along with some new materials that offer greater design flexibility.
That’s according to manufacturers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who see transitional styling remaining strong, while luxury finishes and a touch of technology add updated style and function to the bath sink and faucet arena.
When it comes to the traditional versus contemporary versus transitional debate, it seems that each camp has strong advocates.
Lou Rohl, CEO and managing partner of the Irvine, CA-based Rohl maintains, “Traditional continues to be an important trend. It still represents the large majority of the bathroom faucet design selection. There has been a continued interest in what is termed ‘transitional,’ which to me is a move away from the hard-edge modern designs to a preference for a little more rounded shapes, which can take its form in such emerging design trends as machined industrial knurling and finished tones of glass and stone blending into metal finishes.”
At the North Olmsted, OH-based Moen, senior product manager Brad Crozier still sees a trend toward cleaner, seamless designs. He notes, “Modern styling is growing; however transitional styling is still the most popular.”
Javier Korneluk, U.S. managing director for Laufen, says, “Contemporary design still reigns as the most popular ‘style’ as far as Laufen’s products are concerned. Elegant shapes and thinner silhouettes are becoming much more popular now, based on the ceramic technology that allows that kind of defined edging.”
At Delta Faucet Co., in Indianapolis, IN, director of industrial design Judd Lord sees it as less about which style is hot and more about how styles can be juxtaposed to meet consumers’ individual needs, tastes and preferences. He explains, “Compliance to conventional style categories has lessened as more homeowners work to create a space uniquely their own. When designing bathroom spaces, homeowners are more likely to mix traditional and contemporary styles, as well as DIY and high-end materials to create a look reflective of their individual personality. This convergence of styles is reflected in their faucet choices. Homeowners who once defined their homes as strictly traditional may consider a faucet with a modern, sleek architecture and an old-world finish as a way to elevate their classic style beyond the expected.”
Noah Taft, senior v.p., marketing & sales at the Huntington Beach, CA-based California Faucets, also sees some blending of style trends. He explains, “While traditional remains strong through most of the country, we’ve definitely seen an uptick of interest in transitional design: contemporary, but with softer edges and added curves. Interestingly, we’ve also seen increasing interest in transitional faucets that draw their inspiration from the traditional rather than the contemporary side. Perhaps even more striking is the continued, even growing interest in Art Deco, as evidenced not only by public interest in our Art Deco Collection, but in our new Rincon Bay Series, which integrates transitional elements into what is clearly an Art Deco design foundation.”
Luky ‘Jade’ Ng, Axor Design Studio manager for Hansgrohe, based in Alpharetta, GA, believes, “Most consumers are still looking for simple, minimal and timeless designs, but they also want their fixtures to have a little pop.” This may explain the “bling trend,” which was highly evident at this year’s KBIS.
Taft notes, “Perhaps the economic recovery has stimulated some people’s desire to flash some bling, but regardless of the underlying reason, we have seen an uptick in specifications for both our 24K Satin Gold finish as well as our Satin Gold (PVD) finish.” As he jokes, “Liberace may be dead, but gold is definitely not.”
Crozier also took note of the “bling” at KBIS, including a number of crystal-studded faucets. However, he states, “We feel that’s a more expensive, ‘niche-y’ look. The majority of the consumers we talk to are more interested in a cleaner design.”
MATERIALS & FINISHES
In sinks, a wealth of materials adds style and enhanced functionality to the bath, from classic vitreous china, glass and concrete to natural stone and quartz, warm, hand-hammered copper and entirely new materials that offer their own unique design aesthetic.
At the San Luis Obispo, CA-based Native Trails, Founder and CEO Naomi Neilson Howard notes, “Now more than ever people are looking for natural, warm materials to make their bath spaces feel like a welcoming and relaxing sanctuary. Texture is one way to achieve that, and we have noticed a significant spike in our hand-hammered copper sinks, especially in our Brushed Nickel finish.”
On the other hand, Gary Uhl, director of brand education for American Standard Brands based in Piscataway, NJ, says, “The market is still trending toward vitreous china sinks due to their durability, cleanability and flexibility in their design installation.”
At Laufen, Korneluk says, “Elegant shapes and thinner silhouettes are becoming much more popular now, based on the ceramic technology that allows that kind of defined edging. Laufen’s SaphirKeramik ceramic is a new recipe for ceramic design that enables us to create super-thin and precise edges that are stronger than traditional ceramics.”
In faucet finishes, Chrome, Polished Nickel and Satin Nickel remain top sellers, though Rohl sees Tuscan Brass and English Bronze as popular finish choices in the bath. Additionally, he cites “new requests for un-lacquered ‘living finish’ brass and brushed gold,” noting, “The design community is looking for variations on weathered decorative finishes.”
Crozier sees Polished Nickel as a growing trend, stating, “It has a warmer tone than traditional bright Chrome finishes, and is the perfect choice for someone who may not like the brushed look.”
Taft concurs: “Polished Nickel continues to grow as a more elegant finish than Chrome. Used strategically with contemporary design, Polished Nickel adds a warmer feel than Chrome, making the entire bath environment just a little more inviting and relaxation-inducing.”
SINK SHAPES & STYLES
While softer lines and rounded curves seem to be trending in sinks, modern geometric shapes also appeal to those who like a more modern look. Alex Bursac, Duravit NYC showroom manager, cites the popularity of “circular, natural shapes as well as more modern geometrics for vessel sinks.” He adds, “Undermounts and drop-ins are timeless selections, though, and there’s still great demand for that, especially for designers looking for a very clean or minimal aesthetic.”
