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Kitchen Design Considerations: Sinks

Washing-up is never the most enjoyable of kitchen tasks so it's particularly important you have all the facilities you need to hand. You'll be surprised at the extensive range of sinks now available; they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, which means you can have just the one to suit your needs.

As the style of the sink bowl or unit you select will influence the layout of your kitchen even more than your cooker, we illustrate the possibilities of this essential piece of kitchen equipment before all others. Many older terraced properties in Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough, have smaller strip kitchens where a sink can take up 20% of the work surface area. In Milton Keynes where most properties are relatively modern, the existing kitchen layouts have usually been designed with modern conveniences in mind, such as waste disposal units, dishwashers, washing machines etc., so tend to be larger.

Whatever your location, ideally you should be able to stand at the sink in a good natural light during the day, ideally overlooking a pleasant view (as opposed to a wall). Many newer flats however, have open plan layouts where the kitchen relies on natural light from the living room space windows. This is very common in many new apartments in Northampton, Kettering and Wellingborough town centres. With artificial lighting you must be able to use the sink without being in your own light or hampered by undesirable shadows. But whatever your location options, you need to consider the following important - but often neglected - requirements of your sink.

The right combination
The basic choice lies between single or double bowls, with draining space on either or both sides. Your choice can be in the form of a self-contained, free-standing sink unit complete with base cabinet, or inset sinks to put onto an existing base matching your other kitchen units.

Alternatively you can buy individual bowls and drop them into specially cut holes in your chosen worktop surface of plastic laminate, wood, slate, ceramic tile or marble. If you do this yourself the difficulty lies not so much in cutting the correct size aperture as in ensuring a leakproof seal between the flat flange (or curved lip) rim and the worktop.

Once you start thinking in terms of more than one bowl the choice widens as to size, shape and arrangement. An ideal form is one deep bowl for normal washing-up and one shallow 'drainer' bowl for rinsing and vegetable preparation fitted with a 90mm hole for a waste-disposer, with a small refuse 'tidy' recess between the two.

If you use a dishwasher you do not need so much draining space. Many of the new sink bowls set into a long worktop have specially fitted plastic-coated wire drainer baskets and cover-up chopping boards. When not in use the basket remains in the bowl while the wood (or marble) chopping board fits on top to give extra work preparation surface. When washing up you remove the board, take out the basket and place it alongside the sink bowl ready for draining the wet dishes. Dirty crockery can also be left stacked in the basket while it is in the bowl until you are ready to wash up. With this arrangement you do not need a draining board.

Bowl shapes are rectangular or square (with rounded corners), oval, narrow oval or circular. You can choose between chip-proof stainless steel, enamelled pressed steel, enamelled cast iron and lightweight acrylic or other synthetic materials. Some vitreous enamel models come in strong colours including tomato red, orange, green, khaki and chestnut.

The height of some sink units is 900mm (or 36in) as opposed to 850mm (or 34in) for food preparation worktops. This is a point to remember if you want a long line of worktop surface incorporating hobplates and sink bowls since, unless you are making up the whole unit to suit yourself, you will have to opt for the standard height of base cabinets. This means your sink bowls could end up some 50mm (2in) lower than usual. If you do not require a deep bowl you can compensate for this to a degree by installing a shallower one.

The under-sink area will probably need to house your waste-disposer and a collection of buckets and larger washing/cleaning items, but not dangerous caustic products that would be in easy reach of small children. Some of the newer sink units allow for a built-in dishwasher or front-loading washing machine under the shallow bowl.

Where a sink gets considerable use, steam from the hot water makes an overhead extractor desirable. If your sink is not against an outer wall, this may be ducted to your main extractor unit/cooker hood or to a nearby window or outer wall.

What type of tap?
The old-fashioned sink had bib taps projecting from the wall behind the sink and set very high to allow for filling deep buckets and tall water pitchers. Today most sink units and bowls include a back ledge with hole or holes ready to take your selected tap(s). The sink is therefore held down by the plumbing so you cannot move it out for spring cleaning or take it with you so easily when you move- house. It is quite simple to have your taps plumbed direct into a ledge, or through the wall, behind the sink unit itself so you need only detach the unit from the waste pipe to move it without interfering with the rest of the plumbing installation. In this case you must be sure the tap is set high enough and the mixer arm is long enough to reach over the sink. You can then order your sink without tap-holes or have existing ones blocked up.

As to the taps themselves, a single mixer arm that swivels for use with double bowls is convenient. This may have hot and cold control heads at either side or both to one side. A spray (sometimes fitted with a brush attachment) on a flexible hose is a useful extra for washing delicate plates or cleaning your peeled vegetables.

Where garden hoses or washing machines need to be fed from the sink it is obviously better to have an additional cold water tap for this purpose.

For sink areas with very little working space from front to back it pays to have your taps installed to one side rather than centrally. This allows more working room in the bowl itself and lessens the chance of cracking glasses or crockery against a projecting tap spout.

The flow of the water into the sink is important as if it hits the wrong place at the wrong angle you will be continually splashing yourself when turning the tap full on. Use only a type of tap recommended for the sink you are installing.

The waste outlet is another detail to consider. If you want a plug with a chain, make sure the chain is strong and easy to replace at either end. The plug itself must fit properly or you will find your precious hot and soapy water running away before you have finished washing up; the large plugs to fit waste disposer apertures are apt to be ill-fitting. If you prefer a pop-up type waste stopper, then choose a sink that can be fitted with one.

Planning for life
This may seem like an awful lot of options to consider before buying just a new sink unit, but as it should last the proverbial 'lifetime' or more it is worth taking your time now before settling on a particular model that may not be the best for your requirements.