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Euro style invades U.S. kitchens

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By David Bradley

Associated Press

European designers have held sway on U.S. kitchens and baths in recent years and their influence isn’t about to dwindle anytime soon.

Americans are drawn to trends from across the pond embodied by sleek, unencumbered, minimal forms on faucets, sinks, tubs and hardware. Where American designers don’t think twice about multi-hole accommodation for a spout and handles, Europeans say, "Why use three when one will do?"

The European design vernacular replaces gusto with grace.

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Expect to see more in the U.S. in the coming years, as vigorous advertising will be increasingly aimed at American consumers to drive home the message of European styling, designers say. U.S. firms, who are likely to specialize in the still-appealing traditional bath decor, need to take note of that trend.

"European design has homogenized into one voice rather than be geographically fragmented," says Tristin Butterfield, creative brand strategist for U.S.-based Kohler Company. "They’re fighting for a chunk of a smaller market over there, and they see the biggest business potential in North America. They have to raise their games, be smarter and be as cutting edge as they can just to be noticed."

European design is noted for clean lines, sparse frills and consciousness of limited space. It is design borne of necessity; Europeans tend to live in tight quarters where space is at a premium.

Conversely, their American counterparts practically invented kitchen and bath sprawl.

"Americans have had the luxury of unlimited space for a long time, and now they’re trying to simplify their lives and minimize their sensory input," says Michelle Healy, chief marketing officer for European bath powerhouse Grohe America. "European design helps them to achieve that because the European approach is all about minimizing."

Some of the most obvious places to see the use of European design minimizing space and visual clutter, says Healy, are in showers and hardware.

Europeans largely rely on hand-held showers; Americans have warmed to large sunflower showerheads and multiple water outlets. Americans perceive three-hole spouts and knobs as high end; Europeans do not, Healy says.

Europeans claim credit for the recognizable arching spout commonly seen in U.S. baths and kitchens, according to Al DeGenova of Grohe. Kohler also reports that high arc spouts have been around for some time, especially in Europe.

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There’s another upside to smooth, sparse lines of European-flavored design: hardware is easier to clean, Healy says.

Grohe estimates that sales of European-inspired kitchen and bath products are increasing 12 to 18 percent a year. Kohler, a privately held company, does not divulge sales data but reports "a general sense that the desire for contemporary design is expanding."

American firms will have to make the trend their own.

"They need to splice it into the American culture so it’s their own," says Butterfield of Kohler. "Different people have different needs at stages in their life, and while people may like Europe they want American influences" to be present in a bath or kitchen by way of such things as color palette and materials.

Healy of Grohe America says consumers are drawn to European design. "It goes back to the idea of function following form. If a design element has no essential function, eliminate it. You end up with sleek, unencumbered lines and smooth surfaces that are easy to clean."

Yet design influences go both ways. Butterfield says the brand of design pushed by Kohler has found warm reception in other parts of the world, Europe included.

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