Fitted or modular? Exploring the bathroom furniture market

Alongside statement brassware and basins, some worry that bathroom furniture is often an afterthought. George Dean explores the market for fitted and modular furniture and examines what each option has to offer

Sachsenkuchen’s bathroom furniture products use natural materials to create a spa-like environment

More so than ever before, consumer attitudes to products are being driven by a desire to create a signature style that also supports their daily routine. Whether they choose to implement high-end products to create a spa-like sense of luxury, or more affordable options that prioritise ergonomics and efficiency, bathroom furniture is the glue that holds a bathroom design together.

However, for such an important element of a bathroom’s design, it can sometimes be difficult for today’s Pinterest-savvy shopper to know what style of furniture will work best for what they’re trying to achieve in their room.

Traditionally, fitted furniture has always been said to work better in smaller bathrooms, as its tailored nature takes advantage of the room’s smaller footprint to create an all-encompassing and cohesive design. Meanwhile, modular furniture was always thought to work better in larger bathrooms, where the products are given the room to shine as standout features.

Which style?

“Fitted furniture offers a versatile solution for a unified look to offer plenty of storage space,” explains Peter Woodward, marketing manager at Harrison Bathrooms, “and a modular unit can also work well as a statement piece, providing an alternative focal point and creating valuable storage space.”

Based on its merits, Richard Shore, head of product design at Utopia, believes that the fitted style of bathroom furniture is “a perfect solution for typical UK bathrooms that allows for the provision of lots of storage and, at the same time, can hide unsightly and difficult to move pipework, and can also make the most of unusual, irregular spaces.”

On the other hand, Acquabella’s designer and product manager Fernando Maceda, argues that “people want modular furniture due to its flexibility, versatility, ease of personalisation, space optimisation, and ability to adapt to future changes.

Additionally, the aesthetic appeal and well-designed functionality of modular furniture make it a popular choice for many people seeking practical and modern solutions for furnishing their spaces”.

A consumer’s choice will likely be decided by many factors – primarily the size of the bathroom space they’re planning – but will largely be determined by their own personal taste and style.

But, in these uncertain times, how is the market for both fitted and modular bathroom furniture looking right now? Despite the less-than-ideal economic conditions impacting the industry, according to our experts things are looking encouraging.

Julie Lockwood, Bathrooms to Love’s furniture product manager, says that furniture has become one of its best-selling categories of bathroom products and that the market in general is increasing. “The bathroom furniture market is showing continued healthy growth,” she says, “and certainly for PJH and our Bathrooms to Love brand.”

Looking back at the bathrooms of the past several decades, fitted furniture has always been king, but more recently, the market has seen more of a shift towards the modular style.

Utopia has 11 collections, several of which – like this Arabella model – offer both fitted and modular configurations

Lockwood adds: “Over the past five years, modular furniture sales have taken the lead over fitted, as design innovation and technology has evolved further. The flexibility and design-led possibilities that modular furniture units present over fitted has caused this category to grow faster, and the majority of furniture sales from Bathrooms to Love fall into the modular camp.”

The fast-growing nature of the modular market has also been observed by Utopia’s Shore, who notes that: “The modular sector has probably seen the greatest growth levels in the UK over the past 10 to 15 years with more and more entrants coming into the space.” He believes that the reason for this might be because “modular furniture tends to be an easier sale, with fewer components or units required to create a new bathroom look”.

Retailers on the front lines are confirming that consumers seem less interested in the fitted style of bathroom furniture instead of its modular counterpart. “It is very rare for us to receive any enquiries for fitted furniture nowadays,” explains Gurnaam Sharma, senior designer at Ripples in Solihul, “but those that we do get are fairly insistent on having it.”

Despite seeming less popular in today’s market, there are hints that fitted furniture is starting to gain traction again. Symphony Group’s marketing and retail director, Simon Collyns, observes: “We have seen an increase in interest for fitted bathroom furniture, especially when combined in an en-suite setting. In response to this demand, we have developed our Urbano and Aquadi bathroom collections, which provide seamless and coordinating options between both bedroom and bathroom furniture.”

Looking at the state of the market as a whole, Ambiance Bain reports that “in terms of growth, both fitted and modular bathroom furniture are showing positive trends”.

Bill Miller, managing director of the Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG), adds that: “As most of our members operate in the premium bathroom sector, they have seen a rapid growth in sales of fitted bathroom furniture, which now makes up some 70% of our monthly sales.”

There’s clearly a healthy and encouraging sense of consumer demand for bathroom furniture across the board, but what are the main trends that are driving sales across the sector?

According to RAK Ceramics’ sales and marketing director Ben Bryden, the answer lies in the sheer diversity of products and
styles available to the consumer. “Diversity in doors, finishes and colours all reflects the trend in bathroom design overall for more personality.”

