Sink or Swim
Innovative mix-and-match design plus superior functionality and a host of great new finishes combine to create the perfect kitchen sink area.
By Daina Darzin Manning
It’s the hardest-working spot in the house. Nothing else gets as much use and abuse as the kitchen sink. You would think, because of this, that functionality would be foremost in consumers’ minds when making purchase decisions about kitchen sink styles, faucetry and accessories.
Practical considerations are indeed important, but they’re only one part of the equation. That’s because these days, homeowners want it all form and function, style and substance. Today’s consumers want a gorgeously designed faucet with an innovative, beautiful finish that coordinates with a warmly eclectic design style and may also include such extras as a pull-out and purified water. A sweeping expanse of granite countertop whose clean, open line is undisturbed by an undermount sink which also functions as a stainless steel or solid surface workhorse, standing up to any and all sharp objects, while providing additional amenities via baskets, grids and cutting boards.
Today’s kitchen sink area has to be perfect in what one manufacturer dubs “a demanding consumer market where products very quickly sink or swim.” However, with the vast array of new products and finishes available, creating consumers’ dream sink area is becoming easier than ever, according to manufacturers interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
Today’s kitchens have adopted a more free-form, eclectic approach to design than to those of years’ past, and this is having a major impact on the kitchen sink and faucet arena.
“It’s a collage of different styles,” believes Angie Coffman, director of product marketing for Delta Faucet Co., in Indianapolis, IN. “People are choosing what speaks to them. You can mix and match different elements,” she notes. “Stainless is no longer a commercial, cold feeling,” she adds, citing her company’s Victorian-style faucet in stainless steel as an example of this. “You can marry stainless with a traditional look and it’s completely acceptable.”
Ed Detgen, director of marketing for Danze, in Bolingbrook, IL, believes homeowners who undertake expensive, elaborate kitchen remodels have already traded up houses several times. “They’re mature, they’re not slaves to a particular style,” he believes. And, they have an amazing variety of products to choose from. Detgen emphasizes that, these days, upscale products are easier to find nationwide. “That’s making a huge difference,” he explains. “Availability has a huge influence.”
Transitional looks, which take their cues from past eras but give traditional looks a new spin and combine them with modern technology, fit perfectly into an eclectic kitchen.
“A lot of people like modern [design], the cold, clear, really bold European look,” adds Guy Itzkovitch, v.p. for Hamat USA, in Totowa, NJ. “They like to look at it, but [they don’t] put it in their kitchens because it’s too much of a strong statement. [So] we see those buyers moving into transitional.”
Sara Maduscha, product manager, bathroom faucets, for the Kohler, WI-based Kohler Co., also cites American traditional looks and Art Deco as strong trends for 2004.
“There’s a comfort factor in the familiar forms of the Art Deco period that consumers are responding to. There’s also a lot of emphasis on Prairie or Mission style, the familiar forms of the Frank Lloyd Wright era,” she says.
Itzkovitch, however, believes 20th-century design has taken hold more significantly in the bath than the kitchen.
Especially for younger, Gen X homeowners, the clean-lined, modern but quirky vibe of the Mid-Century Modern era of the 1950s is also a design up-and-comer. “People are looking in history for things that can be updated to a timeless look,” thinks Maduscha. “Certainly, things from the Fifties are making a comeback. It’s huge in furniture.” She also mentions the bold, warm colors of that period as an increasingly popular choice.
“Faucets are a fashion industry,” declares Itzkovitch. “[As] with fashion, we see trends that change year after year.”
In the past, a faucet manufacturer would typically sell 80% chrome, 20% all other finishes, states Coffman. But those numbers are changing rapidly as consumers upgrade their sink space to a custom configuration that meets their practical and aesthetic needs.
“People are upgrading for a finished look, something that’s unique and will blend with other architectural elements,” emphasizes Coffman. She adds that
Delta is currently working with noted architect and product designer Michael Graves to create a new faucet line with a fresh, innovative style.
