The kitchen is a hotbed of activity in the household, with a need for work spaces that can accommodate a variety of functions, often in increasingly smaller spaces. So it’s no surprise that today’s sinks and faucets are evolving along with the kitchen, moving beyond their typical limits with a plethora of accessories and design elements.
Designers are charged with creating sink and faucet layouts that not only facilitate use, but also incorporate both work style needs and aesthetic preferences of the homeowners. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.
“People are looking at long-lasting, quality products that will endure in terms of style as well as function,” says Naomi Neilson Howard, founder/CEO of Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, CA. “Those are the kitchen products that make us all feel good to be around and at the same time are a smart investment.”
Diana Schrage, senior interior designer at the Kohler Design Center in Kohler, WI, agrees: “When consumers commit to a kitchen update, they’re seeking out products designed to be both beautiful and durable – they want something that will last.”
There is also a big trend toward expanding the concept of the sink or faucet beyond its current boundaries, according to Christy Emens, marketing manager for Blanco in Lumberton, NJ. As an example of this, she cites her firm’s Modex sink, with usable workspace for draining, prepping and cleaning, as well as an integrated cutting board and a dual directional drainer, which helps to provide a complete work station.
Aesthetics, too, continue to play a critical role in sinks and faucets, and there has been an explosion of design, says Jim Nowakowski, managing partner of Marketing Representatives LLC, in Palatine IL, which represents Webert Italian Design faucets in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Manufacturers are not only using internal designers, but also seeking outside designers, which helps create products that are different, he says.
Manufacturers intereviewed agree that while the way kitchen sinks and faucets work is critical, the need for styles and finishes that appeal to the visual tastes of designers and consumers can’t be ignored. “The kitchen is a place most people spend a good amount of time – and it’s also usually quite visible, especially with open floor plans being so popular. Great kitchens today are often placing the main sink as the focal point of the room – and the look of the sink is as important as its functionality,” says Howard.
She finds texture and “textural tones” that warm up the kitchen to be quite popular. “There is often a lot of technology in today’s kitchens, as well as simple, clean lines, and earthy materials like hammered copper or nickel can do a lot to soften the whole look of the space and turn it into a kitchen where everyone wants to spend time,” Howard says. “Our apron front sinks in hand hammered brushed nickel are being used a lot to add texture and ‘wow factor’ to a kitchen that might be heavy on stainless steel appliances.”
Stainless continues to have a hold on the market, manufacturers say. “Stainless steel has been a primary sink material of choice for 50-plus years,” says Ann Rottinghaus, marketing communication director for Elkay, based in Oak Brook, IL. “It’s durable, attractive and neutral in color value. And, quite simply, it works. For appliances, stainless steel is the standard for color/material value and, as a result, stainless steel sinks and faucets have only increased in popularity.”
Schrage adds, “Stainless steel holds its own fan base with hush coats diminishing sound and new shapes and profiles that satisfy the need for a design statement as well as superb function.”
Although stainless may still be king, there is a rise in other materials and finishes as well, some manufacturers say. Emens, for instance, says, “Natural stone looks with long-term durability are really popular,” adding that the company’s cafe brown, anthracite and truffle (a warm grey neutral) are the most popular looks in Blanco’s Silgranit II line. Blanco’s newest color, Cinder, follows the trend that offers a warm grey that has browns and blacks in it – helping it both stand out and integrate with other elements in the kitchen, she adds.
Ken Fey, v.p./COO of Houzer, Inc. in Hamilton, NJ says, “Stainless steel continues to command over 70% of the material category in kitchen sinks; however, granite composite sinks are unrelenting in their increasing popularity and continue to gain more share each year.” The finish for this type of sink varies, he says, with the optimal mix one that is non-porous with a smooth feel to ensure ease in cleaning and less chance of harboring bacteria.
Faucets must coordinate with the chosen look and style of the sink, and are most often finished in chrome or stainless steel, say manufacturers. There is, however, some uptick in using finishes that help personalize the look of the kitchen.
David Emmons, product manager for Brasstech, Inc. in Santa Ana, CA says, “Although chrome and stainless steel remain the most popular finishes, we are seeing an increase in demand for specialty antique brass, nickel and copper finishes which allow the homeowner to customize their décor to meet their unique design vision.
Schrage sees a growing interest in oil-rubbed bronze, which is available on over 400 of Kohler’s products. “Those who appreciate its warmth and Old World appeal want to create a cohesive look throughout the space, and making the finish available on a wide array of products and accessories makes it easy,” she says.
Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet Co.’s Brizo brand, says that warm finishes – particularly Brushed Bronze, Polished Nickel and Venetian Bronze – are being used more often, particularly on what many would consider more contemporary styles. “It’s an intriguing use of these finishes to make the easy-to-clean, updated contemporary look warmer, more friendly and inviting. For a long time, walk into a kitchen, and all you would see was a wash of stainless steel. Now, homeowners are more willing to mix and match dark with light and cool with warm by incorporating multiple finishes in the same space.”
In recent years, there has been more talk about touch technology in faucets – whether hands-free or operated by a simple touch. Emmons says that, to date, touch faucet technology seems to have only had moderate success in the market. However, he says, he expects this technology to continue to increase in popularity, at a slow growth rate.
Bob Rodenbeck, director of research and development at Delta Faucet Co., says touch technologies are increasing in popularity because they bring ease of use, convenience and functionality to the kitchen. They also help save water.
“Faucets featuring these technologies are very easy to turn on and off, with consumers more likely to turn the water off between tasks. This technology also employs an automatic shutoff feature so the water turns off when it’s not needed,” he adds.
