The humble kitchen sink has become a stylish fixture
Thursday, May 27, 2010
As a cookbook author, I like to think that I spend most of my time dreaming up, and then perfecting, delicious recipes: silky pasta doughs, succulent roasts, beautiful tarts.
In reality, most of my time is spent at the kitchen sink, scrubbing roasting pans, washing out the food processor and rinsing knives and prep bowls.
The 16-by-19-by-9-inch white porcelain basin is large enough to fit my big roasting pan, if not my baking sheets. Next to it is a small, shallow prep sink to capture vegetable peelings and other debris. This sounds convenient, but that prep sink is the bane of my kitchen existence. It's too small to be practical, and I am forever trying to maneuver my cutting boards and platters on an awkward angle so that I can scrape peelings and scraps into it. Usually I end up using it as a place to drain clean pots and utensils.
"We call those spittoon sinks," jokes J. Paul Lobkovich of Lobkovich Kitchen Design in Tysons Corner. Popular during the 1980s and early 1990s, those shallow ancillary scrap sinks have fallen out of favor.
"It's fair to say we've learned our lesson from those small sinks," Lobkovich says. "Now we're doing a lot of big, rectangular cleanup sinks in one area of the kitchen, and a smaller -- but not cramped -- prep sink in another area."
One thing is certain, say Lobkovich and other kitchen designers: Customers are paying more attention than ever to their kitchen sinks. It used to be that sinks ranked far behind other appliances and features (the range, the oven, the cabinets and countertops) on the list of priorities.
"These days, people are a lot more specific about what they want" with their sinks, says Gary Lancaster, president of AK Metal Fabricators in Alexandria, which makes custom stainless-steel sinks. And mostly what customers want, he says, is big. "People just want to fill the cabinet up. If they've got a 30-inch cabinet, they want a 29-inch sink. If they're serious cooks, they want to be able to fit their commercial-size sheet pans in their sink. If they like to entertain, they want to be able to stack all the dishes in their sink and not have to look at them."
It's no surprise that Lancaster touts stainless sinks, and the truth is, for people like me who cook and clean up a lot, stainless steel is probably the most practical choice. My white porcelain sink is forever getting scuffed, and it long ago lost its gleam.
Kohler recently introduced a line of sleek, stainless-steel trough-style kitchen sinks that come with an array of accessories, such as cutting boards, prep bowls that fit perfectly onto the basin, and a bottom basin rack to prevent scratches.
But other styles and materials abound as well. Basins with apron fronts (a style with an exposed front panel that evokes the tub-style sinks once typically found in farmhouse kitchens) continue to be popular. They come in any number of materials, from stainless steel or porcelain to soapstone, cast-iron or copper, though Lobkovich eschews copper as too high-maintenance. "Within a week they look all brown and mottled, like a pig trough on a farm," he says.
Cathy and Doug MacLatchy are avid cooks. When the Reston couple's old kitchen was damaged in a flood, they hired Lobkovich to design a new one and had him incorporate not one, or two, but four kitchen sinks, all in stainless steel: two large, rectangular (16-by-24-inch) scullery sinks along one counter, an 18-inch square prep sink at the end of a long island, and a 13-by-18-inch sink in the bar area.
The scullery sinks are side-by-side mirror image sinks, with tall faucets and matching hand soap and dish soap dispensers. "Primarily, we wanted to be able to get stuff off our counter," says Cathy MacLatchy.
For Shannon Stimson, who owns a restored farmhouse in Fauquier County, aesthetics were a big part of the equation, though not all of it. She chose a white apron-front ceramic sink in part for the contrast it provides to her dark gray soapstone countertops. The white ceramic is also a perfect match for her English-style kitchen, with its vaulted ceiling and thick wooden beams. But the sink has its practical purposes as well. It's big enough to double as a washtub for her small dog.
"I wanted something that would always look clean, even though 20 minutes ago I might have washed my Jack Russell terrier in it," she says, laughing.
For her small adjoining pantry, she selected a painted sink with a rooster motif. "That was entirely an aesthetic thing," Stimson says. "It's not the kind of sink I would put in an everyday kitchen. The bottom line is, you have to go with what works for you. Sinks matter."
Marchetti is the author of "Big Night In" and "The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy." Follow @domenicacooks on Twitter.