Overall, brushed nickel has emerged as the new classic, sometimes even outselling chrome, while oil-rubbed bronze remains a strong up-and-comer though, ironically, usually without its original selling point, a living finish that changes over time.
“These days, you see more and more people who want consistency, a finish that will not change over time,” says Itzkovitch.
A stainless steel faucet that complements the sink, and appliances, is also an increasingly popular pick. “Our best seller is the stainless steel faucet,” says Lars Christensen, product manager for Hansgrohe, in Alpharetta, GA.
Adventurous consumers are pairing stainless steel sinks with metal of a warmer hue antique copper, brushed brass, satin gold for a striking two-toned look. “We did an antique copper faucet and put it on a stainless steel sink [at a kitchen show] to show you that can mix these,” recalls Alan Danenberg, director of marketing services for Elkay Sales Inc., in Oak Brook, IL. The contrast to stainless serves to warm it up and also coordinates with other copper-hued items such as a vent hood, he explains.
Noah Taft, director of marketing and sales for California Faucets, in Huntington Beach, CA, believes the trend is towards subtle, delicate, rustic tones, like his company’s satin rose bronze, while Detgen also cites verdigris and other multi-colored finishes. “Specialty finishes are a very important part of what’s going on,” he believes.
Lisa Engel, marketing manager for the water products group of In-Sink-Erator, in Racine, WI, adds that specialty finishes are a consumer desire in ancillary functions, such as the hot water spigot, she notes her company’s new finishes such as satin nickel, French gold, and mocha bronze.
“The pull-out is a must have, just because people are looking for less clutter in their kitchen,” declares Laura Roenitz, senior product analyst for Kohler Co. Consumers like a center set faucet for its versatility, she elaborates. “It allows you to fill up pots and pans on the countertop or in the sink, and it makes clean up [quick and] easy.”
But, Roenitz cautions, some consumers are still put off by the pull-out’s design limitations. “I think style is always going to be front and center,” she indicates. “If you’ve never had a pull-out and you don’t like the way it looks, you’re going to go with what you’re comfortable with. But, if you’ve used one and you understand the benefit, you’ll find style that works for you.”
Itzkovitch believes it may depend on how much a homeowner actually cooks in his or her kitchen. “By definition, if you’re saying you prefer the pull-out, you’re saying you’re willing to make some design compromises,” Itzkovitch says. The traditional configuration of a center faucet with a side spray allows for more of a dramatic design statement, he believes.
While most pull-outs admittedly have a contemporary, streamlined bent, Roenitz cites her company’s Fairfax faucet as an example of a traditional look that incorporates a pull-out.
Itzkovitch believes the pull down faucet will be the next big thing. “It’s a new segment that’s on the rise,” he explains. “This is a whole new league of pull-outs, a little more [ergonomically designed]. It’s like shaking hands with the faucet more comfortable for everyday usage.”
The trend towards the commercial look has also caused conventional kitchen faucets to grow larger, notes Danze’s Detgen, adding that his company’s plus-size design over 16″ tall has been a hot seller, with the line expanding to include more finishes and alternate handle designs. Christensen also cites high arcs on a faucet as an increasingly popular feature, especially when combined with a pull-out.
Steel Still Strong
Nowhere is stainless steel’s prominence in the kitchen as apparent as in the sink market. “People love the look, the feel, the durability, the confidence that stainless [has],” declares Coffman.
“Three quarters of all kitchen sinks sold are stainless steel,” adds Danenberg.
He points out that the prominence of steel appliances and the durability element of a steel sink have prompted the material to become an integral part of even very traditional designs.
But Tripp Parker, sales and marketing director for Transolid, in Mooresville, NC, says that homeowners who choose a light-colored stone countertop are just as likely to choose a white or light neutral solid surface sink. The dramatic growth of undermount styles in sinks has increased this trend, he believes. Consumers desiring a white or light sink will pick solid surface over cast iron or other white materials because of durability, pairing the material with natural or engineered stone, or installing an integral sink with solid surface countertop.
