Making a Splash

In a time when kitchen design is favoring clean, streamlined looks and steering clear of excessive ornamentation and over-the-top opulence, personal touches are coming from unexpected sources. One of the ways that kitchen and bath designers are adding distinctive style – as well as the highest functionality – to these spaces is by incorporating sinks and faucets that make their own statements.

According to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, the strong demand for the commercial look in the kitchen continues to influence sink, faucet and accessory design. Upscale consumers, however, are also insisting on beautiful and eco-friendly designs and technology. Stainless steel sinks are a bestseller, although demand for more unique sinks is on the upswing. And, when it comes to faucets and water accessories, many are thinking green while choosing from a broad variety of finishes and styles.

Sinks Get Professional and Personal

Designers and their clients continue to be attracted to the professional-looking kitchen, with its clean lines, uncluttered surfaces and flexible work stations. High-end amateur chefs want their work areas to be extremely functional, individualized and gorgeous. This attitude spills over to every aspect of the kitchen – including the sink.

“Much of today’s trends in kitchen sink design have a huge debt owed to the food service industry,” says Ken Fey, v.p./COO of Houzer in New Brunswick, NJ. “The commercial look of squared-off, 90-degree sinks is still strong.” Fey also notes, “Designs for residential kitchens have taken so many cues from commercial kitchens in recent years, the fallout has been a surge of user-friendly design applications in many product segments, including kitchen sinks.”

Ann Rottinghaus, marketing communications manager for Elkay in Oak Brook, IL, agrees. And, although many are opting for the professional look, she maintains that “personalization” is uptrending. Rottinghaus refers to this trend as “non-stock nation,” pointing out that it requires “unique, designer-oriented designs.”

Professional kitchens “have never been more popular,” she concurs. “Among the latest requirements [for kitchen sinks] are granite surfaces, just like those that top chefs around the world use.”

Steel-ing the Show

Still, the ubiquitous stainless steel sink is here to stay, as demand for it shows no signs of waning. Its long-life, professional good looks and easy-to-clean surface are just some of the characteristics that help it hang on to its lead in the kitchen sink market. Many designers also acknowledge that its look is compatible with a variety of kitchen designs.

“Highly polished steel finishes with drain grooves are currently in high demand for their aesthetics and easy-to-maintain neat appearance,” comments Tim Maicher, director of marketing for Lumberton, NJ-based Blanco. “Looking forward, we continue to see stainless steel sinks remaining an important element in kitchen design. In the near future, we see stainless steel sink designs moving toward a sleeker appliance feel and look.” Steel sinks also add to the semi-professional look, he adds.

Mark Webster, marketing manager for Karran USA in Vincennes, IN, agrees that the stainless steel sink is here to stay. “Stainless steel remains strong in the market, as it has over the past several years,” he says. “It blends in so well with the strong trend in stainless steel appliances as well as the modern, contemporary look.”

Stainless steel also gets high marks as a “green” product, note many industry players. While this is true of other products, Rottinghaus gives stainless steel credit as “one of the world’s most recycled materials. All stainless steel products are 100% recyclable, and have value even after a very long life as consumer products.” And, she adds, “The average useful life of a stainless steel product is 30 years.”

Beyond Steel

While the popularity of stainless steel sinks shows no signs of waning, there are many designers and consumers who are demanding something more unique. Tim Viens, national sales manager for West Palm Beach, FL-based Opella, stresses, “While nothing will ever replace brushed and polished stainless” sinks, the industry is seeing growth in sales of hammered copper, copper rose and oil-rubbed bronze sinks.

And, when choosing a color for the kitchen sink, some consumers may buck tradition, but many others “prefer the standards of white, bisque, black and steel,” according to Webster.

But, color is also a great way to personalize the space, Maicher points out, noting, “The color trend is in full swing, with almost one-third of the market looking to color sinks.”

He continues, “The fastest and most sustainable trend is for natural or stone composite sinks that deliver a combination of fashionable design and durable, easy-to-clean surfaces.” This natural look is popular in rich, warm colors such as brown or classic black, he adds.

“Granite [and] quartz sinks are making great strides, as well,” adds Webster. “These sinks are incredibly durable and will continue to capture market share in the next few years.”

