High-Design Waterworks

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Two faucet manufacturers team with world-renowned designers to deliver products consumers want.

January 01, 2004

 

Delta’s kitchen and bath line by Michael Graves relies on fresh design and great finishes, such as this center-set lav in chrome with egg-shaped handles (below) and Roman tub in matte chrome with frosted-glass, star-shaped handles (above).
These products are successful because they are approachable and touchable — a pleasure to use.

— Michael Graves

In case you haven’t noticed, the kitchen and bath aren’t just for cooking and cleanup any more. Each room takes on a whole new meaning these days.

The kitchen functions as the home’s core. Cooking and eating still take place there, but it also acts as the center for entertaining, family gatherings, homework and projects.

“We’re cooking way less in this country, but we’re spending more time in the kitchen,” says Jim Krengle, a certified master kitchen and bath designer and a spokesperson for the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Krengle points to several factors changing the kitchen’s role in America, including the popularity of open floor plans that increase the room’s visibility to the rest of the home and therefore give homeowners added incentive to go all out on space, design, appliances, cabinets, gadgets, faucets and fixtures.

Moreover, as buyers nationwide opt to lose the formal living and/or dining room, they focus on the family room, kitchen and expanded nook area — often in one large great room.

Krengle agrees with people in almost every industry who say that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 caused Americans to stay at home more — cocoon, as trend expert Faith Popcorn would put it — and treat themselves to luxuries that help make their home a destination.

This sense of treating oneself especially carries through in the bath. Ten years ago, how many master baths had separate showers and oversize soaking or jetted tubs? For that matter, how many homes had true master baths a decade ago?

 

Consumers who got a sneak peek at the Michael Graves Collection identified it as beautiful, functional and easy to clean. A single handle — sleek but large enough to grasp comfortably — and high-arc spout make this four-hole faucet with soap dispenser practical and pretty.

As this bathroom boom takes shape, buyers let builders know they want it all: walk-in, tiled showers; dual shower heads and body sprays; his-and-her vanities; luxurious tubs; dramatic faucets; over-mount sinks — and tons more space.

“The bath is definitely getting bigger,” Krengle says. “It’s thought of as a place to pamper ourselves,” whether people actually spend time soaking or not. Just as in the kitchen, home buyers drop beaucoup bucks into master (and even secondary) baths, and that means more upgrade dollars for home builders.

Two top faucet manufacturers, Delta Faucet Co. and Hansgrohe, are stepping up to the plate to offer buyers exactly what they want. For years, they and other companies have been upping the design ante on kitchen and bath products, offering new styles, finishes and features in spades. Now these two are working with well-known designers to create unsurpassed design in waterworks.

Delta: The Michael Graves Collection

Delta, one of the biggest names in American kitchen and bath products, is teaming with one of the most renowned names in architecture, Michael Graves. Graves and his firm, Michael Graves Associates in Princeton, N.J., have received more than 140 awards for architecture, interiors and product design, including a Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects. Graves also has established his reputation — within the industry and with the public at large, most recently through his line of home products at Target — as a designer who brings good, thoughtful, affordable design to the masses. That’s exactly what Delta hopes to accomplish with the partnership.

 

For me, the bathroom space is the most important part of the house.

— Antonio Citterio
Italian designer Antonio Citterio articulates his vision of the bath as a retreat for relaxation and ritual through Hansgrohe’s Axor Citterio line. The clean, straight lines, defined edges and square shapes of products such as the widespread lav with lever handles (above) challenge the notion that faucets must be round.

“We share a lot of similar characteristics in the way we approach product, not the least of which is that Michael is all about trying to make good design available to anyone and everyone,” says Ken Martin, senior director of product marketing at Delta. “Delta has a lot of focus on what we call attainable innovation, or widely available, affordable product.”

The Michael Graves Collection makes up the top end of the company’s Delta brand products, its broadest, most profitable line, and includes three single-handle kitchen faucet options and lavatory, tub/shower and Roman tub faucets for the bath.

While not luxury items, the Michael Graves Collection products cost more than the average Delta brand products. Lav faucets start at a suggested list price of $165 and go to $382, and kitchen faucets range from $177 to $511. They are, however, priced to encourage upgrades for builders, explains Angie Coffman, director of Delta product marketing.

Martin says Delta research, including consumer focus groups, anthropological studies (watching people interact with products) and interviews, tells him consumers “want something distinctive, something they can make their own” in a home.

The resulting product line fills that bill. Clean and simple, the design draws on familiar shapes with an innovative flair. High-arc spouts in the kitchen and bath are graceful and practical, evoking the fluidity of the water that passes through them, Graves says.

