How to Choose the Right Bathroom Sink

Article by: Anne Ellard

“Eight,” I hear you say. “She can’t possibly be serious. Isn’t a sink just a sink?” But yes, I am serious — and my clients are often baffled when trying to choose from the available options. The truth is that choosing one can be a bit overwhelming, but only when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. First, you need to consider which room you are shopping for (master en suite, family bathroom, powder room), who will use the room and how much space you have. 

So before you head off to choose your new bathroom sink, grab a coffee, have a read and then go out armed with the information you need to help narrow down the best options for you and your space.

1. Top-mount sink. Probably the most commonly used sink, a top-mount, or drop-in, sink is designed to sit on top of the counter, as the name suggests.

Generally speaking, most of the sink sits below the counter, with just the rim of it sitting on top of, and visible above, the counter. The rim can be either very slim or a bit chunkier, like the one pictured, depending on the style you choose. 

Pros: Top-mount sinks are suitable for pretty much any countertop material, including wood and laminate, as the cutout is completely covered by the sink and therefore doesn’t risk being damaged by water. They are also less costly to install in a stone countertop, because they don’t require laborious polishing of the cutout edges, as with an undermount sink. 

Con: You can’t wipe water and spills straight from the counter into the sink. 

Good for: Elegant en suites and minimalist schemes.

2. Undermount sink. This sits underneath the counter. The rim of the sink is fixed to the underside of the countertop, as opposed to sitting on top of it. 

Pros: This creates a seamless, clean look, as less of the actual sink is visible. Another advantage is that water and spills can be wiped directly from the countertop into the sink without any obstruction, making it a great, easy-to-clean option for family bathrooms. 

Cons: Undermounting a sink will usually only be possible with a solid-surface countertop, such as stone, and isn’t suitable with a laminate, as it can’t be sealed as well against moisture. These sinks also tend to cost more than top-mount ones. 

Good for: Busy family bathrooms.

3. Wall-mounted sink. This is fixed directly to the wall without needing to sit in or on a countertop. It looks streamlined and gives a minimalist feeling to a room. 

Pros: A wall-mounted sink doesn’t have any cabinets below it, which saves on space and also leaves more visible floor area, making the room feel bigger. For a wall-mounted sink to work in your space, all the plumbing, including the waste, must be positioned inside the wall to have a clean look.

Cons: There is no storage space, and there is a lack of “landing” space due to the absence of a countertop. Consider your need for storage in your bathroom before opting for a wall-mounted sink and maybe reserve it for the powder room, where storage isn’t as important. 

Good for: Small spaces.

4. Pedestal sink. If your preference is a simple wall-mounted sink, but your waste pipe has to go through the floor and can’t be changed, then a pedestal sink is a great option.

Pros: The pedestal under the sink sits between the underside of the sink and the floor, concealing any pipework in between. A pedestal sink is also aesthetically pleasing and perfect if you want to give your bathroom a classical vibe.

Cons: Again, consider the fact that you won’t have any storage space under the sink or any counter space around it. This option can also be a bit tricky to clean around, as there is usually a gap between the wall and the back of the pedestal (as pictured here).

Good for: Period properties and traditional schemes.

5. Semirecessed sink. If your bathroom or en suite has limited space, but you would still like some vanity cabinets below your sink for storage, then a semirecessed option might be the solution you need.

Pros: A semirecessed sink sits proudly at the front of cabinets and the countertop that it sits on, allowing you to have much shallower cabinets — maybe even as shallow as about 12 inches (300 millimeters), depending on the model you choose. This frees up valuable floor space. It also keeps a lot of the counter space free for cosmetics and other products. Much like a pedestal sink, this is a good option for young children and people with limited mobility, as you can get closer to the sink to reach the faucet without the obstruction of a countertop and cabinets.

Cons: The storage space underneath is limited. Also, because there isn’t any countertop around the front of the sink to catch water, splashes and spills onto the floor are more common, especially in a home with children. 

Good for: Mini-me’s and beauty queens.

6. Washplane sink. Washplane sinks, often spotted in sleek hotels and restaurant bathrooms, are the simplest of the options. They’re slim, streamlined and stylish. 

Pros: Washplane sinks take up very little space, so they are great in a room where space is limited, such as in a powder room. You can buy one made of ceramic, porcelain or glass off the shelf. Alternatively, a stonemason can make them in this style from granite, marble or engineered stone. They simply mount a small stainless steel trough under the sink to catch the water before it runs into the waste pipe in the wall behind.