Lou Rohl, COO/managing partner of Rohl adds, “Fireclay sinks, due to their sustainability and beauty, have become increasingly popular. Fireclay is incredibly resilient, resisting scratches, thermal shock, alkaline and acids.”

Extra Splash

Rottinghaus sees a trend away from themed kitchens in favor of individual style. New shapes and materials are likely to follow suit. She notes a growing popularity for curves, citing their “stylish sense of movement” and “soft warmth” as desirable qualities for a kitchen.

Manufacturers agree that bar and prep sinks are enjoying an increase in market share. “The functionality of prep sinks is simply screaming as a trend, with no end in sight,” stresses Fey. He explains there is “an increase in design applications using larger-than-traditional bar-prep sinks. Families with a high food preparation level really want a larger bowl.

“It’s an area where you can double-dip design aesthetics with ergonomics,” he continues. “For example, a large circular bowl in the prep island seems at home, even if the main kitchen sink is another shape.”

Viens adds, “While many shapes are popular, round bar sinks seem to be doing very well.”

There are many opinions when it comes to talking about a sink’s bowl configuration.

Notes Webster, “There seems to be a move away from the standard equal double.” He believes “split double sinks are winning over due to their more suitable bowl sizing, with one larger and one smaller bowl.” However, “Large singles are proving popular for those kitchens where a lot of cooking takes place,” he reports.

When it comes to geographic trends, Fey sees “transference of design trends that started in particular markets but have become pervasive to all areas.” For example, “Farmhouse sinks [are seen] in the middle of Manhattan, Zero Radius sinks [are seen] in a rustic suburb,” he states.

Viens notes, “In kitchen sinks, we believe ‘zero radius’ deep, high-quality undermounts are here to stay.”

In fact, the undermount sink is a staple in the kitchen. Webster stresses, “Consumers just love the hygienic aspects of being able to both wipe their countertops directly into their sink and to not have a rim, sealed to the countertop with silicone, to catch dirt and bacteria.”

Mix and Match Faucets

The current offering of kitchen faucets is varied when it comes to design and finish. The wide selection allows designers to mix and match creatively in order to pull together just about any look the client wants.

Rottinghaus believes, “Faucets are no longer simple, functional elements of a kitchen; they are a huge contributor to the visual landscape, viewed more as art pieces rather than functional hardware.”

Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN, explains, “Though simplicity, clean lines and uncluttered appearance are still the desired outcome for the kitchen space, this now seems to be achieved while softening some of the lines slightly and warming the overall color palette.” As a result, Lord says, “Finishes for kitchen faucets and accessories such as stainless steel and brushed nickel are rapidly gaining on chrome in popularity,” showing no sign of stopping.

Lord continues, “While chrome will always be a major player, warmer finishes such as brushed bronzes and warm, brushed gold tones are starting to show up a bit more in the kitchen as these types of finishes not only work on more traditional types of designs, but also play very well on the clean, modern geometries.” Lord further predicts that the trend will be toward a “more casual look.”

Andrew Shannon, marketing specialist with Graff of Milwaukee, WI, sees a trend toward matte black finishes and fingerprint-resistant finishes.

Oil-rubbed bronze has its fans as well, although Blanco’s Maicher believes it has already peaked, “as consumers are looking to have greater longevity from their kitchen remodels.” Rottinghaus, however, sees an increase in demand for the finish.

In keeping with the desire for a distinctive look, Shannon acknowledges the trend toward mixing faucet finishes. “Gone are the days of coordinating all of the faucets,” he comments. “Sometimes opposing finishes help to make an eclectic design statement.”

Shannon also comments on the trend toward “modernism.” Today’s faucet designs are “angular and bold” and fit nicely with a “modern décor, but also can add an edgy appeal to traditional decors,” he remarks. This approach offers clients the opportunity to “add their own individual touch,” he adds.

This, Graff contends, allows the designer to make “a big style statement.”

“Transitional styles for faucets continue to be in demand right now because they work with both traditional and more contemporary kitchens,” reports Michelle Gross, marketing manager, water products for InSinkErator, Division of Emerson Electric, in Racine, WI. While she believes there are no major changes in the near future, “within the next five years, we’ll see more modern and minimalist designs in sinks [and] faucets,” she stresses.

