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The Evolution of a Faucet


Commercial designers live in a world of aesthetic abundance. Today’s plumbing manufacturers offer commercial products in a variety of styles and appropriate for a range of settings, providing architects and other professionals with an array of options for their particular project.

“I think the palette of options for materials and furniture and new products is far better than it ever has been,” says Hank Adams, director of the healthcare program for HDR Architecture.

But it wasn’t always like this. As recently as a decade ago, commercial faucets were often designed for purpose, not style. They were suited to the task at hand, but didn’t offer design choices that would further an owner or designer’s aesthetic aspirations.

The shift is particularly evident in healthcare design, where competition and higher expectations from choosy consumers have led to a desire by healthcare systems to project a state-of-the-art, professional image in their buildings. Commercial faucets have evolved alongside healthcare design to meet that demand with a more modern, sophisticated look that enhances a healthcare building’s overall image.

Iterative Design

Moen’s industrial design process is rooted in a traditional approach that emphasizes hand sketches and models, says Ji Kim, director of global design at Moen. The product team can quickly build rapid prototypes as well as functional models, allowing product designers to evaluate attributes, such as scale, proportion and the feel in the user’s hand, that wouldn’t appear in a computer model.

The team grounds its designs in extensive field research and user study to ensure they keep up with the rapidly evolving world of commercial architecture. Kim says her design team talks to architects who specialize in commercial buildings like hospitals and universities, and works with a panel that provides specific feedback.

Architect Hank Adams says his firm particularly values that kind of direct interaction with product manufacturers. “That’s been a big push for our company, so that we can be more of an advocate for patients and help develop new ideas,” he says. “We’ve worked with a couple different companies that do accessories for rooms, recognizing that there are unique needs in a healthcare environment, and there’s a strong desire to have really interesting design options available.”

Style Renaissance

While bland but functional products might have sufficed a decade ago, modern commercial designers demand furnishings that enhance the interior style of their facilities. As competition among healthcare providers grows and consumers expect state-of-the-art facilities, design has become far more important today than it was in years past, Adams says. “Smart healthcare systems have realized that there needs to be a tremendous focus on the patient experience. The interior environment is incredibly impactful because that’s really how people experience our buildings.”

Manufacturers are stepping up to meet designers’ demands for differentiation, offering updated, sculptural styling while still responding to the demanding performance needs of healthcare facilities. Today’s faucets include features that stand up to heavy use, such as ceramic disc cartridges and brass temperature limit stops that prevent users from overtorquing the handle.

A Different Shine

The introduction of finish options is another example of manufacturers widening the palette for commercial designers. Until recently, commercial faucets existed in an almost completely monochromatic world: Chrome was often the only finish option available.

One example of the shift is Moen’s classic brushed nickel finish, which offers an upscale, more-premium aesthetic while coordinating with stainless-steel accessories like paper towel holders or hand dryers that are commonly found in commercial facilities.

Furthermore, the finish utilizes Moen’s LifeShine technology, a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) technique that enhances the faucet’s resistance to abrasion, corrosion and chemicals. In short, it’s one of the most durable and reliable finishes available.

Transparent Tomorrow

A decade ago, commercial faucets rarely demanded the design team’s attention. That’s changed today, says product designer Ji Kim. The design evolution doesn’t stop once the product is developed. Rather, the design team will go back and build on what it has created, refining, retouching and occasionally redesigning products to meet the commercial industry’s evolving needs.

Where will the quickly changing healthcare industry take commercial products next? It’s a good bet that quality design will continue to play an important role. As recent healthcare reform initiatives unfold, improved transparency will allow healthcare consumers to gather more information before choosing a provider.

“The environments that we’re trying to create now speak more to the mission and the values of the healthcare provider,” Adams says. “When someone selects a facility from an architectural or an interior design perspective, their expectation is that it’s going to be very clean and professional and state-of-the-art and I think that needs to be reflected in the work that we do.”