Sinks With Style

Sinks With Style

By Denise Vermeulen

According to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, the commercial look shows no sign of losing ground. However, despite the continued strength of stainless steel in the kitchen, solid surface also remains a strong choice, and there seems to be a growing interest in cast iron, as well.

Additionally, busy Americans are demanding convenience and options in their kitchens, and sink and faucet trends illustrate their desire to customize their kitchens with an eye toward both beauty and practicality right down to the water accessories and soap dispensers. 

Shining on
Manufacturers agree that the popularity of metallic finishes in kitchen sinks, faucets and water accessories shows no sign of waning. "Stainless steel sinks are huge in this industry," says Chuck Burhans, president of Blanco America, in Cinnaminson, NJ. Adding that stainless sinks are selling at a rate six times greater than colored sinks, Burhans says that the trend has violated logic, selling almost five million units annually. "The trend," says Burhans, "probably started in early '96 and appears to be losing no momentum whatsoever!" Burhans is seeing the same trend with regard to faucets, with sales "dramatically skewed toward stainless steel."

Tom Smith, president, Kitchen Systems Division, Franke Consumer Products, in Hatfield, PA, agrees the professional restaurant-style stainless look is still very hot. He adds, "The satin finish of the high-end stainless sink blends well with the trend toward stainless kitchen appliances." 

Smith also says, "The most popular finishes for kitchen faucets include satin and satin nickel combinations." Smith points out that one main advantage to these finishes is that they are non-tarnishing. He adds that other non-tarnishing finishes, such as Franke's "titanium" finishes, are gaining in popularity because of that feature.

Kindred Industries' product development and marketing manager Rick Brown agrees. "We all recognize that stainless steel is still very much a hot item in the kitchen," he says. Brown also notes a trend toward using a sink in a traditional or country style, but in a stainless steel finish. 

Brown points out that satin nickel is also a very popular finish. "[Satin Nickel] is a very soft finish, almost burnished, and [it] has a glow to it, as opposed to the highly reflective look of stainless steel." Brown notes that Kindred, which is based in Midland, Ontario, Canada, is working to develop a soft, brushed finish on its stainless steel products that will be easy to maintain but less likely to scratch.

"Chrome, chrome, chrome," says Patrick McQuillan, product manager for The Chicago Faucet Co. in Des Plaines, IL, when asked about the most popular finishes for kitchen faucets. "Chrome," he says, "outweighs all others by about three to one." He notes, however, that he's seeing an increase in popularity of the PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) quality finish. 

Delta Faucet product development manager Angie Coffman agrees, and notes that the Indianapolis, IN-based company introduced a new line of finishes in January to meet the growing demand for PVDs. Delta's "Brilliance" line includes polished brass, pearl nickel and stainless steel finishes, each with a lifetime guarantee. 

"PVDs are very popular now in the faucet category and rightly so," agrees Blanco America's Burhans. The new technology is designed to eliminate discoloration and disintegration of the finish, he explains.

A solid touch
While stainless steel continues to be a major trend, solid surface sinks remain a popular item, as well. As Mark Webster, president of Plexicor, manufacturers of Karran sinks in Annapolis, MD, notes, "stainless steel is strong right now as a fashion trend in kitchens, but [I believe it] will be a short-lived trend." Webster explains that "solid surface sinks are gaining popularity with more and more competitors in the field, and [the ones that are both affordable and easy to maintain] will be the sink of choice in the near future." 

Webster notes, however, "some people are still cautious of solid surface sinks because of price and some difficulty in keeping the sink looking like new."

The most popular colors in the solid surface field today are whites and shades of white, he maintains. However, he adds that bisques and bones are "increasing their share of the market rapidly."

Patrick Owens, specialty retail marketing manager for DuPont Corian in Wilmington, DE, agrees that the predominant color choices for solid surface sinks is white, or shades of white. Owens points out, too, that consumers are screaming not so much for style but for functionality. To this end, one major trend he sees is consumers purchasing sinks without the faucet deck, which reduces clutter and simplifies cleaning.

Owens contends that one of the major advantages of the solid surface sink is that it is more hygienic because it lacks seams and is non-porous.

'"There's no way for germs to get into crevices and grow," he explains. 

DuPont Corian is also seeing demand for deeper between 9" and 10" and larger (36" cabinet bases) sinks. He adds that the single bowl is selling primarily in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Southwest, with the company also receiving more requests for solid surface secondary sinks. "We're getting more requests for sinks in non-traditional places such as the kitchen island and bar areas," Owens notes. 

But the biggest trend Owens has seen lately sheds light on today's consumer. "The biggest change from the past is that instead of selling, consumers are buying," says Owens. "Consumers want to be educated so they can make the decisions," he adds. 

The deep end
The trend toward double bowls in kitchen sinks remains strong, according to manufacturers, as does the demand for deep sinks, multiple sinks and undermounts. Likewise, consumers are looking for sinks that are both easy to clean and durable. Kindred Industries' Brown makes the point that the dishwasher has become a standard appliance in most kitchens, leaving the sink for the real dirty work. Large stockpots, broiler pans and the like are among the items we find ourselves cleaning in the sink today. So, the trend toward larger sinks and double bowls makes sense.

