Darker colors and cleaner lines mark dramatic furniture
looks for bath vanities.
By Daina Manning
What kind of vanities do consumers want in their bathrooms? The
answer to that differs depending on which bathroom is being
referred to. Master baths, powder rooms and utilitarian bathrooms
such as those adjoining kids’ bedrooms all have different
requirements, and increasingly separate trends.
On the high end, the master bath has evolved into a spa/palace/
retreat/wonderland that’s bigger, more glamorous and more elaborate
than ever before. The powder room, on the other hand, has emerged
as a place to make a dramatic design statement. A bathroom that
doesn’t get a lot of use can encompass all kinds of otherwise
impractical flights of fancy, and designers are taking advantage of
this to really show off their chops.
And the “practical” bath? There, storage, a countertop material
that will withstand nuclear attack (or several 6-year-olds) and an
undermount sink for easy cleaning are the primary components,
according to manufacturers surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design
“Furniture look” cabinetry in
the bath is nothing new, but the trend is increasingly expanding
from big, boxy vanities to other design styles, taking into
consideration other needs for example, does the vanity match (or
provide a contrast to) the storage system in the master closet,
which is likely to be an adjoining room, or even one big, open
A suite of bathroom furniture is another hot trend. For
instance, Angela O’Neill, director of marketing for Wellborn
Cabinet, in Ashland, AL, sees separate armoires and freestanding
furniture pieces with thoughtfully-designed interior storage as a
trend, while Jeff Ptacek, product manager for Starmark Fieldstone,
in Sioux Falls, ND, notes a demand for separate linen closets.
“With so much focus on organization [with] shows on HGTV, DYI,
etc., consumers demand this to be incorporated in their designs,
with more storage features for the space, [and] better pre-planned
usage/function of space,” O’Neill elaborates.
“People are very much into storage and gimmicks, hidden drawers,
putting electricity in the cases where they can leave their hair
dryer plugged in,” adds Chuck Johnson, president of the Furniture
Guild, makers of Vanity Flair, in Canton, GA.
James Lin, president, cabinetry division, of Fairmont Designs,
in Buena Park, CA, states, “The furniture look does not necessarily
mean less storage. In fact, storage designs can become more
innovative, like our carousel cabinet.” He also cites linen towers
and a mirror valet as ways to solve storage problems.
The medicine cabinet has also become a more function-savvy
storage piece, as well as a higher-quality one, with consumers
demanding the same level of craftsmanship as with their other
cabinetry. “People are doing a lot of renovating,” notes Diane
Mann, president of Mann’s Manufacturing, Inc., in Canby, OR, whose
millwork company recently rolled out a new line of high-end custom
medicine cabinets. “We use only real solid wood, hand cut, hand
fit, hand finished,” she reports. “Customers can have whatever they
want to match their décor.”
Customization is important, Johnson emphasizes, especially in
renovations, which might involve odd sizes to maximize small
metropolitan bathrooms with their limited space.
A choice of styles
The other big change
for furniture looks? The expansion into every design style. The
trend may have started with designers taking their clients to
antique stores to pick out a piece, which then got converted into a
vanity. But, these days, furniture looks may be totally
contemporary, as well.
“The bath environment is meant to carry a casual and relaxed
ambience,” says Lin. “These cleaner looks are [a natural for this
O’Neill believes today’s consumers want “freestanding pieces
without the fuss sleek designs that utilize space to the max, clean
surfaces and materials that are easily maintained. No one has time
to clean any more,” she says, “and who wants to?”
“Straight legs and lighter woods [are the trend]” according to
Ptacek. For an industrial “loft” feel, stainless steel is making
inroads as a sink material, in either a squared-off vessel or
undermount. Plain white china or fire clay is another clean-lined
simple material that lends itself to urban industrial style. Ptacek
adds that consumers are also trending away from spending a fortune
on a very ornate “statement” vessel, but rather keeping it simple
Sandra Luttchens, director of design & training for Omega
Cabinetry, in Waterloo, IA, cites mid- to dark-tone finishes, a
general departure from the lighter finishes, as a popular trend.