Beauty and Function

While style and finish are keys to the overall look, Shannon points out that “function is the most important element” in the kitchen. Manufacturers are stepping up to meet increasing demand for technology that improves quality of life.

“Universal Design will continue to increase in importance,” stresses Maicher. “Finding design and product solutions will undoubtedly increase as the number of multi-generational households increase.”

Many manufacturers also point to the greening of America. They believe that the growing eco-friendly commitment is already flowing over into the faucet market.

“Water-saving features are important to consumers, now more than ever,” says Shannon. “However, they don’t want to sacrifice style.”

Rohl agrees that style is important. “We believe that Universal Design and beautifully, authentically crafted faucets and fixtures do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

The advances in technology that meet both Universal Design and water conservation goals simultaneously have been an important development. Lord cites the development of “tap-on/tap-off and hands-free technology” for everyday tasks around the sink as a breakthrough, and adds the growing importance of Universal Design and aging-in-place as relevant, contemporary concerns.

He also recognizes that water is “our most precious resource,” and adds that “we are looking to use design and technology to dispense water in a smarter way while not sacrificing performance.”

One of those options has to do with the efficiency and ease-of-use of pull-out sprays. “Pull-out and pull-down faucets continue to be one of – if not the fastest – growing architectures today,” Lord explains. “The simple value they add in functionality over conventional deck models speaks for itself. Couple this pull-out/pull-down flexibility with simple tap-on/tap-off technology or even hands-free operation, and these products vastly improve task performance while they require much less clean-up in the end, not to mention the water savings that can be achieved.”

Rohl also sees market potential for its hands-free faucet. He claims it “not only integrates Universal Design, but allows for superior safety and water efficiency without sacrificing design aesthetics.”

He adds, “An anti-scalding technology prevents the hot water side from being fully opened, therefore preventing serious burns.”

The Need to Accessorize

Manufacturers agree that an increase in awareness of our environment is driving some of the demand for water accessory products. Whether choosing a faucet or an accessory, water-saving options are becoming key elements in the decision-making process.

Joe Hutko, marketing manager for Everpure, in Hanover Park, IL, believes interest in water accessory options is on the rise. “People are demanding more sophisticated products in terms of both design and performance,” he explains. “With the green movement, consumers have become more concerned with efficiency and preventing waste.” Hutko believes that this trend will continue in the long run.

Manufacturers agree that many are now looking for an alternative to bottled water, which generates a tremendous amount of plastic waste. People, however, still want pure, great tasting water. Water filtration systems are gaining ground as this trend builds momentum. This movement is strong on the West Coast, particularly in California, but gradually catching on elsewhere in the country.

Hutko comments, “Clients want the best in terms of taste, convenience and health, and all of this must be done in an environmentally friendly way.”

Rohl agrees: “Now more than ever, ‘green’ design is critically important to people. They want to purchase products that they feel good about yet look good, too.”

While Gross agrees that “people are concerned about the environment and filtered water,” she says they also want accessories that will save them time in the kitchen. “Instant hot water dispensers continue to gain popularity because they allow a person to do a variety of different tasks such as preparing coffee, tea, soup or oatmeal in a very short amount of time.”

There is also growth in the demand for “bottom-grids and custom-fit cutting boards,” according to Fey. “The bottom grids protect the finish of your sink bottom,” Fey adds. “Cutting boards that fit snugly on top of your sink create more usable workspace and a logical preparation area.” Fey maintains that “flexible cutting/draining platforms” are an advance in design. These accessories add temporary surface area to a kitchen.

Although manufacturers are generally optimistic, the state of the economy is on everyone’s mind today. “As this recession progresses, customers needing to update their kitchens are going to be more conscious about cost than ever before,” says Webster. Accordingly, less expensive options may attract more customers in this environment. Hope for a brighter future for this industry, however, is likely to come with innovation, efficiency, and both practical and beautiful design.

Fey believes in the future: “It’s always exciting to anticipate and deliver a new twist on something that’s been accepted as the norm for so long. The talent in the design industry is really vibrant right now. It will be interesting to see how we integrate the human function within the kitchen even more in the coming years.”

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