Cons: Washplane sinks are best suited to the powder room, where the sink will be used just for hand washing. They don’t come with the option of having a plug, plus they are extremely shallow, so they’re not designed to hold water. 

Good for: Powder rooms.

7. Vessel sink. A vessel sink is one that generally sits completely on top of the countertop, although there are some models that sit partially below the counter. 

Pros: Unlike most other sinks that are exposed above the counter a little or not at all, vessel sinks demand attention and are a great way to create a statement in your bathroom. As the name suggests, a vessel sink is basically like a large bowl, so it is a great choice if you like a deep sink that can hold plenty of water. 

Cons: Due to the height of vessel sinks and the way they sit above the counter, careful planning of the counter height, and of the height of the cabinets below, is required to ensure that the sink doesn’t end up being too high and uncomfortable to use — this often leads to less storage space under the counter. Cleaning around the base and back of the sink can also be a bit tricky. 

Good for: En suite bathrooms.

8. All-in-one sink and countertop. Many off-the-shelf vanity cabinets that can be purchased from bathroom supply stores offer an all-in-one countertop with a sink that sits on top. With this style, the sink itself is actually molded as part of the countertop. It can be made from various materials, such as porcelain or acrylic. 

Pros: The main advantage is that it’s so easy to clean. There are no ridges or seams, so it’s very streamlined and a great choice for busy family bathrooms. These sinks are generally available in set standard sizes; however, some suppliers may offer the option to have one custom made to the size that suits your space best.

Con: These all-in-one tops are usually designed so the countertop gradually slopes down and inward to create a sink in the middle. This can lead to having less flat counter space to put things on than what you would have had if you had opted for a top-mount sink sitting on top of a countertop, for example. 

Good for: Time-poor renovators, and those who need to buy something straight off the shelf and don’t have time to wait for a custom-made sink.

Everything You Need to Know About Farmhouse Sinks

Article by: Anne Ellard

Being from Ireland and having included the beautiful Belfast farmhouse sink in many traditional country and farmhouse kitchen designs, I have a bit of a soft spot for farmhouse-style sinks. The farmhouse sink originated in a time when there was no running water. The idea behind the sink was that it was a place to hold large amounts of water, which was fetched by hand from nearby wells, lakes and rivers. 

The two original farmhouse-style sinks emerged in Ireland and Britain in the late 17th century. They were of similar design but had their own characteristics. The Belfast sink was deep and had an overflow so that excess water could easily drain away instead of flowing over the sides. The London sink — designed for an area where water was scarce and therefore more precious — was shallower. It had no overflow so that every last drop could be kept inside the sink. 

If you’re thinking about choosing a farmhouse-style sink for your kitchen, here’s what else you should know.

The traditional farmhouse sink is generally a lot deeper than modern stainless steel undermount or top-mount sinks. Its design enables the user to stand directly in front of the basin, with no cabinets or countertop in between. This feature made the farmhouse sink more comfortable to use at a time in the past when women would spend a large part of their day there — preparing food and washing dishes, clothes and even babies.

Though you could still wash a baby in today’s farmhouse sinks, you’d probably find them more useful for washing large pots, big baking sheets and oven trays, and even barbecue grills — items you would generally struggle to wash in a typical sink. 

And if one large bowl isn’t enough, you can find several double-bowl options too, like the one seen here.

Installation

Farmhouse sinks were originally designed to sit slightly to the front of the surrounding cabinets, so that any water flowing down the front of the sink would run to the floor instead of landing on and damaging the cabinets. This is how farmhouse sinks still are typically installed in a kitchen. 

They also are usually installed just under the level of the countertop so the counter can slightly overhang the sides of the sink, making it easy to wipe water from the counter straight into the sink.

Drainage

Having a space on the counter where you can drain your freshly washed dishes is a bonus. Here some shallow channels, know as drainer grooves, have been routed into the countertop. They increase in depth the closer they get to the sink, which aids the flow of drained water into the sink. These drainer grooves are a great way to have the practicality of a draining area without taking away from the look of the farmhouse sink.

Fixtures

Farmhouse sinks add a feeling of nostalgia to a kitchen and bring a sense of rustic character that enhances country- and traditional-style kitchens. Complete the look by pairing your white porcelain farmhouse sink with a beautiful traditional-style tap, many of which are available with matching white porcelain handles, as shown here. Typical farmhouse sinks do not have a hole for the faucet, so the tap needs to be positioned in the counter or in the wall behind.

