Photo: Philip Harvey

A country kitchen’s apron sink sits atop a lowered base cabinet.

The cleanup center sees lots of active duty in every busy kitchen; in fact, studies claim that up to 50 percent of kitchen time is spent there. So doesn't it make sense to pay special attention to sinks, faucets, dishwashers, and related accessories when you're planning your new kitchen?

The new world of sinks
Recently, sinks and faucets have become prime design accents -- a place to add a bit of dash to an otherwise restrained scheme.

When it comes to the primary kitchen sink, the traditional single-bowl version has some serious competition. Today's sink is a multitask center, and double-, even triple-bowl designs are now the norm. They come detailed with many custom-fitted accessories, such as cutting boards, colanders, rinsing baskets, and dish racks.

The one exception is the so-called apron sink, an unabashedly old-fashioned single sink that sits atop a lowered base cabinet.

Common sink materials include stainless steel, enameled cast iron or steel, composites, and solid-surface acrylics. Vitreous china is also making a comeback. For smaller auxiliary sinks or "bar" sinks, you can use more decorative surfaces like copper or brass.

In addition, you may see new sinks made from ceramic fireclay, concrete, or soapstone. Color-consistent fireclay seems especially promising, since scratches or dings can be scrubbed or buffed out.

Sink sizes
The traditional one-piece sink measures about 22 inches deep and 24 inches wide. Double- or one-and-a-half-bowl sinks average 33 inches wide; triple-bowl versions, or those with integral drain boards, can stretch to 42 inches. Sinks are getting deeper, a boon for those washing big pots and baking sheets.

Rim or no rim?
You also have a choice of mounting methods with various sink models. Self-rimming sinks with molded overlaps are supported by the edge of the countertop cutout; they work well with any countertop material. Undermounted sinks are positioned under the countertop and held in place by metal clips; they have a modern look that works well with stone and solid-surface edges. Flush-mounted sinks are set into the counter substrate to align with the surface material -- usually tile.

Comparing Sinks

Stainless steel
Stainless steel sinks come in 18- to 22-gauge (18-gauge is best, 22-gauge is flimsy) and either matte or mirror finish. Chromium/nickel blends are the only true "stainless" sinks; cheaper grades will stain. Matte finishes are much easier to keep looking clean than mirrored, and they mask scratches better. You'll find a large selection of double- and triple-bowl designs; integral drain boards are available, too. Stainless is relatively noisy, so look for a sink with an undercoating.

Enameled cast iron/steel
Here's where the colors come in. Enameled cast-iron sinks have a heavier layer of baked-on enamel than steel, making them quieter and less likely to chip, but also more expensive. These sinks have become quite popular, especially with the advent of new European designs. White, black, gray, and a palette of other colors and flecked patterns are available in many double- and triple-bowl models. The cast edges of self-rimming versions are prone to warping; be sure to check when you take delivery.

This durable, resilient newcomer comes with either a smooth or textured finish; it's lighter than cast iron. Composite can be fairly expensive. Some complain about limited style and color options (usually white or off-whites); some dislike the "plastic" look. Quartz sinks, or composites with high quartz content, are toughest; they resemble enamel but are easier to maintain.

Integral solid-surface
Today's solid-surface countertop can be coupled with a molded, integral sink for a sleek, sculpted look. Sink color can either match the countertop exactly or complement it. Edge-banding and other border options abound, including decorative grooving and adjacent drain boards. Although they're not indestructible, solid-surface sinks can be repaired if nicked or scratched. These sinks come in single-bowl versions only. Check the depth -- they may not be as deep as you'd like.

Vitreous china
Vitreous china sinks, a common bathroom component, are starting to show up in the kitchen. The material (made with clay that's poured into molds, fired in a kiln, and glazed) is heavy and is easy to clean; it also resists scratches and stains. These are highly ornamental, sculpted sinks, often with handpainted accents. On the down side, they can be very expensive and are subject to chipping.

Brass and copper
These elegant surfaces are outstanding as accents. However, they require considerable maintenance -- especially if highly polished -- so you may wish to reserve them for wet-bar or other occasional uses. Bar or hospitality sinks come with either a 2- or 31?2-inch drain opening; if you're planning to add a disposal you'll want the larger opening. An 18-inch diameter is typical.


Ideas for Great Kitchens

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