Sinks and Faucets Balance Form & Function

Functionality and utility are essential when it comes to the kitchen sink area. If a faucet sprays water everywhere or is difficult to keep clean, or a sink can’t accommodate the needs of the user, the water station fails, no matter how attractive the design. Additionally, the water station may need to incorporate extra accessories such as instant hot, water purification systems, etc., and may also have to address special needs or water conservation issues. And, value continues to be a high priority.

At the same time, consumers expect a clean, aesthetically pleasing design that will enhance the overall look of the kitchen, while sometimes incorporating more features in a smaller space.

Balancing both sets of needs is key, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN. “It’s not enough to be beautiful; that’s a given. A quality product is desirable in the sink and faucet area as consumers are remodeling for the long term and are not just upgrading to turn over.

“If a cheap sink causes you to replace an entire stone countertop in five years, it’s just not worth it,” says Christy Emens, marketing manager for Blanco in Lumberton, NJ.

Ann Rottinghaus, marketing communication director for the Oak Brook, IL-based Elkay, agrees that utility is key. “By some estimates, you’re likely to spend 70 percent of your time in the kitchen standing in front of the sink. This area needs to be extremely hard working and complement the homeowner’s personal sense of style. It’s simply not enough to satisfy one or the other need today.”

COORDINATED EFFORTS

Faucet and sink trends don’t exist in a vacuum, and the overall design of the kitchen plays a major role in the sink and faucet choices. “When homeowners remodel a kitchen, they generally decide on the overall design first and then buy a faucet that is consistent with their overall design vision,” says David Emmons, product manager for Ginger/Newport Brass/Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA. “If kitchen designs move toward clean lines and less ornamentation, then faucet manufacturers will begin to develop more minimalist transitional and contemporary designs that are compatible with that motif.”

Laura Garland, product manager – Wholesale Kitchen, at Moen Inc. in North Olmstead, OH agrees. “Faucets now coordinate with popular appliance finishes like stainless steel and black for a completely coordinated appearance. In addition, as interest in modern design grows, so does the trend toward modern faucets,” she says.

Judd Lord, director of industrial design at Delta Faucet Co. in Indianapolis, IN adds, “When it comes to kitchen design as a whole, designers and homeowners are ditching clutter and ornamentation to streamline the space and create a clean, seamless feel.” This desire for clean, simple lines carries over into faucet designs, he adds.

Rottinghaus says that the landscape of a kitchen at large drives the choice of colors, textures and shapes to build out the room. Texture and color in sinks can enhance the larger kitchen scheme. “In the end, the emphasis is on personal style, and today, achieving personalization is painless with so many fabulous choices in the marketplace,” she adds.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Finish preferences for faucets and accessories remain consistent with past trends, with stainless steel, brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze and chrome topping the lists. Lord says, “Stainless steel remains the dominant finish choice for appliances and fixtures, though finishes can vary significantly by manufacturer.” In addition, he notes, “Traditional warm, bronze finishes are also gaining in popularity again, though we’re seeing a specific interest in blending these traditional finishes with more contemporary architectures.”

Emmons believes the top choices remain so in part because most manufacturers offer a limited selection of finishes on their kitchen products. “Homeowners are looking for unique ways to express their individual design style, and having the ability to choose from a wide variety of finishes allows them to accomplish their design vision. Our brand is experiencing growth in finishes such as oil-rubbed bronze and antique nickel, which have traditionally been popular in the bathroom but are not offered by most manufacturers in the kitchen,” he says.

Michelle Gross, director of channel marketing and communications at the Racine, WI-based InSinkErator says her firm also continues to see satin nickel and chrome as the two top sellers, with oil-rubbed bronze third. “These sales trends mirror kitchen faucets for obvious reasons – people want their secondary faucet (instant hot water dispenser) to match or coordinate with their primary faucet.”

MAXIMIZING SPACE

Home sizes are trending toward a smaller footprint, which sometimes means a smaller kitchen space to work with. Even when this isn’t the case, the space must be maximized. “Regardless of size, the kitchen plays a much more central role in today’s home, serving as not only the food prep area, but the living room, dining room, office and craft area,” says Garland.

Rottinghaus agrees. “We know that homes are shrinking overall; however, the space devoted to the kitchen typically is not. This reinforces the abiding value associated with the kitchen space, and the fact that more activities are moving into the kitchen, which requires valuable square footage to work even harder,” she says.

Lord says that variety in size seems to be increasingly important in the faucet market. “There is simply no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ for faucets. Many of our collections include a number of models designed for various configurations and spaces,” he states.

Emmons reports there’s a general shift toward kitchen faucets with higher profile spouts. “Taller spouts provide additional clearance for maneuvering large pots and pans around the sink area, improving workflow and efficiency,” he states.