Materials

White farmhouse sinks are most commonly made of fireclay or porcelain. 

Fireclay. Fireclay sinks are made of clay, which is heated to an extremely high temperature that makes the sink hard and durable. It also gives the sink its beautiful high shine. The durability of fireclay means that it is resistant to scratches and chips and is easy to clean. 

Porcelain. Porcelain sinks are a ceramic material, again heated to high temperatures, although not quite as high as fireclay. They look similar to fireclay sinks but are less expensive. Porcelain sinks are not quite as durable as fireclay and are more prone to chipping and discoloration.

Stainless steel. Farmhouse sinks are now available in a wider variety of materials, including stainless steel. Stainless steel is affordable, durable and easy to clean and maintain. Stainless steel adds a contemporary twist to a sink that is typically associated with traditional- and country-style kitchens.

Copper. Farmhouse sinks are sometimes made of copper. The copper can sometimes have a hammered finish and a colored patina applied when the sink is manufactured. Over time, natural copper develops a beautiful patina as it reacts with the different substances that come in contact with it.

Modern Style

There are redesigned versions of the farmhouse sink, such as the one pictured here. Unlike the original farmhouse sink, this one sits on top of the countertop and has a space for a tap hole incorporated into it, eliminating the need to have a countertop run around the back of it. The fact that this sink sits on top of the counter eliminates the risk of water’s finding its way down the sides of the sink. This makes for a more watertight, though less authentic, option.

Considerations

Seal. The measurements of fireclay and porcelain farmhouse sinks can vary slightly, and the surfaces can be a bit uneven. These are natural characteristics of these materials and shouldn’t be considered flaws. This means, however, that when the sink is fitted under a perfectly even countertop, there can be slight gaps where water can escape. 

After it is installed, ensure that your farmhouse sink is correctly sealed around the edges. Designing the countertop so it overhangs the edges of the sink sufficiently will help water flow straight into the sink bowl and keep it away from the edges.

Design. Though designing a farmhouse sink into a new kitchen layout is easy, it can prove more difficult to incorporate one into your existing kitchen layout. The size and nature of farmhouse sinks mean they require custom cabinets to be designed to suit them, as well as a different countertop design. Ask your cabinetmaker if he or she can alter your existing cabinets and countertop to fit.

Surface. Pristine white porcelain sinks look stunning; however, they are a bit unforgiving in that they show every bit of dirt and grime. Having said that, they are easy to keep clean. 

And the hard surface of fireclay or porcelain farmhouse sinks can be noisy when you’re washing dishes in them and is far less forgiving than stainless steel when breakable items are dropped in them, so take extra care when washing your wineglasses. 

Size. If you are concerned about wasting water, look for a farmhouse sink that has a smaller capacity. The depth of the traditional farmhouse sink is great for washing big items, but it means to fill it you’ll need a lot more water than for a typical sink. 

Pet-Friendly Design: Making Room for the Dog Dish

Article by:

When I say there is nothing quite so unpleasant as stepping in a dog’s water dish, I speak from experience (no thanks, Augie). Like a good pet owner, I keep my pup’s water bowl filled with fresh water. It’s located in the kitchen, where I inevitably get busy and distracted and step in the drink. It has happened a lot, which goes to show you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

When I next remodel, I’m going to plan for this condition, using the clever ideas from these fellow pet owners as inspiration.

In this project, by Buckenmeyer Architecture, finding a space for the dog dishes was a key design consideration. “A recess at one end of the island keeps the bowls out of the way,” says Marty Buckenmeyer.

Judging from the gray around his or her muzzle, I’m guessing this sweet dog is a little long in the tooth. I’m sure the elevated bowls are appreciated.

The designers at Haddad Hakansson employed a similar strategy in this kitchen, but they placed the bowls at the end of a cabinet run as opposed to an island. It’s a smart move in a kitchen that has the room. “One of the highlights of this space is the custom dog dishes,” the designers write. They are “inset into a small slab of white quartzite. The cabinet above has a tilt-out tray for dog treats.”

Perhaps the feature helped the space win first place in the 2014 NKBA northern New England kitchen design competition. And, as you can tell by the blur running toward the eating area, it clearly has won the popular canine vote too.