These finishes combine with plain steel legs for a popular, modern
“The key here is mix and match,” Lin concludes, “[for instance], a
legged vanity console [that combines] metal and wood.”
Johnson adds that Asian-influenced style is also a significant
facet of the contemporary market. “Asian minimalist, the zen look
[utilizing] feng shui, that’s very popular,” he notes, citing his
company’s vanity that’s “a big round drum done in exotic woods,
mahogany, zebra wood which is very cool with stainless steel tube
legs.” Another Asian style features a mullion door with rice paper
behind it for the look of a shoji screen, he adds. “The rail under
the top extends beyond the case so it looks more
Overall, wood species for bath vanities dovetail kitchen trends,
with cherry and maple leading the way on the high end, though
“builders are still choosing oak and thermofoil for tract housing,”
says O’Neill. Lin cites oak, ash, maple and alder, as well as
several exotic species from South Asia as strong sellers for his
company, while Ptacek sees a rise in lyptus imports from South
Furniture vanities also lend themselves to the transitional
looks younger homeowners prefer. “We continue to see these styles
gaining ground across the country,” says Lin.
“Many people are remodeling homes today to keep the feel of the
home as it was originally intended,” adds O’Neill. For instance, a
Craftsman home implies a vanity that echoes Mission-style cabinetry
(or a pedestal lav in the powder room). Or, many California
southwest homes have a Mediterranean/Art Deco feel that lends
itself to the glossy lacquered finishes and glamorous but
streamlined styling of that era. A ’50s retro look might pick up on
Danish Modern and its simple wood structures.
In fact, recent wood coatings make it possible to have an
all-wood vanity, though some believe this is a fad. “An all-wood
cabinet is a bit boring,” thinks Lin.
“I don’t see wood tops as a strong choice for the bathroom,”
says O’Neill. “It’s trendy, but not lasting.” Manufacturers also
note that the amount of coating one needs to put on wood to make it
workable in a bathroom ends up compromising the material, in effect
putting a layer of plastic over the wood.
O’Neill cites marble, granite, quartz and solid surface as the
overall trends in vanity tops. “Cultured marble is still strong for
[the lower-end market],” she adds, noting that today, solid surface
often takes the place of laminate.
The addition of open shelving in a vanity also brings in the
opportunity for new materials and storage choices. Luttchens
mentions towel storage underneath the sink, while Lin cites baskets
that can serve as pull-outs.
The vanity’s shape can also be altered to display decorative
plumbing, extending the finish and style of the faucet down to a
While the master bath trends
toward as much opulence as possible, the powder room goes for
maximum adventure. “The powder room starts the trends,” says
Johnson. Because it’s usually a small space, and one that doesn’t
get heavy traffic, it’s a perfect environment for a dramatic theme
that would be over the top in a larger room.
In some markets, this can be a very formal, ornate Old World
look, though manufacturers disagree about this look’s popularity.
“[It’s] definitely declining,” says O’Neill.
“It is still going strong if done with taste and high-quality
construction,” counters Lin. “All of our drawers are dovetailed,
and we use ball bearing slides across the board.”
Ptacek also mentions rustic shabby chic looks as an option.
“You’re seeing rub-throughs, the cottage-y look,” he notes.
“They’re reverting back to more traditional lines of trim,” adds
Mann, “going for a more formal look, the old style, from [17th
century] England, [with] crown moulding and appliques.” She cites
white stain, which gives a white look, but with a bleached out or
high white look, with wood grain, as a choice.
“Traditional is always going to be with us,” concludes
Whatever the style, the wood is likely to be darker. Luttchens
sees dark, warm woods like cherry contrasted with light tones
elsewhere in the bath as a prominent trend. Johnson also mentions
black walnut for a dramatic finish, which is often used in more
contemporary or Asian-influenced looks. Overall, “Customization is
key for consumer choices today,” says O’Neill.
Concludes Lin, “It’s more than just material. Finishing is what
really counts. Bath furniture is more than just cabinet doors,
drawer fronts and headers.” KBDN