Center of Attention

by Ashley Lapin Olian

Sinks and faucets play a role in all of the essential functions in a kitchen – cooking, cleaning and entertaining. From rinsing vegetables to filling pots, washing dishes to pouring a glass of water, these elements are likely used more often than anything else in the kitchen.

The kitchen sink and faucet area is becoming increasingly important in the overall design of a kitchen space as well. “Many say that the kitchen is the ‘heart of the home.’ It’s an essential room – and the focal point is often the kitchen faucet,” says Derek Taylor, product manager at Hansgrohe in Alpharetta, GA. “It’s also one of the workhorses of the kitchen, so it really has to function at a high level and also deliver on looks.”

“Just like the bath, the faucet is the ‘jewelry,’” says Noah Taft, senior v.p. marketing & sales for California Faucets in Hungtington Beach, CA. “It is the most used appliance in the room and usually sets the style theme for all of the other appliances. A beautiful design and finish on a high-quality kitchen faucet can serve as a design focal point.”

Sinks play an equally important role in design. “We’re seeing a return to the kitchen sink as the focal point of the kitchen,” adds Naomi Neilson Howard, founder & CEO at Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA. “This is especially true for handcrafted, unique sink designs. They are often the inspiration for an entire design. A hammered copper sink, for instance, might inspire textures in the backsplash or lighting, or it may provide contrast in a contemporary design.”

In addition to the aesthetic appeal, sinks and faucets must be top-quality products with high functionality. “Features for sinks and faucets have to adapt to a growing need for function, quality and durability by consumer7s,” says Kevin Murray, director of marketing and brand management at Purcell Murray in Brisbane, CA. “When designing a kitchen space, all aspects of how the working kitchen will operate need to be considered – from food prep to clean-up.”

Top sink and faucet trends include a transitional streamlined appearance and a desire for easy, efficient functioning. There is a move toward single-basin sinks and variety in finishes, including color, as well as a growing trend toward secondary sinks to improve the overall flow of the work in the kitchen. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Kitchen styles are increasingly sleek in design, with clean lines and simplified visuals. “When it comes to kitchen design overall, designers are streamlining the space and working to create a cleaner, seamless feel,” says Judd Lord, senior director of industrial design at Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN. Clean geometries are being paired with warmer finishes, he adds, like the company’s Brilliance Brushed Bronze, Cocoa Bronze, Champagne Bronze and Venetian Bronze. “Brushed and polished nickels also remain strong choices, and matte black is gaining a foothold, working as an updated alternative to wrought iron or as a contemporary statement,” he notes.

A new aesthetic that is becoming the focus in high-end design is the use of matte black finishes, offers Murray. MGS Faucets has recently launched a black steel collection of faucets, he states, adding, “This unique black finish technique offers the same durability of commercial stainless steel products, but enhances the look with a sleek elegant color look that complements the trend of minimalist, elegant design.”

Styles are trending toward transitional or more contemporary designs and with this shift, Lou Rohl, CEO and managing partner for ROHL in Irvine, CA, says faucets are also more streamlined, with limited ornamentation. “The kitchen is also much more open to other living spaces, which gives people more liberty to incorporate finishes like gold, copper and brass into the kitchen, just like they might do in a living or dining room,” he adds.

When it comes to finishes, flexibility and customization are also in demand in the design community, according to Taft. “While the majority of the market continues to specify faucets in basic finishes and ‘as you see it’ styles, there is a growing interest in daring to be different and customizing a bit. This allows you to have a familiar and comfortable look, but tweak it a bit to add your own signature,” he says. The new kitchen faucet line from California Faucets features over 30 artisan finishes and the ability to customize handle style to achieve exactly the look the homeowner wants, he adds.

For sinks, Neilson Howard notes: “Alternatives to stainless steel, especially more earthy materials and finishes, continue to grow in popularity.” Native Trails is in the process of rolling out three new sustainably made NativeStone concrete kitchen sinks in response to demand, and a hammered copper kitchen sink. “With kitchen design trending to muted tones, finishes that lean toward silver or grey have been very popular,” she adds.

Jeff Buckley, national sales manager for Houzer in Hamilton, NJ, sees more color being used in the kitchen as well. “Everything’s been stainless steel for so long, but we’re seeing some requests for color – and more so than in the past,” he says.

A number of current technologies designed to make faucet use effortless are becoming more standard in kitchen faucets. Touch technology, hands-free operation and pull-down/pull-out faucets all contribute to an easy-to-use, practical and efficient faucet.

The last two years have been all about the pull-down kitchen faucet, a trend he doesn’t see letting up any time soon, says Rohl. “The majority of these faucets have definitely had a more contemporary/industrial feel to them, mimicking what we see in commercial kitchens. While there is still that desire to create the ‘chef’s kitchen’ at home, I do see people looking for a pull-down kitchen faucet that has a more transitional/traditional design style,” he says. There is a gap in the market, he adds, which is why ROHL will introduce a new traditional pull-down kitchen faucet as part of its Perrin & Rowe Collection later this year.

Taft agrees that the pull-down design is in high demand. “In the kitchen faucet world, pull-down sprays dominate due to their ease of use and ergonomic styling,” says Taft.