In this kitchen, by Shannon Ggem, the lucky dog can pretend he or she is eating in the wild, thanks to a dining niche lined with artificial turf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A closer look reveals the other features. Not only does the space have bowls printed with a grass image, but it has a faucet with an above-counter control. As the designer says: “No bending!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With built-in bowls and the same material treatment as the kitchen island, this dog eating area, by Studio Zerbey Architecture + Design, is almost undercover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This niche, by Plain & Fancy by Dandamudi’s, is outfitted with a pullout drawer and an easy-to-clean stone surface.

Some smart and space-endowed homeowners take the dog dishes farther from the kitchen triangle. In this project, by Kathleen Donohue, Neil Kelly, the eating area is under the command center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this project, by Anthony Wilder Design/Build, an eating and storage area for the dog is tucked into the end of a wall. Below are the bowls; above are dog accessories and treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This mudroom, by Dreamstructure DesignBuild, is outfitted for everyone — four-legged and two. Due to the recessed and elevated nature of the bowls, you’d be unlikely to step in them — but if you did, you might be wearing your boots.

Bathroom Workbook: 7 Natural Stones With Enduring Beauty

Article by:

There’s no other material quite like natural stone. No two pieces are exactly alike, and nothing else adds the same organic warmth and texture to a bathroom. Not to mention the longevity. If they’re well maintained, your stone surfaces can last a lifetime. 

Marble, of course, has been a popular stone choice for luxurious interiors for centuries based on its inherent beauty. But while Carrara and Calacatta remain classics, they have their downsides, and they aren’t your only options. Here are seven other natural stone varieties, each with its own unique characteristics and strengths, worth considering for your bathroom floors, countertops and walls.

The price of natural stones can vary greatly, so do your research. But don’t let a high price deter you from incorporating a stone you absolutely love. Larger-format tiles are usually less expensive than smaller tiles, and you can try to find remnant slabs at your local stone yard. Also, consider using natural stone for just one wall or a small niche area to work it into your budget.

Soapstone. Surprisingly underused in bathrooms, soapstone is actually a great option because it’s so low maintenance. No sealers are necessary; just periodically rub a little mineral oil on the surface. Over time this stone oxidizes and gets darker and richer in color. 

Cost: Comparable to marble; you’ll find slabs from $90 to $200 per square foot. But take a look at this pretty soapstone countertop paired with a gray vanity and you might be like, “Marble who?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Limestone. In its natural state, this stone is highly porous and needs to be sealed to avoid stains. But it’s a popular choice for its soft and uniform look and warm, neutral color. It lends itself to both traditional designs and modern ones, like this vast bathroom covered top to bottom in the material.

Cost: Limestone tile starts at around $5 per square foot.

Travertine. This is actually a type of limestone with natural markings in a range of warm hues. The deep pores in the stone are often filled with a similar-colored grout or epoxy to create a smoother surface. 

Cost: Travertine tile starts at around $5 per square foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgian bluestone. This is also a limestone, but with a dark gray or black background and gray, white and tan markings. It looks especially great with a contrasting grout, like in this photo. This material will get lightly scratched over time, but the patina makes it even more beautiful. And a little olive oil will bring back its sheen. 

Cost: Similar to soapstone ($90 to $200 per square foot), but to save a little cash, consider using 12-inch by 12-inch bluestone tiles on your counter instead of a slab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onyx. This stone has a unique look with striations in a wide range of colors. Since it has a translucent quality, designers often backlight surfaces or walls to showcase the veining and make the space glow. It’s important to know that this stone is delicate and needs to be sealed. 

Cost: Because large slabs like the gorgeous one featured here are rarer, they can set you back $200 to $500 per square foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slate. This stone is usually associated with rustic interiors, but it can work in any space. This photo depicts a mosaic of slate tiles in a rainbow of hues, including blue, green, red and purple. Slate is especially great for floors, because it is naturally slip resistant. To clean slate, just use a mild cleanser that isn’t abrasive. 

Cost: You can find tiles that cost less than $10 per square foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandstone. Created by layers of densely packed sand, the material has a wavy desert-landscape-like appearance and comes in a variety of colors. It’s essential to seal it regularly (like twice a year), because the highly porous surface will soak up water or any other liquids, causing stains or potentially even warping. 

Cost: Similar to limestone and travertine, around $5 per square foot.

Your Guide to a Smooth-Running Construction Project

Article by:

Imagine walking into your newly built or remodeled home and seeing it exactly as you had imagined it at the start of construction: the windows are all in the right places, the flooring is the right color, and the kitchen cabinets are a perfect fit.

