Kitchen and bath design: Sink systems

From built-in drain boards to trough sinks to integrated food-prep areas, there are countless options and accessories for sinks today. Kitchen and bath designer Carol Lamkins provides an overview of the latest sink systems and accessories.

And you thought a sink was just a sink

And you thought a sink was just a sink

April 18, 2011

The kitchen sink is the pivot point in designing the workflow of a kitchen. Making a dual statement in function and aesthetics, it is the most frequented location in the kitchen.

Sink styles and options have vastly expanded in recent years. The popular sink-style trend is one main multi-task unit, typically a large stainless-steel, single-bowl sink. And if the preference is a double bowl, then one side is often larger and deeper than the other. The sink portion usually installs into a 36-inch-wide (or less) sink base cabinet.

Larger-sized bowls permit soaking and washing baking sheets and broiler pans. The shape and size of the bowls should accommodate plate diameters and cookware. Bowl depths are usually 8 to 12 inches, with 10 inches being the most requested. Also, all corners of the sinks should be at a slight radius for ease of maintenance.

Multi-task sinks are often fitted with custom accessories, such as sliding wood-cutting boards and glass prep boards that make working around the sink much more efficient.
For added convenience, vendors offer additional options, such as fitted colanders, overlay sink basins, adjustable draining racks, and large utility bowls suspended in the sink that create an additional basin, complete with drain.

Built-in countertop waste and utility bins are well suited for composting or collecting when a waste disposal is not part of the system. These stainless-steel bins are removable and easy to wash. Keep in mind that the sink best serves the user as a system.

Supporting the “form follows function” model, sinks with built-in drain boards can extend the usable space, while the new “work bench” concept functions as a partition between bowls and provides support for heavy pots and pans at a comfortable height without the concern of tipping over.

Restaurant-style, high-neck faucets and pull-out faucet heads maximize a sink’s utility for both food preparation and clean-up, and deck-mounted pop-up strainers make it easy to drain the sink.

A second sink may be added to facilitate entertainment or to service an island or wide peninsula. These secondary sinks make a design statement in shape and material. They also come with a number of accessories.

If the island is an important food-preparation area, then consider a trough sink. These long, gently-sloped units allow users to rinse down small food refuge and dispose of waste with a touch of a button. 

Whatever the sink combination, most consumers prefer under-counter or tile-in installations versus self-rimming. They also prefer that the drain location be offset at the back of the sink for a gentler bottom slope. This helps avoid cups and glasses from tipping over and covering the drain when stacking plates for scraping or rinsing. The offset location is important for waste disposal installation, as the kitchen faucet is usually centered at the back of the sink.

The farmhouse sink is still in demand and is available in a multitude of styles and materials. Materials range from stainless steel to stone to fireclay. Farmhouse sinks, also known as Belgium sinks or country sinks, take us back to an era of well-being and complement the theme of many interior designs. Most are single bowls, but double bowls are also available.

The sink material determines design integration, durability, and ease of cleaning. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of popular materials:

Enameled cast iron   

Enameled cast iron has been a standard for decades. Made by pouring liquid iron into a mold that is cooled, coated with enamel, and fired in a kiln, this material is tough and impact-resistant resulting in durability. Enameled cast iron comes in a wide range of high-gloss, rich colors. On the down side, it’s heavy, and large sinks may require extra support in the cabinetry. Also, cast iron conducts heat, which cools dish water. The enamel is susceptible to chipping with impact or with scalding water. There are limited sizes and shapes; pricing is mid- to high-end; and installation costs can be high.

Stainless steel   

The revived interest in gourmet cooking and the status of the commercial chef has driven consumer demand to stainless-steel sinks and appliances. A quality stainless-steel sink is an investment. The preferred sink quality is 18 gauge, as thinner gauges will dent easily. Higher nickel content increases the corrosion and stain resistance and improves the appearance. Chipping is not an issue, and better stainless-steel sinks are coated with a sound-deadening material that also works against condensation. With a brushed finished, the sink is less likely to show scratches, be easy to care for, and will handle abrasives.

Exotic metals   

Other popular metals for sinks include copper, nickel, pewter, and brass. The finishes are usually polished, but these sinks may also be available in matte and hammered finishes. Beautiful but requiring special care, the choice of these metals is usually intended for an entertainment sink with limited use. These sinks may be subject to tarnish without a protective finish. Maintenance involves rinsing and drying after use to avoid water spotting. It is important to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions before using any type of polish. These exotic metal sinks are usually on the high end of cost.

Fire-clay ceramic   

Fire-clay, one of the hardest ceramics, dates back to the 1800s and is resurging in popularity. This material offers a smooth, non-porous surface that will not rust, fade, or discolor. The hard, durable surface offers excellent resistance to commonly used chemicals and detergents. It is chip-, thermo-shock-, and stain-resistant. Cleaning can range from mild soap and warm water to using an abrasive pad with any general-purpose cleanser. Under-mount kits make installation easy. This is an investment sink with great returns.

Solid surface   

Homogeneous solid-surface sinks have the advantage of integral installation for the clean, easy-to-maintain look. They are resistant to stains and household chemicals and are repairable. These sinks are typically installed in solid-surface countertops using liquid solid-surface compounds for seamless installation. Abrasive and bleach-based cleansers are not a problem for either acrylic or polyester versions. However, acrylic-based surfaces can handle higher temperatures and are more resistance to impact. Cost is always a factor in the decision.

Quartz crystal   

Quartz crystal sinks, bound with acrylic, have been on the market for some time. Each manufacturer formulates proprietary materials in their composite to achieve durability and color-through consistency. These sinks are heat- and scratch-resistant. Advantages include an up-scaled look and a wide range of available colors. However, cost is usually on the high side.

The vast array of sink choices is overwhelming. A sink selection should meet the consumer’s expectations in beauty, function, and maintenance. Knowledge of performance, styles, and accessories is the first step toward maximum satisfaction. The bottom line is the sink and accessories should serve all of the needs of the consumer.

Carol Lamkins is a Certified Master in Kitchen & Bath Design, Certified Interior Designer, and Certified in Family and Consumer Science. She has been a space planner and interior designer for kitchens, baths, and related rooms since 1980 and previously co-owned a kitchen and bathroom design center and showroom.

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