Lord adds, “In the kitchen, faucets almost need to have the functionality of a pull-out or pull-down as a point of entry into the mid- to higher-end spaces. These models typically provide the ability to deliver multiple spray functions in a very flexible manner in and around the entire sink area.” In 2015, Brizo launched an articulating faucet in both the Solna and Artesso collections, and in 2016, the designs will also feature SmartTouch Technology, allowing for hands-free operation. “The beauty of an articulating faucet is that it provides a strong architectural statement and can direct water from various heights and angles. This architecture, coupled with the ability to control the water flow with a simple tap anywhere on the faucet body, handle or articulating arm, promotes efficiency of motion and improves flexibility and operation in frequent kitchen tasks,” says Lord.

Hands-free and touch technologies simplify faucet use, and are of great interest to designers and homeowners. “As consumers continue to have positive experiences with touch and hands-free technologies, we anticipate this trend will continue to grow,” says Lord.

Taylor adds, “Faucet designs are increasingly being influenced by technology and the technological features are becoming part of the overall design. For our new kitchen lines, our research has gone beyond taking into account general ergonomics and how users operate the faucet. We are zeroing in on how users move around the kitchen and sink area as a whole as this dictates their interaction with the faucet,” he adds.

Consumers are looking for products that offer features with high functionality, and integrate all of the tools they may need right into the same space, according to manufacturers. The range of features requested in sinks and faucets include integrated accessories, features that pay attention to water conservation and attributes that simplify the work, such as pot fillers or water filtration systems.

“We like to talk about livable design. This is an organic design that is in between contemporary and traditional – focused on ease of use, ease of maintenance, durability and multi-tasking,” says Christy Emens, marketing manager for BLANCO in Lumberton, NJ. She notes that accessories are a rapidly expanding area for innovation and design. “We’ve added complete lines of accessories to many of our popular sinks so that consumers can customize their workspace to store utensils and cleaning supplies and integrate cutting boards and colanders to make prep easy and save space. The sink is evolving into a workstation and not just a vessel.”

Rohl agrees, citing designs that integrate coordinating accessories into the sink, such as chopping boards, colanders, food graters and grid baskets, designed to fit seamlessly into the sink and work as a multi-functional unit or ‘water appliance.’

In addition to features that make a sink more functional, those that pay attention to sustainability and conservation are also important. “Water conservation continues to be at the forefront of faucet design,” says Rohl.

Murray adds, “In many states, this is a code requirement and kitchen faucets are now being engineered for water efficiency – allowing substantial water conservation without sacrificing performance. In fact, some faucets allow the water flow rates to be adjusted by the user – literally as it’s being used,” says Murray.

Quality is also an essential consideration, manufacturers maintain. “Designing with function as a priority, the kitchen and sink area is no longer an afterthought. The quality and durability of faucet and sink are now being seen [as having] equal importance to other larger appliances,” says Murray.

Buckley adds, “You’re making an investment that’s going to last 10 or 15 years. It’s probably the only time you’re going to redo your kitchen, so you want to make sure you’re getting something that’s going to complement your lifestyle and your aesthetic tastes, and enhance resale in the future.”

Paying attention to details, like the use of solid brass on all parts of the faucet, even the spray head, makes a difference, according to Taft. “The more discerning consumer demands high-quality material and workmanship,” he says. “Most manufacturers, for obvious reasons, skimp on these details and go with cheaper composite metals or even plastic.”

One or two bowls – that is often the question when it comes to the kitchen sink. Increasingly the answer is one. “We are seeing a lot more trough and single-basin sinks in kitchens today. While these sinks tend to occupy the same footprint as the double-basin varieties they’re replacing, they are visually less cluttered and provide more work space within the sink,” says Lord.

Many manufacturers are seeing a rise in popularity of the apron sink. “The traditional and contemporary style of the farmhouse sink design has been prevailing in the sink industry,” notes Murray. “The large basin offers more practical use and durability, allowing for larger accommodations for such items as cooking sheets and large pots.

Buckley is seeing a surge in the apron front farm sinks as well, but adds that a lot of people still like a divided sink. Overall, he notes, the trend is toward the single basin, which allows space for any cooking pot or sheet that needs washing. He adds that low-divide sinks are also a popular choice.

The low-divide sink is a niche that offers the best of both worlds, according to Emens. “The single bowl offers an uncluttered, contemporary look – but some consumers still desire separate spaces for prepping and cleaning. The low divide is an ergonomic and visually appealing solution,” she concludes.

While the main sink is where much of the work gets done, designers can’t ignore the popularity of an additional sink, either in the island, another area of the kitchen or even in another area entirely.

“Secondary sinks and prep stations in kitchens are growing in popularity,” says Emens. “The kitchen is a place where family and friends gather to cook, entertain and be together. It makes sense that the station concept is popular in today’s open kitchen plans.”

“Smaller secondary sinks are nearly a must for today’s larger kitchens,” adds Neilson Howard. “We see a lot of demand for round and square prep sinks – usually, but not always, smaller than the main sink.”

“Bar and prep sinks continue to be popular, but aren’t just relegated to a kitchen island,” says Rohl. Secondary sinks might show up in a kitchen design with dual work zones where each zone has a sink, or in wet bars, media rooms or butler’s pantries. A secondary sink in the mudroom is a trend he anticipates will increase, “whether installed at a traditional sink height or at a lower height that’s ideal for cleaning off dirty shoes, dirty kids or dirty pups.”

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