- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

When is a sink no longer just a sink? When it's made of glass and is accompanied by gold-and-crystal fittings. Or when it is a multicolored ceramic bowl without a spillover drain mounted on the wall. Or an angular stainless-steel invention by French designer Philippe Starck.
Welcome to the trendy world of contemporary kitchen and bath design, where choices and prices often are available in multiple digits. Status has come home in a big way to one of the most utilitarian objects on the domestic scene.
Even the old-time stone sink, the kind with the rubber stopper or plug, hollowed out over the years, has become a collector's item with a great deal of sentimental value in some circles. So much so that it can be bought online if you can find one and turned into a custom-made basin that is the centerpiece of a remodeled kitchen or bath.
Clients seeking to buy new sinks can easily rationalize the amount of money they can spend anywhere from $33 to $1,700 or more because these items often are once-in-a-lifetime purchases. In addition, most showrooms offering sinks sell faucets separately, which increases the total price considerably. A faucet can cost $60 to $750.
Kitchens and baths, along with entertainment centers, are becoming the most expensive and important parts of a house to home buyers and remodelers, say interior designers and real estate developers. That helps explain the great number and variety of sinks and fittings available in the marketplace. Lavish catalogs produced by many manufacturers and retailers portray a sink as the equivalent of sculptural art.
A new catalog from Kohler showing the latest shapes and materials in sinks and faucets from that one manufacturer runs to 67 pages. Its sinks have names, like paintings. One elaborate design, dubbed "Life In the Country," features fishing, harvesting and gardening scenes "executed in the tradition of Delft tile." Another is described as being "inspired by ceramic art from the Italian Renaissance," and a third imitates "rural peasant life in 18th century France." There are Alencon lace and gold patterning inlays and Oriental motifs in stone. The sinks are round, square, rectangular and even triangular.
"I'm amazed at the amount people will spend on a kitchen these says," says Beth Allison, sink product manager for Moen Inc., an Ohio-based manufacturer of faucets and sinks. "I think it is a way for people to spoil themselves. They are looking for more convenience. And I don't think people always thought so much about sinks. Years ago, the standard sink was cast iron or, on the lower end, a polyester and acrylic item only six to eight inches deep.
"It's only in the last five to 10 years you've had the changes," she says. One major change was the introduction of undermount installation, which Mrs. Allison describes as "a sink installed under a countertop surface so that the bowl is flush with the counter top, hiding the lip of the sink and creating a neat trim edge."
Composite materials are popular, an example of which is Corian by DuPont. "You get the good with the bad," Mrs. Allison warns. "Corian is a fairly soft material, and you can easily scratch it. But it is smooth and can be installed without the seams that you usually have with a granite sink. Zodiac, also from DuPont, is the Corian of the future. I think it has a quartz content in it. The claims are that it is as durable as granite but less porous."
The quartz composite, which is fairly new to the American market, has the advantage of being scratch-resistant, yet it has a smooth, shiny surface. A granite composite, on the other hand, has a matte finish, which is another increasingly popular choice.
"The newest thing in design on a mass level is what we call the big single a country-style bowl without a middle section, or break," Mrs. Allison says. "The trend is toward having a larger work space, especially among male customers. And 'prep' sinks are big, which are for preparing food. Also, a lot of kitchens now have two sinks one for preparing food and another for the so-called entertainment end of the room or the end of the island workstation."
A recent design-trends survey published by the New Jersey-based National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), a trade organization, shows that more decorative faucets are popular in bathrooms. Nickel faucets both brushed and polished have replaced stainless steel as the most common choice in kitchen fittings, although bronze is inching up. Both are favored because they complement natural stone countertops.
Another emerging trend, according to the NKBA, is the so-called pot-filler and pot-scrubber faucet that sprays water with a powerful force that more easily fills or cleans cookware. The pull-out faucet is the most popular type of all.
Among sinks, the survey says that extra-deep and double-basin designs are best sellers, with one-piece vanity bowls and undermount sinks preferred for bathrooms.
Some of the most dramatic designs on view in the Washington Design Center's ground-floor showroom devoted to kitchen and bath utilities and appliances include the new stainless-steel "professional series" from Kohler. The latest Kohler designs have a steam-boil-poach bowl over a separate drain that is meant for cooking pasta and steaming vegetables. The device, which has a heating element built in, eliminates the need for lifting pots and pans back and forth between the sink and stove. The faucet is separate and can be attached by a pull-out spring for convenience and flexibility.
The majority of models at the center, at 300 D St. SW, are undermounted sinks in cast iron or porcelain. Neutral colors are favored sand, white or "biscuit," which is a warmer shade of white. Wall-mounted faucets are becoming trendy of late, reports showroom manager Michelle Anderson. Kallista Inc., a manufacturer of sleek, sophisticated bathroom fixtures, also makes an old-fashioned-style sink with two white porcelain faucet knobs clearly marked "hot" and "cold." The double knob makes a vivid contrast to the most advanced faucet design, which uses buttons rather than knobs or handles.
An August article in Consumer Reports says most new kitchen faucets are guaranteed for life against leaks, which the magazine says is "thanks to better values that eliminate those infamous rubber washers and midnight drips that occur when they fail."
The warranties also apply to a faucet's finish, whether chrome, epoxy or one of the new physical-vapor-deposition finishes. The latter finish, known as PVD in the trade, is a plating technique made to resemble everything from polished brass to copper, nickel, pewter or gold.
A customer contemplating buying a new sink or faucet ideally should make at least two visits to a showroom the first to take notes on the variety of models available and the second to choose what might well be the centerpiece of the kitchen or bath.
"And they need to have their measurements and know the color they are interested in," says Michelle Anderson, manager of the Ferguson Gallery in the Washington Design Center, a distributor for hundreds of manufacturers. "They need to know if they are replacing an existing faucet or an existing sink in either the kitchen or bath because the measurements may be different in newer models.
"When I take clients around, I watch to see what they lean toward because there are so many styles: an undermount or a drop-in or a free-standing sink installation, for instance," she says. "The question I get asked most often is, 'What are other people choosing?' Then, too, some ask because they want something different.
"Another common question is about the nature of the materials whether stainless steel, china, marble, cast iron or glass. There are pros and cons to each. We sell glass mainly for a bathroom bowl. Basically, you have to know your needs ahead of time because most people at first are overwhelmed."

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