In the high-end market, Emens has seen increased interest in smaller sinks, such as the firm’s 16" Precision sink. “Smaller kitchens with less counter space require a sink that’s more narrow so that there’s room for a faucet behind,” she says. “Delicate stone and marble countertops can be cut to fit this sink without getting too thin.”

functional specialties

With the rise in streamlined designs, a pull-out or pull-down faucet is becoming essential, eliminating the need for a separate side spray while offering convenience. “Pull-out faucets are continuing to grow in popularity,” says Paul Flowers, senior v.p. of design for German-based Grohe. “Homeowners are continuing to demand more choices in pull-outs as they are essential to any modern kitchen.”

Garland attributes the fast growing category of pull-down faucets to a number of factors. First, she says, consumers like the streamlined look, and the need to drill just one hole in a solid surface countertop, providing a sleek, clutter-free appearance. Additionally, she says, “once consumers try a pull down, they appreciate the greater functionality it offers.”

Awareness of the need for products that fit homeowners of every age and ability is on the rise, as well, and at the forefront of many manufacturers’ minds. “While Universal Design is, by definition, good design meant for any and all age groups, the resurgence of this design practice among the design community is increasingly important as the Baby Boomer generation ages and more families consider multigenerational households,” says Lord. As a result, he notes that Delta Faucet is placing a growing emphasis on touch technology.

Emmons states that aging in place and Universal Design are contributing factors to the increased popularity of pull-down faucets. “The lever handles on most pull-down faucets are ADA compliant and can be easily activated with one hand using an ergonomic single-handle motion.”

According to Garland, technologies for the kitchen focus on utility and ease-of-use. Things that make life simpler – such as improved pull-down technology, finishes that minimize cleaning and filtering faucets – are all key trends, she says.

Emens says that none of the technologies emerging in the faucet and water accessory areas are new – innovations such as hands-free faucets and temperature sensors have been around for a long time in the commercial market, but are more recently being marketed for home use. “Meaningful use of technology or engineering is going to impact the future, versus new technology,” she says.

There is a growing demand for ADA-compliant sinks in addition to faucets, reports Rottinghaus, attributing this demand to increasing general awareness of the aging population, and an eye toward resale. “What is relatively new is the demand for attractive, less institutional-looking ADA sink models,” she adds. “For example, popular single-bowl, undermount sinks with the full complement of matching accessories are in demand at ADA depths. “

APPEALING EXTRAS

The accessories that designers add to a project will, of course, vary dependent on the needs of the homeowner. But some add-ons are quickly gaining a foothold as “must-haves” or “most wanted.”

Wall-mounted pot-fillers are one example, becoming increasingly common in larger kitchens, according to Emmons. “Mounted by the stove, they make it easy to fill a pot for pasta or add water to soups. In addition to being a status symbol, pot fillers can save time.”

Another benefit, he adds, is safety. “Pot fillers eliminate the need to carry a heavy pot of water across the kitchen that can spill at any time. This is particularly useful for older or disabled people who might not have the strength to carry heavy pots from one location to another.

Garland adds, “As the trend for professionally inspired kitchens continues to grow, so does the desire for pot fillers.”

Water filtration is another growing demand. “People are concerned about water quality for a variety of reasons – one of which is the migration to outlying communities where households rely on unregulated wells – so water filtration at point-of-use (at or under the sink) is something we’re seeing increased demand for,” says Gross. “For some, it’s a desire for greater assurance regarding contaminants and, for others, simply the desire for better-tasting water. “

Products that make work easier or that improve organization are also in high demand, manufacturers say.

Emens states, “When beauty is a given, the functional or usable design details make a difference.” Examples include sinks with built-in cutting boards and colanders, faucets with tangle-free hoses and magnetic hook ups, and integrated composting systems. Emens adds that open kitchen and entertaining areas have increased the need for secondary entertaining sinks with integrated accessories for serving and prepping.

Garland also sees this trend. “Second sinks are becoming more prevalent on center islands, so the cook can interact with the family while prepping or cleaning up from a meal,” she says.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS

New regulations, along with a growing awareness of conservation issues, are having a significant impact on the kitchen industry. Kitchen faucets are no exception, says Emmons. “The challenge for manufacturers is to continue to deliver reliable, dependable faucets that meet the demanding requirements of the kitchen, while also conserving water. The objective is to deliver more, by using less,” he adds.

Lord agrees. “Water conservation plays an important role in the design of our products and technologies,” he says. “It’s not enough for a faucet to offer water savings; it has to deliver on the performance expectations as well. Consumers are demanding high-quality, efficient products that don’t cause them to sacrifice time or experience.”

“Consumers are more aware of features such as low flow and WaterSense endorsement and desire those features regardless of zip code,” adds Rottinghaus. “Certainly more areas of the country are affected by water supply; however, our belief is that most homeowners are becoming more socially mindful and concerned about consumption and sustainability in general.” KBDN

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