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2000s Archive

Living Kitchens

Part 3

Originally Published May 2000
The epicenter: everything on the kitchen sink.

In the kitchen, everything begins and ends near the sink. Its position can affect every task you perform there. The problem is, the sink is the most complicated kitchen fixture to move. So, despite the benefits of repositioning it, even the most avid remodeler will grudgingly accept the status quo.

The sink’s role has changed over time. Washing up once loomed large among its purposes, but today proportionately more of our sink time is spent preparing food. It’s time to rethink the sink—where it should be sited, how many to install, what configuration to choose, and what it should be made of—to best suit your kitchen and your work habits.

Think laterally when determining the sink’s position. Take work flows into account. Because the counter between the sink and cooktop is usually the prime prep area, the busiest in the kitchen, allot lavish space for it. The National Kitchen & Bath Association specifies a prep center at least 36 inches wide, with a useful depth of at least 16 inches—that is, 16 inches that doesn’t include canisters, small appliances, or other clutter.

Size is not critical for a prep sink (although the small, circular models currently in vogue can be confining). A cleanup sink, however, should be wide and deep enough to accommodate the most ungainly kitchen equipment—say, a salmon poacher or a full-size cookie sheet.

An island sink is grand, but don’t use it for cleanup. Dirty dishes stacked there en route to the dishwasher create an eyesore. If you must use an island for cleanup, construct a visual screen in the form of a foot-higher section of counter or a showpiece storage gallery across the middle of the island.

In most older kitchens, size and plumbing constraints translate into a single sink for both preparation and cleanup. Blessed are those who have the luxury of space and can manage separate sinks. If you’re limited to a single sink, a convenient choice might be a deep-bowl style fitted with a grid a few inches above its bottom. And designs that include sliding cutting boards, graters, and multiple sprayers help you achieve maximum workstation efficiency.

Stainless steel has supplanted enameled cast iron as America’s sink material of choice. Relatively inexpensive, easy to install and maintain, and handsome, it blends into most kitchen styles. Take note of the gauge when choosing stainless steel— the lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal. Most quality products are 18. (Thin stainless is obviously less resistant; worse, it’s noisier.) Avoid so-called mirror-finish sinks; they scratch. Instead, choose a luster finish. Most stainless-steel or enameled cast-iron sinks are intended to be under-mounted (rimless) or surface- or top-mounted (self-rimmed). Because it offers fewer crannies where gunk can hide, an under-mounted sink is better, if the countertop has enough substance to support it (laminates will not). Solid-surface sinks, bonded into matching countertops, work well, too. Because they have no joint where the sink meets the counter, they, like integral (seamless) stainless-steel sinks, are among the easiest to keep clean.