Harrison Bathrooms’ new Alfie modular collection has an additional open unit to create more storage space

Wanting to put a personal stamp on our bathrooms is a trend-driver also echoed by Adrian Thomas, commercial director of Phoenix Whirlpools. He says: “Consumers’ desires to create a truly unique design tailored to their own individuality has seen a real spike over the past three years, with more daring colours and varied units being introduced into the furniture market.”


Bodie Kelay, MD at Sachsenküchen, also believes that sustainability is playing no small part in today’s bathroom furniture market. He explains: “We have seen a growing trend towards natural materials in the bathroom, helping to add warmth and create a relaxing haven. Consumers want to achieve a ‘spa’ style retreat in their own homes, taking their design influences from boutique hotel stays and social media inspiration.”

Jorge Hernandez, group product and design manager at Bathroom Brands, agrees: “In terms of design, natural colours, mid-toned woods and textured surfaces are both continuing to grow in popularity as they add depth and personality to any bathroom.”

A big emerging trend for bathroom fittings over the past several years has been the emergence and popularity of matt black finishes, so it’s no surprise that it has also made the leap to bathroom furniture. Roca’s marketing manager Natalie Bird notes that: “At Roca, we’re really seeing matt finishes come to the fore when it comes to bathroom furniture. Many people love the look and feel of a matt door, as well as appreciate the advantages of a fingerprint-free surface.”

Looking at other trends informing bathroom furniture, she says: “Handles are also becoming less popular, with drawers and doors featuring finger-pull handles as a cleaner and neater solution that adds to a more contemporary overall look in the bathroom. The vanity unit is also seen as an opportunity to make a statement in the bathroom and add a real focal point. As such, unusual finishes or striking colours are popular at the moment, as people seek to personalise the look of the room as much as possible.”

Wall-mounted furniture, such as Acquabella’s Infinity range, helps maximise a room’s available space

As to be expected, the industry-wide issue of sustainability is also helping to inform the trends that shape bathroom furniture market. “Manufacturers are increasingly turning to eco-friendly and sustainable materials like natural wood, porcelain, and recyclable solid surfaces,” says Benham Makari, category director of CP Hart, “They’re also incorporating floorstanding modular furniture, which offers more storage and creates a more fitted furniture look. Innovations in textures are also apparent, with fluted, ribbed, waved, and grooved surfaces now available in bathroom settings, previously only used in other home living spaces.”

Ambiance Bain’s marketing team suggests that sustainable furniture is here to stay, and that “retailers may begin to expect more sustainable products focused towards the environmentally-friendly customer base as this grows a bigger concern for some”.

As the trends come and go, one thing always remains constant. “Quality is everything,” says Buster and Punch’s founder Massimo Minale. “A good bathroom that stands the test of time will give you a beautiful space that you’ll enjoy for years. And in a wet environment, buying cheap will mean buying twice further down the line.”

With so much to consider when planning and shopping around for a complete bathroom, how important of a consideration is bathroom furniture to the everyday consumer?

“It’s crucial to give bathroom furniture the attention it deserves,” according to Laufen marketing manager Emma Mottram. “In fact, many consumers begin their bathroom renovation or design process by selecting the perfect furniture pieces. With so many different colours and finishes available, the right furniture can set the tone of the entire room, influencing other key design decisions such as tile and wall covering finishes, as well as the shape of the basin.”

Hansgrohe’s Xevelos E furniture comes in six size options

What’s next?

Despite this, some in the industry still feel that consumers might see bathroom furniture as an afterthought. Tina Robinson, Hansgrohe’s UK product and marketing manager, agrees: “As focal points of the bathroom, products such as basins and showers often become statement pieces that are given a lot of thought. However, the wrong furniture can detract from these, reducing their impact in the bathroom. It’s therefore important to consider bathroom furniture alongside statement products, utilising complementary products where possible to create a cohesive aesthetic.”

RAK’s Bryden believes we need to shift away from seeing furniture as simply an enhancement to products such as basins, showers and WCs, adding: “It’s very important to regard furniture alongside other elements of the bathroom’s design and remember that the furniture itself can be a statement product. Furniture overall is now playing a greater role in bathroom architecture, not just providing storage but also lighting, music and making the space smarter in appearance and functionality.”

As online searches for topics like “small bathroom design” show, interior space – especially in UK properties – will likely always be a problem, and so the marketing team from Ambiance Bain predict that we’ll continue to see storage solutions like floating vanity units become more and more commonplace.

The KBBG anticipates that the fitted bathroom furniture market will continue to grow as more and more consumers want their own individual look for their bathrooms. As the market continues to grow, both fitted and modular products are almost guaranteed to see more innovation, more functionality, and more trend-led design inspiring the next wave of bathroom furniture products.

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