Bathroom Sink Shopping

As bathrooms evolve into more than just necessary rooms, a plain porcelain bowl is no longer a given. Here's how to choose an intriguing sink that can be a focal point in a well-appointed bathroom.

When planning your bath decor, make the sink the focal point.

In times past, a bathroom sink was little more than a bowl in which to wash your hands. Today, homeowners who remodel their bathrooms are wanting -- and getting -- more from styles that range from fun to functional to furniturelike. When it's time to look for a new sink, you'll need to know your drop-ins from your undermounts to ensure you pick the perfect sink for your situation.

There are nearly as many sink styles, and variances on styles, as there are colors in which to order them. Take some time to evaluate your needs before embarking on your sink search. How big is your bathroom? Are you counting on extra storage under the sink? Are you after a formal look, a rustic one, or one that fits somewhere in between?

Try sketching some ideas. They don't have to be artists' renderings, just a guide to help you and your designer evaluate the kinds of fixtures that will best fit your situation. A sink need not be an afterthought. You can use color, pattern, style, size, and other variables to make it the centerpiece of your bathroom design.

"Even if you haven't done any shopping yet and just have a rough idea of what you want, the sink you'd like to find is probably out there," says Julia Diaz, a kitchen designer in California's San Fernando Valley area. "A few years ago, some of the major companies started creating sinks that looked like they could be hanging in a gallery somewhere. When I was little, you'd go into someone's bathroom and there would just be a white, round sink. Today, the white, round sink is the exception."

Jeanine DeVaney, a designer in Charlotte, North Carolina, says bathroom fixtures make it easy for a homeowner to create a room that not only functions optimally, but also looks elegant or striking or whimsical -- or all three. "Anything goes in bathrooms today," DeVaney says. "Most often, though, if you have a really striking sink, that will be what people notice and comment on. In many instances, the bathroom accessories revolve around that sink."

Designers say the only real limitation with regard to sink choice is preference. Although some sinks work better than others in certain situations, most can be adapted to fit any remodeled bathroom.

"You have certain instances when a type of sink that's plumbed in a certain way won't work, but if you have no plumbing constraints, you're usually OK with any type you choose," Diaz says. "Sure, you have some that just don't look right in certain circumstances. But in terms of an absolute 'no' situation, you just don't see too many of those. Size and the kind of plumbing you have really are the only deterrents when it comes to style."

Pedestal sinks are an almost universal "yes" choice, DeVaney says. "There are so many styles available, and whether you have a small or large bath, there are sizes that are perfect for the room you have," she notes. "The great thing about a pedestal sink is that it looks really striking no matter what style you're after. There are deco ones and retro ones and ones that look Victorian and just about any other style you want. For the most part, they're just usually very classy and have a great shape."

If the styles are so numerous and varied that you're having a hard time determining just what sink you want, consider these suggestions from the designers:

Pedestal sinks are perfect for small bathrooms because they use less floor space than their bulkier counterparts.
  • Consider your storage needs and installation options. Vanity cabinets and built-in cabinetry offer the best storage options. Choosing your vanity or cabinetry first will help you select the type, size, and shape of basin that will fit. A pedestal sink, while a practical solution for most bathrooms, can feature a generous bowl but little sink decking or storage. If you're set on a pedestal sink and your remodeling project doesn't include plans for a closet or shelving unit, you should rethink your plan. Even the smallest bathroom will need some display or storage space. Try a decorative medicine cabinet, small set of shelves, or storage cart.
Undermount sinks feature a bowl made of separate material from the surrounding countertop or vanity.
  • Keep in mind that solid countertops, such as marble, granite, or wood, will allow for undermounted basin installation. Such installation maximizes the countertop area, and the seamless design is easy to keep clean.
An ornate sink looks best when other bathroom fixtures complement it.
  • Consider coordinating your sink and toilet. If your sink is highly stylized, you'll probably want your other fixtures to match. For instance, if your budget allows, pair a wrought-iron pedestal sink with a retro-style toilet and claw-foot tub.
Integral sinks are constructed as part of the countertop surrounding them.
  • Go over your plans with a plumber to identify any problems before you plan to install your sink yourself. Most consumers are unlikely to know, for instance, that freestanding bowl sinks are usually made without an overflow, so they must be fitted with a grid drain. Before you tear into your wall or floor, make sure you know how to do the job.
  • Consider a style that fools the eye if space is at a premium and you don't care for the pedestal look. A console sink, for example, provides the illusion of space because its front is open. Cabinets and vanities, while providing a rich, furniturelike look, may take up too much space in small baths.
Drop-in sinks are placed from above into a vanity or countertop, with cabinet space underneath.
  • Keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of various materials. Bathroom sinks are available in almost any material, including porcelain, enameled cast iron, vitreous china, stainless steel, brass, nickel, copper, marble, and granite. As a rule of thumb, hand-painted finishes are more delicate by nature and require special cleaning attention. Vitreous china is quite durable and features a smooth, easy-to-clean finish. Marble and granite, while among the most expensive materials, last the longest and require little upkeep.
Bowl-style sinks are composed of a separate bowl sitting on top of a counter or pedestal.
  • Don't forget about faucets. The hardware that will complement your sink is as important to your overall design as the sink itself. Today's faucets are fashion accessories, running the gamut of styles and materials from simple and streamlined to ornate and adorned. Make sure the materials and styles match the sink, and pay attention to faucet height. For instance, bowl or basin sinks require a spout that is long and high enough to reach the bowl -- but not so high that the water splatters when it hits the bottom of the basin. A bathroom designer can help you determine the perfect height.
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