Howard notes, “Trough style sinks for the bath are gaining popularity, as we’ve noticed since introducing our two new trough sinks as part of our NativeStone Collection. We are seeing a lot of demand for both single-faucet and multiple- faucet trough style sinks, which offer a large basin area and really striking aesthetic appeal.”
Korneluk says vessel-type basins are popular with his company’s clientele, including those that are very geometric in style (round, square, rectangular) as well as some that feature more organic shapes.
FUNCTION VS. FASHION
Fashion remains a key consideration in the bathroom with consumers, yet it’s important for designers to address their functional needs as well.
Korneluk believes, “Functional benefits have to go hand in hand with great design, otherwise the end user will ultimately be very disappointed.”
According to Lord, “We know from our research that the number-one priority most people think about when selecting a new faucet is its look and design – this goes for faucets in both the kitchen and the bath. However, when designing a space, it is important to think about how it will be used and who will be using it. If a homeowner wants to keep the kids’ bathroom looking neat and tidy, she may want to consider a brushed finish that helps mask fingerprints and water spots. If a homeowner plans to stay in his home for many years, Universal Design features – such as the ease of water activation – should be considered before making a faucet purchase.”
Bursac notes that consumers are definitely looking for longevity when picking bath products, as well as easy-care features.
Rohl believes the level of interest in functional aspects relates directly to which bath is being designed. As he explains, “In the master bath, form and function take equal attention. If it’s a guest or kids' bath, durability and cleanability become key design considerations.” He adds, however, that Universal Design continues to gain popularity across the board.
Crozier cites a new Spot Resistant Brushed Nickel finish that is designed to resist water spots and fingerprints, explaining that low-maintenance products remain popular with today’s time-pressed consumers.
Laufen offers a unique take on function with the Kartell by Laufen collection, which includes faucets that actually offer built-in storage through a small removable shelf that sits on the faucet.
A PLACE FOR TECHNOLOGY
While technology has made strong inroads in the bath in the shower experience, there is some debate regarding whether it has had much impact in bath faucets.
As Ng sees it, “Innovations for the bathroom faucet are a fairly new concept. After the ceramic cartridge, companies ceased to improve the faucet until there were new water regulations.”
Uhl, on the other hand, believes, “Technology is having a huge impact on the bath faucet when it comes to construction and performance. Advanced computer tools allow us to develop safer faucets that deliver all the flow and pressure that the user wants, while reducing the water consumption rate by 30 percent or more. This allows for faucets that exceed expectations while delivering conservation to the homeowner. These same high-tech tools allow for advances in form, ergonomics and material use that let us create designs that were not possible only a few years ago.”
Touch-free technology, increasingly evident at the kitchen water station, is beginning to see increased interest for the bathroom. Lord cites his firm’s Touch20 Technology, noting that it is “highly responsive, reliable and widely accepted by today’s consumer who uses touch technology to interact with smart phones, ATM machines, tablets, computers, printers and other devices on a daily basis.” He believes, “As consumers gain more positive experiences with touch-activated products, the demand for touch-activated faucets will continue to grow.”
Taft agrees there is great utility in hands-free technology, particularly as it relates to hygiene. However, he is not convinced that this technology works well enough for the residential bath. “Clearly, hands-free continues to grow in commercial settings, but personally I have yet to see hands-free technology that works as it needs to in a home setting,” he says. “Whoever figures that one out will have truly innovated.”
Technology can be used to improve the water experience in other ways as well. For instance, Ng points to Axor faucets that separate temperature and volume controls into separate knobs, as well as faucets designed specifically to ensure a “waterfall” effect that flows as a flat sheet.
Technology is also coming into play with sink materials, which can open up an entirely new world of design possibilities, according to Korneluk.
Based in California, which has some of the strictest codes in the country, it’s not surprising that Rohl cites water conservation as a top priority. He states, “We believe strongly in water management and were one of the first companies in the industry to have a fully compliant range of products that meet California water usage standards, which are some of the strictest in the country.”
Taft believes that “most people strongly support water conservation, but balk if it significantly impacts the experience of their bathroom refuge. With bath faucets, it’s easy to handle, as the experience of a lower-flow bath faucet is not that noticeable.”
Lord concurs: “Consumers want to make smarter water choices in order to maintain high environmental standards and save money. Luckily, there are a large number of bathroom faucets available that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense standards.”
However, not everyone sees consumers as being fully on board with the water conservation trend. At American Standard, Uhl admits, “Surveys tell us the consumer believes in conservation but thinks it would be good for someone else to be doing it.”
And Ng sees bath faucets that offer water savings as a low priority for many consumers. She explains, “It is unfortunate that saving water via the bath faucet has not been an important concern with customers, because it is actually the easiest place to save water. While low-flow kitchen faucets and showerheads may cause users to spend longer time filling pots or getting shampoo out of their hair, the bathroom faucet is the best place to lower the flow rate without any noticeable impact.”
The green trend is also impacting sink choices, with some consumers specifically seeking products that are environmentally friendly. According to Howard, “Sustainability is becoming an important consideration as homeowners decide on materials for their bathroom, including the sink. In this regard, the material choice is key, whether recycled material or otherwise sustainably made.”