Now allow me to pinch you on the arm, because for most people, reality is often different from that idyllic scenario. You might see missing trim around the bedroom doors or wonder why that small change in the kitchen cost so much. Looking back, you might ask, “And why did we have to hire another subcontractor to finish the bathroom?” 

Of course, there are things you just can’t plan for, but there’s plenty that you can. Costly changes and additional time-consuming work can be kept to a minimum if you fully understand what you are building before you start. By understanding the construction process, being part of the team and keeping a firm grip on the budget, your construction project can result in the home of your dreams. 

1. Don’t Skimp on Design Help

Given the busy lives most of us lead, we don’t have the time to research every type of technology and material that might be used on a construction project. Use professionals to save some of the time that would otherwise be spent learning and perfecting the process. 

Architects are trained not just to make a project pretty but to match building systems, thermal envelopes and other properties to the client’s needs. They have a broad, up-to-date knowledge of these systems as well as of materials and processes for a wide variety of project areas.

Now, I sympathize with the awful feelings associated with a project’s going over budget. I’ve been there; I’ve gotten that dreaded call from the contractor that the structural and mechanical designs are in conflict. And dealt with preexisting conditions that the contractor hadn’t anticipated.

A design pro can provide guidance on what team members will likely be required for the project. And not just for the big ones, like a full custom home construction. Smaller projects like additions and remodels also can benefit from a pro’s expertise.

Architects can usually recommend other team members, too, such as engineers. 

Your budget might be tight, but I’ve seen time and time again that trying to save money on design actually can cost homeowners far more in the end, in dollars and frustration. 

Homeowners often underestimate the cost and complexity of a remodel or new home. The cost of the design work on a project is something that homeowners may consider skimping on to save money, but we find that the best way to avoid problems in construction is to invest time with your designer or architect up front to think about the construction process during design. This takes far less time than fixing mistakes that happen when the walls are going up. 

Although it isn’t often pointed out, a good designer or architect depends on the client throughout the design and planning process as much as the client depends on the designer. 

2. Become Part of the Team

Most people spend more time planning their next vacation than they do planning their house project. Not that planning a house project has to be a full-time job. An architect or a designer can help you understand your role in the project as well as the contributions of other team members. That means participating in the process from the start so that you stay fully up to speed with what is happening throughout the project. 

I’ve seen clients assume that I know what’s going on in their head and are surprised when something comes out different than what they were expecting. That’s why communication is important. The Houzz web site and app allow you to show your team what spaces and materials you like. This can give them a reference point to understand where you are coming from (and where you can go together as a team). 

Being part of the team also means becoming familiar with some of the ways your team members communicate. The vast majority of projects use two-dimensional drawings (as well as written specifications) to communicate a homeowner’s intent to the construction team. This documentation is used to create three-dimensional structures. 

This sounds simple enough, but there are many chances for misunderstandings each time a team member reads the documentation. On a recent project, the foundation contractor misread the drawings and built the formwork too narrow on part of the foundation. During a site visit, we were able to catch it before the concrete was poured, saving the time and frustration of having to chip out all that concrete.

You can ask your team to assist you so you understand what is being communicated at each stage of the project. The best opportunity for this is during your design meetings. Remember, if you don’t understand something, ask. It’s better to get everyone on the same page early before a structure gets built that sticks out like a sore thumb. 

You should also talk with the architect and/or contractor before the project starts so you can make sure that everyone agrees on the approach to how the building will be put together. There are evolving areas of construction, especially regarding the building envelope, that contractors and the architect should resolve before the project commences. 

3. Establish Your Goals and Refer Back to Them Frequently 

Be ready to suggest ways to get what you want while avoiding potential problems down the road. If you can create a list of priorities, then when you are faced with challenging decisions during construction, which is pretty much guaranteed, you and your team will be able to look back at your prioritized list to really focus on what will get you closer to your goal instead of what may be a costly distraction. 

Things like prioritizing morning light in the kitchen or consciously forgoing a walk-in closet for a larger main bedroom can save the time and cost of having to move walls and making other expensive changes in the middle of construction.

How to Stick to Your Remodeling Goals

4. Establish Your Budget and Add at Least 10 Percent 

Be sure to set aside a construction contingency for critical items — and don’t be tempted to use it just to put in an upgraded cooktop! Due to the complexity of the construction process, unforeseen issues will come up. Without a contingency, you might find yourself short of cash when you really need it. 

