Modern fittings

More modern decorative plumbing fixtures appear to be making a comeback over staid and traditional pieces that entered the market around 2001 and 2002—though the consumer buzzword in all bath and kitchen faucets remains “variety.”

Offering such a variety has helped the $16 billion market for kitchen and bath fittings remain strong, growing at 5 percent per year after a slight down turn in 2002, according to market research firm SBI. The firm estimates the gains will continue into the next decade as the market for bath and kitchen remodeling remains strong.

Trends including new variations in nickel and copper finishes in the bath, high-arc goosenecks and professional-grade kitchen looks are all catching the eye of consumers, industry insiders told HCN.

“There comes a point where [consumers] just need the optimism of a more contemporary style—it’s more upbeat and more optimistic than traditional,” said Gray Uhl, director of design for faucet-maker American Standard.

Uhl said chrome finishes are still extremely popular and have seen a bit of a resurgence because of their easy fit into the modern category.

“Chrome is doing well from a style standpoint, because things are moving more contemporary. There is more contemporary styling, with simpler, cleaner forms. Chrome works very well with that,” he said.

At Ace Hardware stores, where consumers often look to combine stylish fixtures with cost savings and ease-of-use, buyers have seen the blending of traditional and modern styles into “transitional” faucets.

“Transitional has been the most popular because that hits the traditional and the modern…while being accessible,” said Craig Hansen, decorative plumbing buyer for Ace Hardware. “It’s not country and it’s not too modern, it’s somewhere in between.”

Transitional faucets, Hansen explained, provide modern touches without delving into the ultra-modern look that would require more renovating. “You really need the right home to fit a truly modern faucet,” he said.

At Ace, Hansen said new, trendy hues drive a lot of interest, but in terms of sales, chrome is king.

“Chrome still is the number one by far, but it’s not what everybody talks about,” Hansen said. “What really gets people’s attention, at least in the bathroom faucets versus the kitchen faucets, is the satin nickel and brushed nickel, the oil-rubbed bronze.”

Mike Wurth, head of product development for faucet-maker Danze, said additional finishes with subtle shading have gained popularity.

“Subdued finishes continue to be popular as people prefer the softer finish,” Wurth said.

Some new finishes trickling into the mainstream are darker bronzes—sometimes called “blackened bronze” or “darkened bronze”—and nickel with a light black glaze.

“It really hasn’t caught on yet. I guess [at Ace] we’re a lot on the mainstream side of it,” Hansen said.

While large, utilitarian, “professional” faucets have gained ground in kitchens, more adventurous styles and finishes have made entrance into the bath side.

“Stainless steel finishes…do continue to be strong in the kitchen,” Wurth explained. “People look to achieve not only a professional look in that room but also a professional function,” leading to numerous appliances, multiple sinks and oversized faucets with many uses.

“There was this notion that there would be this trend coming toward very country, oil-rubbed bronze kitchen fixtures. We really haven’t seen that emerge,” Uhl said. “No question, [kitchen trends] have to do with the other hardware that’s going on in the kitchen, whereas bathrooms are going more decorative.”

Wurth noted the rising popularity of more diverse, bold styles and colors.

“In the bath, especially in the powder room, people are a little more prone to really exposing different personalities and adventurous tastes,” he said. “We see this through unique vessel sinks, vessel filler faucets, multiple sinks, bold showers with multiple shower heads, body sprays, etc.”

At Ace stores, the trendy bowl-shaped sinks and matching faucet sets have been one modern trend that has remained particularly approachable.

Vessel sinks and numerous other modern and transitional looks often trace their roots to Europe, Hansen noted, where new styles and colors can percolate for years before making a dent in the American market. Single-mount faucets with a wider deck—called “widespread” faucets—and high-arc or gooseneck kitchen faucets popular in Europe have shown increasing popularity here, he said.

Retailers from all over the home channel have updated their decorative plumbing collections to include modern, European and transitional looks, which often blur the lines between two, three or more styles.

At Restoration Hardware, which recently launched its first “Bed and Bath” catalog, numerous “widespread” fixture sets are featured prominently. One new faucet, from the company’s house-branded Sutton collection, is rendered in shiny chrome with squared handles and a high, futuristic gooseneck faucet.

At high-end plumbing retailer Waterworks, where modern and fashion-forward designs have more cache, there’s no shortage of ultra-modern, European-inspired looks. Furthering the high gooseneck look, the retailer offers similar fittings in the “Industrial Luxe” collection and its very streamlined, masculine “Boulevard” collection.

Manufacturers have taken notice of the trend. Danze introduced its Como line of sleek bath faucets that feature a boxy base and a single handle. The company also launched new finishes, including “distressed nickel” and “distressed bronze.”

American Standard launched the modern, German-engineered Jado collection, including a slim single-mount model with a single handle, in a new finish the company calls “antique nickel.”

“One emerging trend in finishes is this blackish glaze effect on nickel, so you get more shadowing in the details,” Uhl explained.

Uhl highlighted the other emerging trend, primarily in bath fixtures, of a blackened bronze look, a take-off from bright copper or well-known oil-rubbed bronze. The darker bronze fixtures intimate wrought iron and come in several kinds of styles, often a fusion of modern and country looks.

Kohler launched a line of “Devonshire” faucets in what it calls “a rich dark brown-black” finish. Delta expanded its line of copper-finished faucets to include items in “Venetian bronze.” American Standard offers faucets in its Jasmine line in “blackened bronze,” a shinier finish. And at Moen, the Casa line of modern fixtures features a rich dark copper finish and unique curled handles.

Wurth pointed out there is still a broad, growing market for traditional styles, just as modern looks take off.

“As downtown lofts [and] condos surge in metropolitan areas, people seek minimal, sleek, contemporary styling to fit that decor,” he said. “However, as other homeowners are building second homes or are redoing old homes, the traditional styles are in demand for those environments.”

In the end, whether faucets are traditional or modern, oil-rubbed or rough-brushed, appealing to consumers with vastly different wants and needs can be a challenge. Whether a retailer counts its audience as metro or rural, the key to courting consumers of all stripes is to maintain a solid variety of styles to help best ride the fashion waves.