No longer just a basin and a mirror, the sink area has become a thoughtfully planned environment for grooming and personal care. Layouts with two sinks -- housed in one continuous vanity, in side-by-side alcoves, or in matching configurations on opposite walls -- are popular. Some bathrooms also include a separate, smaller wash basin in the toilet compartment or makeup area.
Sinks and faucets have become design accents in their own right -- a comparatively low-commitment way to try adding a bit of dash to an otherwise restrained design scheme. (If you later decide you don't like the boldness, it's a lot simpler to change a faucet than a shower or tub surround.)
Sink options, new and old
Sinks are available in a huge array of styles, shapes, and materials. You can make the sink stand out -- or blend its look with that of a period-style tub, shower, or toilet fixture. Whether for an antique or ultramodern design, some sink manufacturers can provide custom colors on special orders.
The vanity-bound basin is still the most common arrangement. You'll find a wide selection of materials in deck mounts, including vitreous china, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, enameled steel, and enameled cast iron. Vitreous china (made with clay that's poured into molds, fired in a kiln, and glazed) is heavy, comes in many colors, and is easy to clean; it also resists scratches, chips, and stains. Fiberglass is lightweight and moderately priced, but tends to scratch and dull. An enameled steel surface is easy to clean and lighter and less expensive than vitreous china or enameled cast iron -- but also much less durable. Enameled cast iron is more expensive and durable than vitreous china or enameled steel, but is very heavy.
Other sink materials include translucent glass, hand-painted ceramics, stainless steel, brass, copper, and even wood. These materials are strikingly elegant as accents but can require zealous maintenance.
You have a choice of mounting methods with various deck-mounted models. Self-rimming sinks with molded overlaps are supported by the edge of the countertop cutout; flush deck-mounted sinks have surrounding metal strips to hold the basin to the countertop; unrimmed sinks are recessed under the countertop and held in place by metal clips. Some deck-mounted sinks are designed as seemingly “freestanding” fixtures, where the entire basin sits sculpturally atop the counter and drains down through it.
A solid-surface countertop can be coupled with a molded, integral sink for a sleek, sculpted look. The one-piece molded unit sits on top of a vanity or cabinet; predrilled holes are often part of the package. A countertop with an integral bowl has no joints, so installation and cleaning are easy.
Sink color can either match the countertop or complement it; for example, you might choose a cream-colored sink below a granite-patterned counter. Edge-banding and other border options abound. Other integral sinks come in cast polymers, vitreous china, and fiberglass.
Check the sink's depth before buying: some versions may be shallower than you'd like.
Pedestal sinks are making a big comeback, in a wide range of traditional and modern designs. Typically of vitreous china, these elegant towers are usually easy to install and clean around. The pedestal often, but not always, hides the plumbing.
Pedestal sinks are typically among the highest-priced basins. Another disadvantage: they provide no storage space below the basin.
Like pedestals, wall-hung sinks are enjoying a contemporary revival. Materials and styling are along the same lines; in fact, some designs are available in either version.
Wall-hung sinks come with hangers or angle brackets for support. Generally speaking, they are among the least expensive and most compact sink options and are relatively easy to install. If you're putting in a wall-hung model for the first time, plan to tear out a strip of the wall to add a support ledger.
If you like the look of pedestal or wall sinks, but yearn for a bit more elbow room, take a look at so-called console sinks. These “stretch models” join a wider rectangular deck with either two or four furniture-like vanity legs. Some versions include storage space below.
Ideas for Great Bathrooms
Ideas for Great Bathrooms