Vanities Sport Practical Luxury

The vanity can set the style and tone of the bathroom, adding elegance and luxury to the space. At the same time, it must be set up to perform a variety of functions, from storage to a comfortable place to primp. As people create sanctuaries for relaxation in their baths, the style of the vanity becomes increasingly important in the overall feel of the space.

“Consumers want to use the bath to create a sanctuary in their homes and strive for a “spa-like” experience regardless of the space available,” says Jacqueline Todd, product director for Twin-Star International in Delray Beach, FL.

“The notion of luxury and the idea of escape is something that’s really at the front of the consumers’ minds, so the specification of the bath is changing dramatically,” adds Andy Wells, v.p./design and trends for Jasper, IN-based MasterBrand Cabinets, Inc. That means people expect practical and beautiful vanities that reflect their personality, he notes. This makes freestanding bath pieces more appealing, as well as wall-mounted vanities with deep drawers. “As cabinet makers, we need to provide thoughtful, purposefully designed cabinetry rather than a line of measured SKUs,” he says.

A personal touch, high functionality and thoughtful storage are important in current vanity trends. Designs are moving toward the transitional or contemporary, and while white finishes are still popular, natural tones, grays and some use of color are all showing up. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

“We are finding that homeowners seem to want it all – storage, but in a compact size, and elegant pieces imbued with functionality,” says Javier Korneluk, U.S. managing director for the Miami, FL-based Laufen North America.

“Bathroom furniture is a key purchase that can last for decades if chosen carefully, and people are looking for pieces that reflect their values and even transport them to a different place. Sustainably made vanities are in demand, as are handcrafted and American-made pieces,” says Naomi Neilson Howard, CEO/founder of Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA. She notes that consumers want pieces that are unique and personal, but that also offer all of the modern conveniences. “People are interested in one-of-a-kind pieces that have character to spare and that have a story to tell – but they don’t necessarily want something one-of-a-kind that’s old and rickety from the flea market. They want the exclusivity of a one-of-a-kind piece but with modern amenities like soft-close slides and full-extension drawers,” says Neilson Howard.

For example, Native Trails’ Vintner’s Collection turns wine barrels and staves into solid bath furniture and mirrors that include soft-close drawers, and have a distinctly weathered look that hints at their history, she says.

Nathaniel Mucha, v.p. sales/bath for Fairmont Designs in Buena Park, CA says that bathroom furniture continues to grow as a category. “People want something that is both practical and has its own unique characteristics. Bathroom furniture, versus bathroom cabinetry, offers this.”


Clean and Crisp

The days of complicated lines and intricate details have passed. Manufacturers say they are seeing a trend toward simple, clean lines in transitional and even modern styling, with these outweighing demand for traditional design in vanities. That doesn’t mean, however, that one shape fits all. Though simplicity reigns, versatility is also important, making transitional style stand out.

“Contemporary styles are definitely the fastest growing trends in remodels, but transitional remains dominant in the bathroom since it often offers consumers the biggest bang for their buck,” says Todd. Both styles feature more clean lines and simplified classic styling, she says.

Erica Roberts, product development manager at Ronbow in Freemont, CA concurs: “Transitional remains strong. It’s very versatile.” Contemporary styling is also on the rise, she adds. “People are slowly starting to model their bathrooms like the Europeans.”

Bob Gifford, director, Bath Products, at Hastings Tile & Bath in Ronkonkoma, NY says contemporary styling is the most popular seen in the Hastings showrooms. “Customers tend to want very clean looks, and that translates into rectangular- or square-shaped vanities,” he says.

Korneluk agrees. “We know that our customers and showrooms still appreciate clean and crisp looks – not fussy, so contemporary design is still a strong aesthetic,” he says. He adds that elegant designs, whether straight crisp lines, or in a more organic shape like Laufen’s Palomba line, remain popular.

Mucha agrees that consumers are gravitating to more transitional and modern designs, and says if they are looking for a more traditional look they go with a rustic or reclaimed wood rather than overly decorated traditional stylings. Fairmont offers several collections that evoke the old barn wood look, he says. “Depending on how the rest of the bathroom is designed, this look can fit in either a traditional or contemporary setting,” he adds.

Wells says, “We are a nation of tree lovers, and we love our wood finishes, but we’re now seeing those wood finishes translate into thoughtful, simple design.” Some traditionalists are moving into transitional because it has a longer life span, he notes. Modern is also on the rise, which he attributes in part to the hospitality industry. “People who travel a lot expect their bathing space to be as comfortable, if not more, in their own home,” he explains.


Softer Finish

Manufacturers say that finish selection depends on the style of the bath, as well as the personal preferences of the homeowner. White is still big, and there is also a great deal of interest in grays and natural finishes. Color is beginning to spark interest in the marketplace as well.

“It really depends on your bathroom style,” says Roberts. She says contemporary styles are going with grays, taupes and glossy white, sometimes in combination with each other. For transitional, gray tones, rustic oaks and reclaimed wood are top choices. And in traditional styles, she notes that dark woods like café and espresso are on the rise.

“Luxury is the word in the bathroom, definitely,” says Wells. The firm’s Omega bath line offers many finishes that replicate nature, responding to the desire for natural, uncontrived finishes. These are honest finishes, he says, with a dab of luxury on top.

“White as we know it is changing,” says Todd. “Off-whites and beiges continue to grow in popularity and grays are the fastest growing color scheme for the room.”

Natural wood finishes are in high demand according to Neilson Howard. The Woven Strand Bamboo in Native Trails’ Renewal Series has a grain pattern similar to traditional hardwoods, and is being very well received in the market, she says. The firm’s Chestnut finish is made from reclaimed barn wood and fencing.

