Lean times are inspiring some striking -- and surprising -- looks in the bathroom. The Home section asked
Katherine E. Nelson, senior market editor for Metropolitan Home magazine, to assess the new products at the annual Kitchen/Bath Industry Show last weekend in Atlanta. The top five bath trends that Nelson noted:
Fashion's favorite shade presented stylish new options for tubs and sinks.
"Ninety percent of our bath offerings will stay in white, but for the premium segment, black has become an important color," said Martin Koch, chief communication officer of Kaldewei, which introduced a stunning, free-standing black-enameled steel bathtub called the Luxxo Duo with a black-paneled mount ($14,500). Measuring about 6-foot-3 in length and 3-foot-4 in width, the tub offers a luxurious soak as well as a strong design statement.
"Private bath culture has become more about lifestyle and attitude," Koch said. "No one takes a bath simply for hygiene any more."
An array of new black fixtures also provided dramatic silhouettes. Standouts included Samuel Heath's Xenon, a masculine chrome-plated collection in matte black, Xenon and Toto's chic, high-efficiency Waza Noir faucet.
"Functional sculpture" is how Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Brizo, described the new trend in bathroom fixtures.
"While the kitchen space is still primarily task-driven, the bathroom has become more about escape and indulgence," Lord said. "This atmosphere lends itself to providing visual stimulus that's more artistic in nature."
Reflecting this sentiment, Brizo showed Virage, an appealingly serpentine spout and handle design that Lord said acts like "jewelry for the room." (The widespread lav in chrome is $500.) Another statement faucet: Hansa's LaTrava, a collaboration between Octopus Design and Bruno Sacco, the former head of design for Mercedes-Benz. LaTrava wowed with a diagonal spout whose flow of water tapers elegantly into the sink. Another shapely fixture, the sexy starburst La Scala from LaCava, offered an elegant update of the ubiquitous cross handles.
Improved technology has long been at the core of most new bath offerings, but this year bells and whistles gave way to smart solutions that make for easy and affordable upgrades.
"Now more than ever the trick is to do new technology not for its own sake, but in a way that truly matters to the consumer. It's a value proposition," said Brian Barnett, product manager at Kohler, which introduced the Flipside hand shower.
The shower head ($107) has four sides, each devoted to a different spray. Rather than twist the shower face awkwardly, simply flip the head.
"A hand shower easily adds functionality to an existing shower," Barnett said. "Plus, it's great for kids, pets and cleaning."
Another simple solution came from Robern, whose Uplift mirrored bath cabinet opens vertically to take advantage of underused wall space. The clutter-fighting cabinet comes with six electrical outlets and can be set flush with the countertop for a European look (starting at $2,000). Another smart upgrade, the Integrated Faucet with Water Filtration ($1,586) from Rohl, provides hot, cold and filtered water from a single faucet, eliminating the need for a separate tap or wasteful plastic bottles.
Romantic designs emphasized how the bathroom has become an expressive space where one can escape and luxuriate. For Kallista, noted designer Bill Sofield launched his elegant Jeton collection, which includes a marble-topped vanity, jewel-cut fixtures and accessories, and lustrous hand-polished finishes.
Difficult times, Sofield said, are "when you see glamour really shine." He described his collection as "a little glitter and a lot of poise."
"More and more, people want to feel that what they are buying is very considered. Ideally, it will be around for generations."
Several designs transformed surfaces into works of art, such as Ann Sacks' stunning Blake Studios clay and porcelain 11-inch square tiles, which are individually hand-carved without molds or dies. Cosentino's Prexury collection of counters and wall surfaces includes semiprecious stones such as angel jasper and amethyst.
Villeroy & Boch's two new bathroom collections, Memento and La Belle, also got glamorous by featuring elegant bath furniture and basins with sensuous lines and decorative floral and metallic flourishes.
Despite the economic downturn, a continued investment in green design was evident at the show.
"Green design is about empowering consumers to be more responsible," said Michael Beyerle, General Electric's innovation marketing manager. "We want people to be able to enjoy luxuries and benefits in terms of showering and washing without paying too much as energy costs continue to escalate."
GE introduced a new hybrid hot-water heater, the first Energy Star model on the market, which fits the same footprint and uses the same hookups as a typical 50-gallon electric model but uses about 50% less energy.
Another easy way for consumers to go green is to make sure all faucets and fixtures carry the Water Sense label, like Moen's new Envi Eco-Performance rain shower head ($194). It uses up to 20% less water than a standard rain shower.
Toto showcased a poetic new Aimes rain shower design that's also planet-friendly. The ambient LED illumination is hydro-powered, harnessing the flow of water through the shower head to turn internal turbines and power the light -- no hard wiring or batteries needed.