A few years ago while remodeling my own house, we discovered numerous problems stemming from a quick and dirty job done 40 years prior. One of the most worrisome issues was a hacked-out joist on the second floor, leaving the bathtub supported inadequately by adjoining joists and bits of plywood. A great deal of creative thought and some extra cash were needed to fix the deficient joist without tearing apart the whole bathroom. Without a contingency to tackle this urgent situation, we might have been forced to postpone other parts of the project to deal with it and might have been stuck with dust and disruption for a longer time. 

5. Don’t Get Attached to an Optimistic Timeline 

Ideally, your team members will take the time to carefully plan and build your dream house most efficiently. Even if they are not putting in hours specifically on your project, the designer and others will likely be thinking about your project in the back of their mind. It takes time to work out the details of a project, so if you need to get the project designed and built very quickly, there might be situations that won’t be fully resolved in the design phase. There will always be elements that will need resolving onsite, but taking the time to do as much as possible on paper can reduce costs.

It’s also tempting to look at the best-case scenario for construction and think that it will then be the norm for your project. Just like with a cost contingency, though, you’d be well served to build in a time contingency as well. As much as it might seem possible to get into the house on a certain date if all the stars align, realistically there is a chance that the project could go late for a whole variety of reasons (laid out previously). Do yourself a favor: Have a backup plan in case you can’t roll up in the moving van on your exact date. 

6. Consider Construction Implications Before You Start 

During a recent remodel, one homeowner (who was working without a designer) realized that opening up the main floor of her house required a structural engineer, which caused delays as she searched for an engineer and he did his drawings. 

So it’s important to understand what the construction implications will be to get the space you want. Even though it cost her approximately $7,000 more to open up the space, she was really glad that she went ahead with this part of the project. An architect would have been able to point this out before construction started and would have avoided the stress and extra costs involved in undoing some work in the middle of the project. 

7. Communicate Frequently With Your Team

A weekly or biweekly status report can help identify areas of concern. This should be done at the onset of the project and continue through construction. The construction phase is where there are likely to be changes due to site conditions, availability of products or other factors. Be sure to get all changes documented in writing, along with the dollar amount promised; sign off on both the changes and the cost to stay in control and to ensure that all team members are up-to-date at every stage of the building process. 

In construction the document is usually called a change order; it explains the nature of the change and the cost. Sometimes the changes are called extras, because they are additional to what was agreed on in the construction contract.

For example, a homeowner might decide to move the location of a door, so the designer will assess the impact of the change with the general contractor and draw up a change order for review by the client. If the client is OK with the amount, then he or she would ideally sign the physical copy (often confirmation via email is used) and the work would begin.

Choosing New Cabinets? Here’s What to Know Before You Shop

Article by:

With all the options available, choosing cabinets for your kitchen or bath can be an overwhelming experience. Aesthetics aside, there are lots of factors that might not be readily apparent that will impact the cabinet’s performance and price. Understanding those factors will give you an advantage in making your selection.

There are three basic structural components to a cabinet: the box, the shelves and the drawers. Each can be constructed in a number of ways. Cabinets generally come four ways: boxed and ready to install in standard dimensions, boxed and ready to assemble, semicustom and custom.

To get a better understanding of the way cabinets are made, I visited two manufacturers: Canyon Creek Cabinet Company in Monroe, Washington, which makes semicustom units, and O.B. Williams Company in Seattle, a 125-year-old woodworking shop that builds custom cabinets. 

Boxes 

They look just like they sound: rectangular and ready to be filled up with shelving and drawers. Boxes are typically built in one of three ways: with plywood, particleboard or MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and a base that is later covered with a finish piece called a toe kick. There are pros and cons to each of these materials. 

When plywood is used, it’s typically ¾ inch thick and has a maple or birch veneer. Plywood is made from layers of wood laminated together, and has the benefit of being a fairly stable material that performs well over time and in areas with higher humidity and the chance of contact with water. The panels can be glued, nailed or screwed together, and are usually installed (as is the case with most cabinets) by screwing them into the wall. Plywood’s main downside is that it is relatively expensive.

 

 

Particleboard’s draw is its low price. Made from pressed bits of wood bound together with adhesives, particleboard can be covered with a veneer of wood or melamine, or a paper veneer printed to look like wood. The interior can be white or a wood tone. 

