As bathroom style continues to make a splash, fixture designers are looking to architecture, building details and interior design trends for their inspiration.
Of all bathroom fixtures, the sink is the best vehicle for showing off style. Sink design can change the character of a room with classic or modern accents, whether it's freestanding or part of an elegant console.
What's being explored in sink and other fixture designs is creative ways to address form, function, decorative embellishment, materials and integration with cabinets.
Some forms, such as the pedestal sink, are familiar. Its design is simple: a column supporting an attached bowl. In small spaces, the pedestal is an ideal solution. But its current popularity has as much to do with its shapeliness as its practicality. Freeing the bowl from a cabinet pulls the eye to its form.
Many of today's popular designs for the pedestal are based on classics from the turn of the century through the 1930s and refer to a specific period or country style. Absolute's Deco collection, for example, is characterized by hexagonal forms, and Porcher's Cotswold suite advertises "romantic English style."
Classic pedestal sinks tend to have little room for more than a soap dish. So some of the most dramatic new silhouettes are adding function as an integral element of the pedestal design.
Absolute's Siena, a sleek pedestal lavatory, offers a solution for those who like pedestals but hate to sacrifice precious counter space. An elliptical bowl is integrated on both sides into a slim counter ledge, measuring 61 inches across from end to end. The piece is hand-crafted from a ceramic called fireclay, which allows the shapely molding of the basin, with a graceful pedestal that flares out gently toward the floor.
Siena measures 21 1/4 inches front to back, stands 33 5/8 inches tall and retails for $1,295.
Shapes other than pedestals that are commanding attention are sinks with legs. The designs have come a long way from bowls resting on spindly chrome legs that were common some 30 years ago.
American Chinaware's Sonnet console lavatory actually resembles a piece of wood furniture, as the bowl sits on four turned legs. A 37-inch-wide model is available in more than 100 colors for $1,599; a 44-inch version is sold only in white for $1,799. Placed on a wooden floor, the china sink lightens and enlarges a bathroom, giving it a modern yet classic look in a traditional setting.
Hand-painting is another decorative feature that is giving bathroom sinks a sharper image. Hand-painted bowls have been available for some time, but designs now stretch beyond botanical themes and simple line borders to include sophisticated patterns that mimic fabric designs and such techniques as batik, stenciling and marbling.
Porcher, Absolute and American Chinaware even offer an opportunity for consumers to personalize their bathrooms by matching patterns on their sinks (and coordinating fixtures) to wallpapers, tiles or fabrics.
Borders may be a simple hand-painted option for creating a dramatic profile. One example is Kohler's Calabria pattern, inspired by a fresco found on the walls of a centuries-old palazzo in Italy.
Calabria, a stylized wave pattern, takes on different appearances, depending on the background color selection. The red and green border is shown on Kohler's Reveries collection against two solid backgrounds: a sandy Chamois, or Timberline, a deep hunter green. On the former, this pattern is a bold statement, and its colors punctuate the piece. On the latter, the pattern takes on a more subtle look in red with touches of yellow. The pedestal sink sells for $1,067. The pattern is repeated on the base of the pedestal and, of course, on coordinating fixtures.
The Calabria pattern also is available on a 12-by-4-inch ceramic tile and trims for faucets for Kohler's Antique line, for those who want to extend the look to accessories.
Besides embellishing the surface of sinks, manufacturers are considering nontraditional materials for construction. Although vitreous china is the most frequently used sink material, some fixture designers are mixing their media. This works especially well with pedestal sinks, since there's more room for play.
At the high end, Sherle Wagner has combined marble, granite and even lapis lazuli and jade with vitreous china or metal bowls. The price tag is $5,000 and up.
Eljer is expanding on that look with its Fresco collection. The Veneziana pedestal sink teams a faux granite with a ruby vitreous china basin. The base, like a neoclassical flat column that splays slightly outward at the bottom, is decorated with a flame-like design that appears to be carved out, as does the cross-and-leaf border that encircles the base and sink top. It measures 33 1/4 inches by 22 1/2 inches by 34 inches tall and sells for $2,132.
Even with such formidable competition in pedestal sink design, the desire for a conventional vanity has not diminished, especially in the master bath, where storage of toiletries, medicines and makeup may be more of an issue.
Taking a cue from designers who like to team antique or new chests with standard ceramic or metal bowls to create one-of-a-kind handsome vanities, some manufacturers are working their own bowls into furniture that includes drawer and shelving space.
For more traditional styling, Kohler has made significant strides. Since Kohler is the parent company of Baker Furniture, the manufacturer has taken advantage of Baker's fine woodworking expertise to create handsome vanities that integrate ceramic or metal bowls with wooden cabinets beautiful enough to place in a living room.
One style is an adaptation of an Adams Brothers design from the late 18th century. The Baker Stately Homes bath vanity features fine furniture detailing in mahogany solids and veneers, such as turned feet with curved ends and acanthus leaf decoration. Behind the swirl-pattern doors are practical pull-out storage trays.
The vanity, which has a suggested retail price of $5,207, has a water-resistant polymeric finish to protect it from moisture. It's cut for Kohler's Vintage under-counter lavatory ($232) and shown with its Alterna Flume spout ($894 in polished brass). A classic mirror with fret molding and corner rosettes complements the vanity.
So whether you're remodeling a bath or designing a new one, consider shopping for the sink first. With all the options available, it's a good place to give the bathroom the kind of style reflected in the rest of your home.
* The American Chinaware Co., 6615 W. Boston St., Chandler, Ariz. 85226; (800) 359-3261
* Absolute by American Standard Inc., One Centennial Ave., P.O. Box 6820, Piscataway, N.J. 08855-6820; (800) 891-4078
* Eljer Industries, P.O. Box 879002, Dallas, Texas 75287-9002; (800) 42-ELJER
* Kohler, Kohler, Wis. 53044; (414) 457-4441
* Villeroy and Boch USA Inc., 1624 W. Crosby Road, Suite 128, Carrolton, Texas 75006; (800) 558-8453