Kohler’s newly launched Sensate touchless kitchen faucet was also designed to free up hands to allow for easily moving between tasks without having to stop and turn the water on and off. “Response, the technology we developed for Sensate, is incredibly precise; the sensor responds in 20 milliseconds,” she adds.
By contrast, Webert tends to be more traditional in its technology, Nowakowski says. He adds that electronics tend to automate the process, and something is lost with that route, both personally and in sustainability – if the faucet turns on when you didn’t want it to, for instance. “I don’t know if electronics will ever be prevalent in the kitchen,” he says.
While the standard full-size kitchen sink still remains on top, there are many smaller options for those wishing to get creative with their space. There are also plenty of choices for faucet styles and shapes, as well as work space configurations to best suit users’ needs.
With a move toward smaller kitchens, work areas must be adjusted accordingly. “Gone are the days of the ‘McMansion,’” says Lord. “People are ‘right sizing’ their homes with spaces that fit their lifestyles without a lot of excess. As a result, interior elements that take up less physical and visual space are increasing in demand.”
Single-handle, single-hole mount kitchen faucets can help meet this need, he says, taking up minimal counter space while still allowing for ornate accents.
Nowakowski adds that, as spaces get smaller, people’s needs change. Manufacturers, then, must look to create something that’s not only new but still functional, such as Webert’s 360° faucet that, rather than pulling out, rotates in every direction. “As space shrinks, you don’t need a pull-out that stretches three or four feet,” says Nowakowski.
The size and layout of sinks is also seeing some shifts. Howard says, “Typically, we are seeing a primary sink anywhere from 28" to 36" wide and a secondary prep sink, often in a different material. It’s a way to get creative and show personality in the kitchen – at least one of the two sinks is often handmade or artistic.”
While double bowls are still the most requested, single-bowl configurations are on the rise, says Fey. “The sheer work area of a large single-bowl kitchen sink cannot be denied,” he says, adding that double-bowl designs are trending more toward a 60/40 split than the standard 50/50, due to the more flexible work space.
Emens adds that unique shapes allow homeowners to move toward the single bowl without losing the comfort of the double-bowl shape. “Homeowners need a transition from the double bowl, which has become obsolete as far as utility but which still offers a comfort level and familiarity. Homeowners who feel they need that separation in the sink now have more options with multi-level sinks.”
Schrage says Kohler has learned through market research that homeowners prefer kitchen sinks with a unique basin shape, for both aesthetic and functional reasons. “While we continue to see large homes and even multiple kitchens, the unique uses of the space do demand specific functions from the sinks and faucets chosen,” she adds.
LIGHTENING THE LOAD
Working harder than necessary doesn’t top anyone’s to do list, and work in the kitchen is no exception. Consumers are looking for designs and products that make their jobs easier, and it’s up to designers to point them in the right direction.
Rottinghaus says consumers are looking for products that solve everyday problems like keeping the sink clean or organizing frequently used items around the sink. “When you think about it, a person spends a lot of time at the primary kitchen sink; whether cleaning, preparing or just rinsing, the tasks can take a lot of time,” she says..
Schrage adds, “The kitchen is a very demanding environment. It’s all about adding hard-working elements that seamlessly integrate into the product design so the space works better and looks better, too.” Products must be easy to use, she continues, and faucets with a pull-down design fit the bill, continuing to be a popular choice.
Fey also sees a rise in cutting boards custom-fit to the sink. “The added work space allowed by these increases overall efficiency in the kitchen, freeing up valuable counter space,” he says. Bottom grids are also being purchased more frequently, he adds, as they not only protect the bottom of the sink from scratches and dents, but can double as a colander and rinse station while keeping food off the bottom of the sink.
Emens adds that while there aren’t a lot of new technologies on the market, the re-tasking of existing technology, along with smart engineering, is key. “Designers should make it a point to look at accessories for sinks. We hear from designers all the time that customers pick a sink simply for an added feature like a drainboard, grid or capflow, something small that makes a big difference in lifestyle or ease of use.”
EASE OF USE
This necessity for easy-to-use spaces carries over into the conversation about Universal Design. Whether a remodel or new construction, with the rise of people staying in their homes longer, the aging Baby Boomer population and the increase in multi-generational homes, designers are constantly considering how to make the spaces work better for everyone.
“Bigger is not always better when it comes to Universal Design and aging in place,” says Emens. “Comfortable sink depths of 8" with a faucet that has a flexible hose for large pots work better for mature consumers. A sleek pull-out or pull-down faucet combined with a lower-depth sink makes for less lifting and bending – while losing no functionality.”
Rodenbeck says, “We consider the needs of our consumers at every age to make sure our products and technologies are easy to use.” He cited Brizo’s SmartTouch Technology, which allows for turning the faucet on or off with a tap anywhere on the faucet, as being suited for those with mobility issues or difficulty in reaching a faucet handle.
Keeping future needs in mind has led to a rise in some products, such as pull-down faucets and pot fillers, manufacturers say. Emmons says that pull-down faucets continue to grow in popularity, at the expense of stand-alone faucets with side sprays. Pull-downs must have spray engines that are easy to toggle between spray and stream modes, and handles should be large enough to be easy to grasp, he adds.
There can be an emotional component when planning for a future that includes future challenges, too, says Rottinghaus. “I feel there’s something that happens emotionally when we as adults are forced to plan for circumstances that we don’t really want to face – inevitable challenges for living in our current homes safely, comfortably and, most importantly, independently,” she states. “Elkay has a full portfolio of sinks and faucets that are not only ADA-compliant, but are also elegantly designed to accommodate limitations. Shallower depths, off-set drains for side-mounted faucets and more are part of the adaptation of the looks/styles we enjoy today, but adjusted for ease of use by all, regardless of physical state. Perhaps that’s a better outlook – creating environments that can be enjoyed by all.”