If the countertops and cabinetry are the show horses of the average kitchen, then the sink is probably the plow mule.
It's one of the hardest-working components of the room — a repository for food shavings, hand sanitation and dishwasher overflow. Fashion isn't usually a priority.
Until recently. Big-ticket home improvement projects are on the upswing after shrinking in the recession, according to Dana Hudson, the divisional merchandise manager for kitchens at Home Depot.
Spending on home improvement and repair likely broke records last year, according to a recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
Roughly 9% of the $76.1-billion U.S. remodeling industry focuses on kitchens, resulting in $6.8 billion in revenue a year, according to a June study from research firm IBISWorld. On average, smaller projects that upgrade a single part of the kitchen cost customers $3,207, while larger overhauls cost $18,097.
With more discretionary funds directed toward remodeling, sinks are becoming a major focal point in the kitchen.
"The remodel business is definitely moving at a healthy clip," Hudson said. "There's a lot of excitement about freshening up the kitchen. There's so much more personalization."
Here, some options for swanky sinks:
Shaker chic is "huge" right now, and apron sinks fit nicely into the rural farmhouse aesthetic, Hudson said.
Instead of being fully embedded into the countertop, the front piece of the sink is entirely exposed. Keeping a bare slab of sink visible is a sneaky way to show off materials such as porcelain, stainless steel or copper — all of which are popular in the apron design.
"It's simple, it's approachable, it feels like you're at home," Hudson said.
The Whitehaven Kitchen Sink by Kohler has been an especially strong seller, she said.
More sinks are coming ready-made with add-ons, according to Revis Felts, vice president of merchandising at Lowe's Cos. Inc.
Accessories such as grids and mats prevent denting and help the sink last longer, he said. Brands such as the Galley produce sinks that come pre-fitted with cutting boards, colanders and draining racks.
Even the faucets are getting a refresh. Trendy options include touchless technology from the likes of Moen and Pfister, according to Janice Disney, senior merchant for faucets for Home Depot.
Sinks made of waterproof wood. Sinks made of concrete. Sinks made of Kim Kardashian's ground-up diamonds.
We're kidding on that last one, but it's true that while stainless steel is perfectly inoffensive, sinks are graduating to more interesting materials.
Demand is up for sinks in bamboo, scratch-resistant cast iron, brushed nickel and other unconventional textures.
Another alternative: composite material made of a blend of parts, such as quartz or granite. Hudson credits technological advancements for making the specialty sinks possible and says that today's mixtures tend to be much more impact-resistant than previous versions.
Planning a big dinner party? Put guests or spouses to work with a secondary sink that speeds up the workflow. Also called an entertainment sink, this smaller sink — sometimes located in the middle of a kitchen island — allows a second set of hands to peel vegetables or rinse glasses at the kitchen island while the primary sink is occupied.
Some customers are even springing for standalone utility sinks that can be moved around the kitchen.
No more ridges
Customers are tired of sinks giving them lip. Instead of the raised border, they want a basin that's blended into the countertop for easy cleanup. Some are opting for undermounts, where the edge of the sink sits below the countertop surface. Others are carving seamless sinks right out of the countertop without bothering to switch materials.
Another popular option is known as the vessel sink, which extends substantially above the counter. The raised basin, which has been popular for some time in bathrooms, is easier on the back because it requires less bending over.
Single, big bowls
Cramped double bowls are so 15 years ago, according to Hudson. Having a "huge, open workspace" is much trendier and also more versatile, she said.
Sinks used to be 7 inches deep. Now, many have 10 inches of depth. And more customers are opting for longer trough-style tubs to boost capacity.