In the grand scheme of things, faucets are perhaps the smallest fixture you'll find in the kitchen or bathroom. However, don't let their diminutive size fool you into thinking they don't matter as much as their more showy siblings, the appliances, countertops and cabinetry.
"The faucet is the focal point when you walk into a kitchen or bathroom," says Tim Morgan, showroom manager for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery in Seaside. "You can put $40,000 or more into your appliances, but if your kitchen faucet is just 'blah,' people notice. When I walk into a kitchen and see beautiful appliances, I'm really expecting to see a beautiful faucet as well."
With manufacturers churning out new styles and finishes all the time, and plumbing-fixture stores that look more like art galleries, the hardest part of finding those beautiful faucets is narrowing down your choices. It used to be easy: You either wanted chrome or polished brass, two handles or one. But today's options are endless in both kitchens and bathrooms. You have your pick among dozens of finishes; two handles, one handle or even no handle; wall-mounted or deck-mounted; established brand or designer name; stationery, pull-out or pulldown; contemporary or traditional - and we haven't even gotten to pot fillers yet.
One thing that everyone seems to want these days is a personalized, individual look. It seems ironic, then, that although some manufacturers offer upwards of 100 or more finishes, industry experts all seem to concur that the top-selling finishes today are stainless steel for the kitchen, and satin or brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze for the bathrooms. "When it comes to finishes, unfortunately, people are locked into these three finishes," says Morgan. "It's a joy now when somebody wants verde green or 24-karat gold because it's something that's actually different."
But whatever is lacking in finish diversity, is made up for when it comes to style. In general, the trend is toward contemporary looks - clean lines, geometric shapes and sleek spouts - but really, anything goes. "In the last 15 years or so, we've seen a lot of influence from outside the United States, and that has made a huge difference in our industry," says Ron Routhier, owner of Trendz Kitchen and Bath in Morgan Hill. "Years ago, we had a really limited selection of styles and lines, but now a lot of designers are coming up with some interesting, exotic styles."
Well-known designers like Barbara Barry, Sheryl Wagner, Philippe Starcke, Michael S. Smith, Laura Kirar, Jamie Drake and Arne Jacobsen increasingly are tapping into the faucet industry and putting their ideas of form on these functional pieces, which aren't the usual Price-Pfister or Delta models you'll find at your local home improvement store. "We offer much higher quality products and more exclusive European manufacturers," says Ken Avery, general manager of Jack London Kitchen & Bath Gallery in Oakland, which carries a variety of quality brands from American Standard to Zuma, as well as custom pieces by local artisans. Avery says that when you buy a designer faucet, you're "absolutely" getting what you pay for, as many are handmade, often have handpainted escutcheons and are inspected multiple times. And yes, you pay for what you get. Although you can get a nice American Standard-brand lavatory faucet for $85 to $100, you can also pay $6,000 for a handmade faucet from French company THG, all the way up to $15,000 for one with Lalique crystal handles. With creations like these, it's no wonder faucets are widely known as the "jewels of the bath" in the industry.
In search of luxury
"People are putting so much money into their kitchens and baths," says Morgan. "Years ago, the master bathroom was just a bathroom with a couple of sinks, but nowadays, even the basic, everyday, 'normal' people really want a luxurious kitchen and bath. They want top-of-the-line fixtures and everything to sparkle. It just makes those everyday tasks in those areas that much easier to do."
Speaking of tasks, that's the driving force behind a growing trend in faucets, particularly in the kitchen: task-oriented, or "specialist" faucets, according to Les Petch, senior product manager of Kohler Global Faucets. By this, he means faucets geared toward accomplishing specific tasks - washing dishes, spraying vegetables or filling large pots - namely, pot fillers and the pullouts and pulldowns, in which the sprayhead pulls out or down from the faucet body. "In terms of design and configuration, the pulldown is considered the pinnacle of functionality in terms of ease of use," says Petch. Taking functionality a few steps further is Kohler's new Karbon model, a five-jointed articulating faucet that can be moved into any position to help you accomplish all your kitchen tasks hands free. In other words, if you had a robot helping you in the kitchen, this is what its arm would look like. Launched in April 2008, Petch says the Karbon, which retails for $990, has been "overwhelmingly" popular and represents the next generation in task faucets.
Another popular faucet is the pot filler, a longer-reach faucet installed above or near the cooktop that allows users to fill deep pots without having to carry them across the kitchen. Inspired by commercial and industrial kitchens, pot fillers have been around residentially for several years and continue to increase in popularity. These types of faucets also are available in several finishes, and most homeowners tend to match them to their primary kitchen faucet, says Petch.
Another trend making a splash in the industry is touchless faucets, which are turned on by a motion sensor, rather than the traditional handle. Though they've been available commercially for some time, it is only recently that they're making their way into the residential market, with improvements such as temperature controls being added. And certainly, most new faucets, in compliance with waterconservation mandates, will be designed to accommodate a lower flow rate without compromising on efficiency.
With so many types of faucets available in so many price ranges, the most important considerations are your budget and knowing the style you prefer, says Routhier of Trendz. Other things to consider include the sink shape and style (particularly if it's a vessel-style sink, which might have special requirements), and the color of the countertops and cabinets. Above all, be sure that any faucets you choose come with lifetime warranties, which most reliable, high-end manufacturers offer. It also helps to have a local representative of the brand in the area, "in case anything goes wrong," says Avery.
If you find the process of picking just the right faucet a little too draining, consider California Faucets' new Virtual Faucet Creator. The Web-based tool (www.calfaucets.com) allows you to customdesign your own tap, mixing and matching various spouts, handles and finishes to create your dream fixture. But keep in mind that by the time you finish choosing from among the more than 2 million possible combinations, oil-rubbed bronze and satin nickel just might be out of style.
- California Faucets
- Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery
- Jack London Kitchen & Bath Gallery
- Kohler Co.
- Trendz Kitchen and Bath