Shopping for a bathroom faucet can be a glorious adventure into the chic world of style and art form. So long, spigot. Hello, gorgeous.
Whether shopping at Waterworks, Boffi or Washington's own W.T. Weaver & Sons -- all in Georgetown -- the array of lavatory faucets is dizzying.
"The philosophy here is updated classic design," said Barbara Sallick, co-founder of Waterworks. "As we are thinking about a design, it always has a story."
The company's Henry line reaches into history and takes its inspiration from Germany's Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school of esthetic integration in the early 1900s.
Hexagon-shaped fittings set off an industrial but graceful line that is part of the Waterworks concept of capturing the "whole bathroom experience, including the soaps," says General Manager Shanda Burk.
On the other end of the spectrum is Boffi, an Italian company that exemplifies understated fashion. "Less is more," said showroom manager Julia Walter. "From an aesthetic point of view, [we have] very simple forms, a mixture that is more integrated so that you don't identify it as a piece on a wall."
The Cut series faucet is a sleek wall-mounted device. It is L-shaped with a tubular faucet and built-in handle requiring a bit of detective work to locate and operate.
"We try to go away a little bit from the known idea of the setup," Walter said. "You simplify it. It's really like an accessory for the bathroom. It's beautiful and chic. It's different. It's unusual."
Washington interior designer Therese Baron Gurney is a self-described "minimalist" who loves sleek lines and is particularly impressed with new faucet technology that has sensors instead of handles.
"As a minimalist, the technology enhances our ability to design," Baron Gurney said. "I can have a minimal design aesthetic. I don't have to have three objects that bring water forth. I can be more pure and more original."
She said she emphasizes the practical as well as aesthetic benefits to new products. Fewer moving parts can mean lower maintenance, a more germ-free environment and a boon to people with disabilities.
Baron Gurney said U.S. companies, including Kohler, are looking to the Italians for inspiration and creating products that are affordable yet glitzy.
Bryce Weaver, owner of W.T. Weaver & Sons, sees Europe as the driver in his business. "Most of the companies out there doing interesting new designs are European," he said.
Weaver said standouts in faucet design come from Italy, France and Germany, and the differences are evident. Italian lines are clean and simple, French design uses a lot of art deco, and German products are highly engineered and efficient.
As for faucet trends, Weaver said the minimal look is very popular, with very clean lines.
He said American consumers want to see the fruits of their investment and design decisions, but they "don't want to spend all this money and get an old look."
Faucet prices in this rarefied world start at about $300, though broader choices are in the $1,000-$2,000 range. The finishes are seemingly endless, though the "minimal" market is defined by chrome.