First of all, it’s called faucetry. It’s plumbing’s design-driven sister, and there’s not a dull thing about it.
According to Kansas City area designers and suppliers, today’s faucets are like jewelry for the kitchen and bathroom. And they are pushing the boundaries of design in form and technology.
“It needs to be highly functional, but it’s a really great opportunity to make a statement,” says Geri Higgins, owner of Portfolio Kitchen & Home. Her flagship store in the Crossroads Arts District has a room devoted solely to faucets with the fixtures attached to the walls gallery-style.
Those “statements” run the gamut from Delta’s Essa, a sleek, single-handle, pull-down kitchen faucet that retails for about $300 at Neenan Co. (a local wholesale plumbing supplier), to the Waterstone Wheel, an elaborate kitchen fixture that incorporates a riverboat steering wheel into a pulley system. It sells for about $5,000 at Neenan, and Ellyn Kozishek has sold two in two years. Faucetry has taken a huge leap forward in recent years, resulting in a family of kitchen and bath fixtures that come in new shapes, sizes, finishes and with futuristic functions. LED lit-water, anyone?
Both women admit it’s possible to buy faucets for much less than $300. But the more cheaply they’re made, the faster the fixtures usually need to be replaced. Higgins notes that the Midwest’s high mineral count can wreak havoc on cheaply made faucetry.
Higgins doesn’t want people to think it’s all about how much money is being spent.
“Design is how to make things beautiful,” she says. “It’s not connected to a dollar sign. It’s always important to mix good, better and best. So what things should you spend more money on? Things you touch and use the most. And faucetry is something that you do.”
Yes, Higgins says, consumers do worry that they’ll spend a lot of money on something that’s trendy today and dated next year. But she points out that “depending on what you pick, your trend item can be a classic.”
In other words, retro is on point right now. Retro to what time period? Almost any era, really, as long as the design has been reinvented thoughtfully through new finishes, new materials and increased functionality.
Freestanding tubs, a throwback to earlier decades, are extremely popular right now, Higgins says. She estimates 99 percent of her clients have them.
But how do you deliver water to a tub that’s not against the wall? How about a tall freestanding tub filler that’s mounted to the floor instead? .
Freestanding bath tub fillers, like Victoria + Albert’s Staffordshire, reference Victorian times but in modern finishes, including brushed or polished nickel or polished chrome.
Brushed gold is huge right now, Kozishek says. “Not the ’80s brass that everyone has nightmares about, but it’s a really pretty brushed gold. It’s really taking over, especially on the bathroom side.”
Only a handful of manufacturers offer the gold finish, and then only in a limited number of models.
Polished nickel is trending now, too, and is a bit of a safer bet than gold for many.
“A lot of people don’t want to fully commit to a gold, so polished nickel kind of looks like chrome; it’s just like a warmer hue, so it looks a bit more like a rich undertone than cold and contemporary like chrome,” Kozishek says. “You see that in a lot of spaces that just want a little bit of depth in the finish but not to fully commit to the gold.”
For kitchens, technology may be even more important than the finish. Many manufacturers are incorporating on/off sensors and LED lights into their designs.
Higgins calls the ultra-modern KWC Eve a “living piece of art.” At a glance, it looks like a conventional gooseneck faucet, but it has LEDs around the aerator and a hidden pull-down feature.
The Grohe Blue Pure is designed with separate internal waterways: one for regular water, the other for filtered or, on some models, carbonated water. The design is sleek, with the control for tap water on the right, the control for the mineral on the left and light-up indicators for once it’s engaged.
Kozishek mentions the Kohler Sensate and the Delta Touch as good examples of technology-driven kitchen faucetry. The Sensate is motion-activated, responding within 20 milliseconds. It has a pull-down, magnetically docked nozzle with different spray settings.
The Touch can be turned on with the handle, through a motion sensor or when it’s touched anywhere. It also has LEDs that change color to indicate water temperature.
“Is it necessary to have all this extra detail?” Higgins asks. “Not really, because it’s just a faucet. But it’s nice, and it’s another layer to what your signature style is. That’s why people wear jewelry. It’s an expression thing.”