Graves softened the look and feel of traditional cross handles for the bath, creating an oval shape for double-and single-handle faucets in both rooms. “The handles we’ve designed for Delta are meant to feel as good as they look,” Graves says. “The handles needed to be comfortable to grasp and turn. The rounded forms have a tactile sense that makes you want to touch them.”

With this line, Delta introduces a matte chrome finish, influenced by metals seen in the auto industry during the past few years, and frosted-glass handles, which work in concert with the metal surfaces to pick up light, Graves says.

Delta draws on its relationships with its sister Masco companies to offer a line of coordinating kitchen and bath products that complete the Michael Graves Collection, including lighting; cabinet hardware; towel bars, tissue holders and robe hooks; soap and lotion dispensers; glass shelves; and even bud vases and votive holders.

Lynne Forde Breyer, an interior designer and the national president of the International Furnishings and Design Association, welcomes Delta’s new line and its coordinating accessories because they fill a need: unique, high-design products for custom kitchen and baths edging into, but not quite, luxury. “When you hit the half-million- to million-dollar price range, that’s the section of homeowners that I have trouble finding some really nice product for,” Breyer says. “Delta is a huge story.”

Hansgrohe: Axor Citterio

A slight curve on the underside of the single-lever basin mixer (above) subtly softens its lines. The flattened arch of the widespread lav with cross handles (far right) plays with the juxtapositioning of square and round shapes even more. Antonio Citterio (left in photo below) says he and Axor brand manager Phillipe Grohe collaborated to achieve a product reflecting the belief that water is a precious element.


On the other end of the spectrum, luxury bath products manufacturer Hansgrohe, based in Germany, is working with Italian architect and designer Antonio Citterio. Interior Design Magazine inducted Citterio into its Hall of Fame in 2002 for his work in interior design and architecture. His work also includes furnishings, industrial design and graphics.

Citterio describes himself as “first and foremost an architect” who begins his work by focusing on not the product but the surrounding space. That suited Hansgrohe’s needs perfectly, says Axor brand manager Phillipe Grohe, who sought to create not merely fixtures but a living space based on a holistic design philosophy. “We wanted a new space, not just a product that needs space. It’s not possible to invent a new bathroom, but we can understand what’s changing, what people are looking for.”

Grohe says people want beauty and function in a space that’s rapidly gaining importance in the home. They also want luxury, says Citterio — not over-the-top extravagance for extravagance’s sake, but design with refined simplicity, fine materials, and high quality and value. Most of all, they need relaxation. “This is becoming more important as the rhythm of life is more frantic,” Citterio says.

Axor Citterio includes 66 products, from faucets for basins, bidets, bathtubs and overhead showers to towel rings and other accessories to distinctive bathtubs and basins and even a unique bathroom fixture that unites the sink, countertop and tub into one fluid piece.

Citterio designed a series of sketches and room scenes to show how Axor Citterio products combine to create a harmonious space in both large and small bathrooms.

Smooth, gleaming, rectangular planes characterize the faucets and handles, although Citterio recognizes that most people — including Grohe and others at Hansgrohe, initially — think of water as more round than square, probably because it flows through round pipes and faucets. Still, subtle contours make Axor Citterio products warm and touchable. An added injection of luxury: While the standard finish is chrome, the collection also comes in an electroplated platinum finish.

Hansgrohe’s partnership with Citterio follows several other collaborations with designers, including Philippe Starck of France and Andreas Haug of Phoenix Design in Germany. Axor Citterio, ranging in price from $59 for the washcloth hook to $3,285 for the traditional shower with platinum finish, will appeal to a niche of customers who seek the latest creations from internationally renowned designers, says Chris Marshall, president of Hansgrohe USA.

That’s good news to luxury home builders, architects and designers, whose often discriminating customers demand unique and exciting design in the products that go into their homes.

“It’s so difficult to find well-designed, high-end, high-quality designer products,” Breyer says. She adds that with the diversity in surface choices for the bath — from natural stone to rolled steel — faucet design needs to stay fresh. Like Citterio, she embraces a holistic look, and she’s pleased to see plumbing fixtures as beautiful and unique as the surfaces on which they sit.

Breyer and Krengle agree that Delta’s and Hansgrohe’s product launches come at exactly the right time for the industry.

“The consumer is interested and willing to pay for designer products,” Krengle says. “People don’t have a hang-up about spending big money on faucets.” He cautions builders to heed this trend, lest a small plumbing allowance limit their opportunity to make big money on upgrades.

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