“The nicks and grooves of the naturally weathered wood add to its appeal, which is rustic yet somehow luxurious in its authenticity and craftsmanship,” she says. She adds that gray is currently huge. “Among our vanities, the gray-hued Driftwood finish in our Americana Collection is suddenly among the most popular finishes we offer,” she says.

Cindy Draper, marketing manager for Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in Monroe, WA says, “The colors in bathrooms are subdued grays and creams, along with pale shades of neutral to help create this place of luxury and convenience.” She adds that black and white or monochromatic color schemes are also popular. In smaller spaces, she says, people are more willing to take a chance on a bold punch of color, or with darker stains and paints on their cabinets.

Gifford says Hastings is making a big push this year to bring color back into the bathroom. “Color is everywhere in our new collections: our Made and Sign vanities offer more than 50 finishes in gloss, matte, lacquer and painted oak. We’re showing glass tops that will have color.”

Korneluk adds that clean, white finishes remain strong for ceramics, and Laufen is also seeing interest in unique colors such as the amber, orange, blue, gold and smoky gray colors offered in their Kartell collection for their furniture vanity lines.


Storage and Display

Storage is essential in keeping a space organized, peaceful and clutter free. However, designers must know the specific preferences and needs of the homeowner to make the space functional, practical and aesthetically pleasing. Homeowners are choosing a combination of open and closed storage solutions, often depending on their design scheme, according to manufacturers.

“Storage is always a consideration. Often it is not the amount of storage, but the practicality of the storage,” says Mucha. Several of his firm’s mid-sized units offer hidden drawers, he notes.

Todd says that in master baths, closed storage is still the preference to keep items out of sight. In guest baths, however, she sees people beginning to embrace the idea of open storage, mimicking what they see in hospitality settings.

Open storage, like floating vanities or shelves, helps create the spa-like environment people crave, adds Draper. “Open shelving is a versatile and attractive storage option for a bathroom because it can be tucked into a variety of spaces around the bathroom,” she says. In addition, bathroom cabinets are offering options that have traditionally been used in the kitchen, like pull-out spice racks to store hair dryers and curling irons, keeping these things hidden when not in use, she says.

Gifford says that the European trend leans toward open storage, while in North America, closed storage is more popular. “Brands are always thinking of new and innovative ways to increase storage without increasing the size of the vanities,” he says.

Roberts adds that storage space will always be a need in the U.S., where houses are larger. Americans use a lot of products in the bathroom, she says, so functional vanities are important. A large amount of closed storage is vital, she believes, but open storage is also becoming more popular. “Consumers like to display their towels, or products they invest money in. I’m starting to see clever, new ways to incorporate open storage with vanities, especially wall-hung vanities,” she says.

“It has to be functional, but people do like to show off certain things,” concurs Wells. “Thoughtful storage is really important in a space,” he believes, adding that MasterBrand complements storage needs with functional, interesting display spaces, such as racks underneath freestanding vanities or tall cabinets with glass doors and shelves and interior lighting.


Effective Use of Space

Whether it’s being chosen for a master bath, guest bath or powder room, a vanity must use the space available wisely. “Vanities haven’t gotten appreciably larger, but they’ve become ‘smarter,’ says Korneluk. “They have soft-close drawers, built-in drawer organizers and they cleverly hide the plumbing without sacrificing storage space.” He adds that while the width might be different for a smaller bath as opposed to the master, all of the functions designed for their larger pieces are also designed into the smaller ones.

Todd is starting to see homeowners use smaller but still substantial vanities in master bathrooms, sometimes opting for a 48" rather than the traditional 60" size to allow for more open floor space. In powder rooms, she says, the 24" vanity remains strong.

Vanities in the powder room remain small in order to reduce crowding, says Roberts, but designers shouldn’t be afraid to put large vanities in larger bathrooms. In master baths, she notes, his and her vanities are becoming more popular, rather than one large vanity with a double sink. “I’m seeing a lot of master baths using two 30" vanities, either separated by a window or even just a towel bar and lighting. Even if a homeowner is single, it’s good to think of how you would want your master bath to be in the future,” she says.

Mucha notes an increase in the use of furniture-style vanities in the master bath. Fairmont has developed some non-traditional size options, such as 42" and 60" single-sink vanities.

Wells notes that storage is critical in smaller baths, but adds that it shouldn’t be given short shrift just because a bathroom is spacious. “[You want to make sure that there’s a] good use of space, whether it’s in the master or the powder room,” Wells maintains. “Both of them deserve the same attention.”


Value Conscious

The recession changed how construction and renovations were handled, and though things are looking up in the economy, consumers are still more conscious of how they are spending their dollars. Cost is a factor, but more importantly, people want quality products that last.

“People are not just price-conscious about their bathroom remodel projects – they are careful about all of their purchases since the recession,” says Draper. “They’ve done their online research, have shopped around, and not only want a value price point, they want their purchases to last.”

Mucha agrees: “While the economy has improved, which has helped our overall sales, consumers are still being wise with their money. They are looking for the best products for the best value.”

The past year has seen an upswing in the market, however manufacturers note that consumers are still conscious of value when they spend.

“Buyers are smart. They know the recession is coming to an end,” says Roberts. “Home buyers are still trying to find the best purchase value, such as older homes that need remodeling, which puts the bath vanity market in a great position,” she adds.

Wells says that people are getting more confident, doing more remodeling and investing in their bath. “It’s certainly a place where people are spending more money because they want to feel pampered, they want to feel that edge of luxury in the bathroom,” he says.