A Different Way to Drain 2/28/2012 7:48:00 PM
With all the surfaces for surfaces for countertops or vanities – and more choices for backsplashes and trim – sinks usually fall into two options: stainless steel in the kitchen and porcelain in the bathroom.
There’s no reason, though, to settle for the standard choices in a drop-in format. There’s nothing wrong with stainless steel or porcelain, but new tops also offer the ability to rethink the sink ... and include alternative surfaces.
Just as more materials appear for fabricating a top, an increasing availability of sinks bring a flair to the standard wash-up. The alternative materials may not add any functionality – and possibly bring another set of caveats -- but the results offer more options to customers.
Much of this involves the vanity, where it’s not only a matter of materials. It’s also the shape; instead of a recessed bowl, think vessel.
In a way, vessels offer a return to the old-fashioned wash-up bowl replaced by the onset of indoor plumbing. Go to any big-box hardware store or major home center, and you’ll see them offered in a usual lineup of white porcelain or thick glass.
The selection goes farther, however; while there’s usually no granite to match a standard countertop, other, softer (and carvable) stones, such as marble or soapstone, are available to provide an interesting vessel-sink accent. Moving up the budget scale, rarer stone types for carved vessels include onyx. (Quartz surfaces also make an appearance in vessel-sink lineups, although units are custom-made by independent vendors instead of mass-manufactured by the producer.)
With other alternatives surfaces, glass-fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC) offers several options, with in-shop production allowing custom colors and shapes (and even casting with the countertop in one unit). And, while mixing wood and water may seem counter intuitive, an increasing selection of vessel sinks are available in bamboo.
Probably the biggest drawback to vessels come with installation. While the smaller cut-out for the base means that there’s more integrity to a vanity top being transported from the shop, the higher profile of a vessel and the steeper angle of the surface requires very careful placement of the faucet. A bad aim of the water flow can lead to a very wet (and disappointed) customer.
The host of alternative surfaces also can’t match the non-porosity of porcelain (or glass), as well as stain resistance; most of them used in vessel sinks will need sealing and/or special care, which isn’t standard procedure for bathroom fixtures. The different vessels won’t need the literal kid-glove treatment, but they won’t do well with indiscriminate blasting of the usual cleaning chemicals.
Stainless steel’s dominance in new kitchens and remodels has been challenged by solid-surface manufacturers, where molding of custom colors to coordinate with countertops provides a uniform look. It’s the same for GFRC-based custom sinks on a project-by-project basis.
Solid-surface producers also offer composite sinks that drift into the alternative-materials area. Granite is often used in a 70/30 mix with acrylic binder, but there’s also increasing selections in quartz-surface composite sinks. A few quartz-surface producers now include their own sinks, although the color selection is often limited to various tones of white.
Kitchens, however, offer the ability for surface fabricators and installers to include any of the alternative surfaces in one style: the farmer sink. Also known as apron-front sinks, the feature a deep (8” to 9”) rectangular design in one or two square-cornered bowls. While the standard material is cast iron or porcelain (with some stainless steel models), the farmer sink is something within the scope of any good custom-fabrication shop.
It’s not for rookies – getting the drainage right can be a challenge for molded materials, let alone slab goods – and it’s a custom process that can price itself out of some customer budgets. For those looking to incorporate a different look with alternative surfaces, though, it’s a concept that definitely holds water.