“The undercounter mount shows off your countertop,” adds Roenitz. “Consumers really like that, they spend a lot of money on [the countertop] and they want to really highlight it.”
In terms of color, consumers are typically conservative, says Parker. “I’d love to tell you they’re being more adventurous, but they’re not,” he laughs. White and biscuit overwhelmingly dominate the market. Roenitz also cites earthy neutrals like cashmere, sandbar and black as a nice complement to darker granites. “It’s an easy way to get warmth and color back into the kitchen,” she says.
As is the case with faucets, sinks themselves are also getting bigger, reports Danenberg. “Large, deep bowls are extremely functional,” he says. “You can get that big turkey roaster [into the sink]. You’d have a hard time fitting that in [a shallow bowl].”
For those desiring multiple bowls, an undermount installation allows a consumer to “pretty much configure their own design,” he adds. “You can put together whatever combination of single bowls you like.”
Parker believes the commercial, pro-chef look of a multiple compartment sink continues to be popular, and also lends itself to adding accessories like grids, baskets, cutting boards.
“When you’re cleaning up after a meal, you’ve always got some scraps, extra beverages,” Danenberg elaborates. “As you pour that down the sink and into the disposal, a bottom grid lifts whatever cleaning items you have off the bottom of the sink, so you’re not filling the sponge with all that stuff. It just makes it much easier to keep things clean and work in the sink.”
“The accessories, the wire basket and the cutting board really extend the versatility of the sink,” adds Roenitz.
Awareness of ecology issues, as well as a general concern about toxins in the home, have put water filtration systems at the forefront of consumer desire for the kitchen. But, many manufacturers believe that this is an area where the optimum system has still not been determined.
“The need for purified water has certainly become an important factor to consumers,” says Maduscha. However, when it comes to determining the best way to get that purified water, many believe the count is still out.
“You see more and more people who have a [whole-house] system,” says Christensen, who notes that the advantages of a whole- house system include being able to use filtered water for such uses as brushing your teeth, cooking, filling the dog’s water bowl, or even showering.
The down sides? Cost and maintenance issues, reports In-Sink-Erator’s Engel. Another frequent complaint about filtering systems is that they drop water pressure, she adds. “The reason why people ask for whole-house filtration systems is, they don’t really know what they need.” When they realize what’s involved, they’ll usually go for a more modest system, she believes.
Overall, systems that are installed beneath the sink, either flowing to a separate spigot or through the main faucet, seem to have the most promise. Maduscha cites Kohler’s system, which filters out everything from common contaminants to microbial organisms, as an option in this category.
“You can get very pure water at a very high flow rate, which is practical to use for many different applications,” she notes. The undercounter system is used with an accompanying above-counter spigot.
Similarly, Engel mentions In-Sink-Erator’s undercounter system, which can be used with any faucet, either a separate spigot or the central faucet. The system can also be attached to a hot water dispenser. “We allow only a very small pressure drop,” she elaborates. The system can operate on two levels one filters chlorine, taste and odor via a carbon based filter, while a more stringent filter addresses additional water purification concerns for those who live near fresh water lakes and creek beds. “These people may experience cysts, and in those specific cases, we have a filter for those as well.” A unique design provides automatic shut off when changing the filter.
Some surveyed believe many consumers are satisfied with the home water cooler or pitcher-based water filtration systems, but Maduscha believes they will embrace an effective system that promises purified water at all outlets, with no water flow issues.
“The combination of having hot filtered water and cold filtered water is definitely gaining importance,” she concludes.
“We’ve become tea and coffee snobs,” adds Engel. “People know when they start with clean water, it helps with their beverage making and cooking.”
Whatever configuration of features homeowners choose, it’ll be a highly personal choice geared to perfectly meet their own specific needs. “The only rule is, you can mix stripes and plaids,” quips Detgen. “I think everything [in design] is fair.” KBDNN