With the worst of the downturn behind them, manufacturers came to the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Chicago bearing products that went beyond bottom-line efficiency to address the range of aesthetic, technological, and accessible-design opportunities that consumers’ needs are bringing to the marketplace.

On the whole, products and designs at the April event followed trends detailed in the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s (NKBA) 2012 style report. The 350 designers surveyed in the fourth quarter of 2011 increasingly reported turning away from traditional design. Their incorporation of contemporary fixtures, hardware, and cabinet styles is lending to the emergence of a “transitional” category that combines traditional with contemporary.

Universal Design

Product innovations increasingly play to an aging market looking for ease of use because of physical limitations. This group is only expected to grow; the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center expects seniors to account for 20% of the total U.S. population by 2030, of which two-thirds will be at least 85 years old.

Products that help this group age in place offer convenience for others. Hafele’s SmartCab storage system can be custom configured with interchangeable inserts such as cutting boards, spice organizers, and roll managers. The company’s Frontino hardware uses a single track to keep cabinets flush while increasing accessibility and saving on space.

Drawer pull-outs from Poggenpohl are made from aluminum, have 8-millimeter sides, and activate indirect LED cabinet lighting when opened. The drawers come configured as a box system with walnut or maple inserts, cutlery trays, spice containers, and knife holders, or as a modular system subdivided by aluminum or walnut cross bars.

Knobs and pulls from Amerock’s more popular collections, including Candler, Extensity, and Essential’z, are now available in larger sizes, with pulls ranging from 3 inches to 18 inches.

Pull-down kitchen faucets, such as Delta’s Addison and Trinsic and Brizo’s Talo and Venuto models, start the water flowing with a tap of the nozzle. Similarly, Moen’s MotionSense technology responds to the wave of a hand or the mere presence of a cup or bowl. And the Zero Touch control panel by Muirsis can be added to a traditional faucet to manage water temperature, flow, and activation.

In the bathroom, TOTO’s Neorest Shower Booth features a zero-clearance entry and allows users to control water temperature from both outside and inside the shower. To facilitate barrier-free shower enclosures, Quartz by ACO added a 6-inch-square, stainless steel drain to its ShowerPoint line of linear drains. Available in five grate patterns, the drain has a water-activated LED light option.

Kohler’s AquaPiston technology on its Cimarron toilet offers an easier flush—two pounds of pressure to actuate rather than five—for children or individuals with physical limitations. The toilet’s canister design and 360-degree water release is designed to prevent plugging.

Efficiency First

Toilets and showerheads sporting low gallon-per-flush and low-flow labels play on the desire to cut water bills. The Double Cyclone flushing system from TOTO uses two nozzles for improved bowl cleaning while still requiring just 1 gallon per flush. Geberit’s dual-flush, wall-hung Monolith comes in 1.6-gallons- or 0.8-gallon-per-flush options. Moen’s Twist handheld shower lets users toggle among four water settings and comes in a 2-gallon-per-minute model.

Technologically advanced products are no longer solely the terrain of early adopters. Consumers looking to monitor their water consumption and quality can Zuvo’s Bright line of faucets , which includes water filtration and can be monitored via a smart phone. The U-Socket includes USB ports so iPods and smart phones can charge directly from the electrical outlet without an adapter.

Meanwhile, homeowners can unlock their doors, share virtual keys, and monitor home entry via smart phone with Keeler’s architectural mortise door lock. The system uses 128-bit encrypted proprietary technology in a self-aligning system that maintains the look of traditional hardware and features a screw-free switchplate.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

As more consumers look to remodel rather than move, sinks are receiving visual and performance upgrades. The Galley Sink has two sliding tiers incorporating cutting boards, colanders, a drying rack, and stainless steel bowls as well as usable sink space and storage for dirty dishes.

Kohler’s stainless steel Octave sinks , which come in double-equal, large or medium sizes, feature a curved back wall and a nine-inch depth. Premier Copper Products came out with a surface-mount, 99.7% grade-A recycled copper sink designed to replace standard 33x22x9-inch stainless versions. Rohl’s commercial-grade stainless steel and stainless copper sinks offer a sound-deadening, insulated undercoat, while the Integrity Deux sink by Silestone offers consumers a straight-edged modern look. And from Kohler, the contemporary Vault kitchen sink is ADA-compliant and can be installed as a dual-mount, self-rimming, or undermount model.

Surface Level

The NKBA’s poll found roughly 30% of designers surveyed are using solid surfaces in their kitchen and bathroom projects, up from 26% a year ago and 11% in 2010. That growth came through on the show floor, particularly among quartz-based surfaces—slightly less popular in the NKBA poll.

Radianz quartz added four new colors featuring metallic flecks to its surfacing materials . Vicostone introduced its Calacatta color, which incorporates veinings in gray-blue or gold. And the new Stonium series by Silestone was introduced with six colors and patterns in the company’s non-porous, scratch-resistant material.

There were more cabinets with darker finishes and set against natural stone, ceramic, and—increasingly—glass tile backsplashes. According to the NKBA, six in 10 designers incorporated darker finishes during 2011’s fourth quarter, up from four in 10 a year earlier. StevensWood added the Artika and Rain finishes to its collection of wood-textured melamine surfaces while Tafisa introduced Alto, a new texture of its wood fiber panels available in 10 colors. Wood countertops by EnGrain come in a permanent-oil, zero-VOC finish or a urethane full-build finish, and offer reclaimed wood and locally sourced options in 16 edge profiles.