"The American consumer is much more interested in larger, deeper bowls," says Burhans, referring to the demand he's seen for 10" deep sinks. 

"Double bowls remain as popular as ever particularly the large-bowl, small-bowl combination," according to Plexicor's Webster. "The deeper the bowls, the better," he adds, confirming the observations of other manufacturers. Webster also mentions, however, that he has seen an increase in popularity of large single bowls measuring 33"x22".

Brown notes that the undermount sink, developed about a decade ago, works well with the solid surface countertops and has become a popular item. Webster agrees: "Undermounts are the king." He adds, "Everyone wants integral undermounts. Top mounts are always used for laminates, but if people are doing tile, concrete or solid surface, they always want the undermount."

Secondary sinks continue to be a hot item, as well. After all, comments Brown, the sink is the most functional piece of equipment in your kitchen. ("Are there any days you don't at least run the water?" he asks.) 

Smith says, "The secondary sink often island mounted is more stylish and offers pure water and an additional disposer."

The "hospitality" or "bar sink" category is one that is also growing rapidly, according to Burhans. He maintains that the growth in this area has been dramatic, and consumers are asking for their secondary sinks to have matching shapes and faucets with the kitchen sink.

All of the manufacturers surveyed agreed that consumers continue to be concerned about the durability of products and demand they be easy to clean. And stainless steel advocates believe that stainless steel products likely owe much of their popularity to these two factors.

Other options
Aside from the metallic finishes, manufacturers agree that they are seeing a variety of new trends with regard to kitchen faucets, perhaps the biggest of these being the trend toward the single-lever faucet. 

President of KWC Faucets Tim Mullally says, "Our customers clearly prefer our single-lever faucets over our two-handle faucets." He adds, "The convenience, as well as the water and energy saving aspects of a single-lever faucetare appealing to the discriminating consumer." Mullally, whose company is located in Norcross, GA, sees this trend as dovetailing with the trend toward adding kitchen accessories to enhance the sink area's functionality, noting that, "the single-lever faucet only requires one hole, freeing up two or three holes for popular accessories."

"They are all going with a single-lever [faucet]," agrees Burhans. "It's absolutely not a contest." 

Delta's Coffman concurs: "The majority of our sales about 75% is single-handle faucets." She adds that the design and functionality of the one-handle faucet makes it easier to operate. 

According to Franke's Smith, "In the high-end design community, the popularity of the single-handle faucet is overwhelming. The [only] exception," he adds, "would be with the old world, country design sinks."

The Chicago Faucet Company's McQuillan adds, "Designers are going for heavy-duty, pre-rinse sprays, kettle fillers and pot fillers" to enhance the kitchen experience.

Pull-out sprays also remain a popular option, and manufacturers are paying attention to this product. Delta introduced a product in this category in early 2000 that proved to be very successful. Offering two styles, a waterfall style that has a high arc and one with a more standard arc, Delta also improved the hardware to avoid leakage, which has been a problem with pull-outs, according to Coffman. She adds that the improved ergonomics of the design allows for greater motion and easier spraying, and the high arc comes in handy with deeper sinks.

Likewise, Blanco America is looking to differentiate its pull-out sprays from the look-alikes on the market. "Faucets with pull-out hand sprays are certainly a major segment of our faucet business," explains Burhans. He adds that his company will introduce a new design in the spring.

KWC Faucets has also differentiated its pull-out spray faucet and experienced strong demand for it. According to Mullally, the company's pull-out spray faucet enables the user to clean out debris and mineral deposits without tools, includes a button on the spray that allows users to lock the spray for repetitive tasks, and has a new material on the spray face that resists mineral deposits.

Just as sinks and faucets must coordinate with the rest of the kitchen, Brown of Kindred Industries says that the fastest selling accessories are stainless steel, to coordinate with the other kitchen items. The most popular accessories, Brown asserts, are those that are either protective (i.e. they protect sinks from scratching) or useful in food preparation. 

For instance, Kindred introduced wire bottom grids for the sink about five years ago and he notes that the company can barely keep up with the business. The company is also selling a lot of hardwood cutting boards (a popular choice for those with undermount sinks), stainless steel colanders that fit in the sink bowl, stainless steel dish racks and matching lotion and soap dispensers.

Jim Tomafsky, v.p./sales and marketing for Mountain Plumbing Products of West Deptford, NJ, agrees that consumers are looking to buy soap and lotion dispensers that are coordinated with the metallic finishes of the sinks and faucets. "Everything is matching today," says Tomafsky. His company even manufactures a disposer collar and decorative strainer to match the sink and faucet finishes. 

Many consumers are also reconsidering their options when it comes to drinking water. According to Marisue Eisner, retail channel manager of Culligan, Consumer Markets Division, "The trends in filtration mirror major consumer trends in other product categories." She explains that Americans are focusing on achieving a healthy lifestyle, and realize that they need to drink more water and they want their water to be healthy and convenient. 

Eisner says that consumers are looking for water filtration systems that are "easy to install, with filters that are easy to change." To that end, Culligan offers filter monitors that remind customers when it is time to change the filter. KBDN