The downside to particleboard is that it can be sensitive to moisture and is more prone to coming apart at stress points — where hardware is screwed in, for instance. Ask about how the veneer will hold up with small amounts of water (glasses not completely dried, for instance) or something more serious, like a spill that sits for a while. 

Some cabinet manufacturers, like Canyon Creek, regularly have the particleboard they use tested for performance, so ask if there are different grades of material from which to select, and what you can expect in terms of durability. 

 

MDF is also less expensive than plywood; it has a more uniform surface than particleboard. MDF is often used for paint-grade panels, rather than thinly milled solid wood, because it’s such an easily paintable material. 

Manufacturers of semicustom and mass-market cabinets tend to have better/best or good/better/best options for their cabinet boxes, which may consist of one or a combination of all three materials. Custom shops tend to stick with plywood and MDF, or just plywood, for construction, because of its strength and performance. 

On boxes that will have European-style doors and drawers (where the doors and drawers completely cover the box — also known as full overlay), making sure the box is completely square is essential. That can be accomplished with a clamping system, or in a custom shop by using individual clamps. This ensures that when the fasteners are installed, the box will be perfectly square.

 

 

Drawers and Shelves
 
Drawers and shelves are also made from particleboard, MDF or plywood, and can be assembled in a number of ways. The most common and least expensive method of drawer construction is gluing and pinning (stapling) the ends together.
 

 

A step up in cost and longevity is dovetailconstruction: Small pieces on the ends are routed out to key into one another, making a connection that is very difficult to dislodge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sides of the drawers are usually made from ½ inch of material with a bottom panel that’s ¼ inch thick. This is another place construction can vary, with thinner or thicker materials all the way around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can make a decision about drawers based on performance or aesthetics. Ask to see different drawer construction options so you know what you will see when you open them — on the tops and inside — and how they will look when they are extended. 

What you see has a lot to do with how the cabinets are edge banded. More on that in another installment in this series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelves can be installed fixed, or they can be adjustable, with pegs that fit into rows of holes on each side of the cabinet. While shelves are typically made from the same material or wood species as the rest of the cabinet box, an exception would be if the cabinet has a glass front or the shelves themselves are glass. When the interior of the cabinet is visible, making the shelves and box interior the same wood species as the face, or painting it the same color, is a common practice.

 

One more note on the drawers and boxes: Larger-production cabinetmakers tend to build their drawers and boxes at the same facility where all of the cabinets are assembled. Some smaller shops, including many custom cabinetmakers, send out their boxes and drawers to be built by a company that specializes in this. The box and drawer companies can build them relatively inexpensively, leaving the custom shop to focus on the parts of the cabinets that make them truly custom — the doors and drawer faces, and the millwork that finishes out the cabinets. 

Indoor Air Quality 


One final thing to think about is how the materials are made — and particularly whether they include urea-added formaldehyde, a substance known to have an impact on human health. Many manufacturers have removed urea-added formaldehyde from their manufacturing process, making the cabinets NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) compliant. However, there is still the possibility of the material’s containing other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that will off-gas over time. And formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound, so there may still be traces of it. 

California has been a national leader in air-quality initiatives, so you may see a mention of the materials in your cabinet being CARB Phase 2 compliant. CARB is the California Air Resources Board, which has created requirements to limit VOCs in cabinets, furniture and other materials used in homes. The requirements focus specifically on plywood, particleboard and MDF. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on nationwide requirements based on CARB’s standards that may go into effect as early as 2014. 

There are a number of claims made and opinions offered about the relative “greenness” of plywood and particleboard, and not all are manufactured in the same way. If this is an important consideration for you, you might need to do some extended research. It also means you’ll need to ask detailed questions when pricing different cabinets, to understand how they are made and with which materials. 

Bottom line: Cabinet prices are wide ranging and directly correlate to materials and construction methods. Expect a basic unit to include particleboard, melamine and stapled drawers, and everything else to be an upcharge.

Construction Timelines: What to Know Before You Build

Article by:

One of the first questions we get when talking to clients about a new custom home or remodel is, “How much will it cost?” This is usually quickly followed by the second question, “How long will it take?” The answer to both is, “It depends.” 

While we don’t want to be evasive, there are many variables that have to be factored in before we can adequately assess the time and cost of a project. One thing that most homeowners don’t see initially is that for a properly planned and designed project, the design and construction phases can last roughly the same amount of time.

As I’ve written about previously, the design process can take up to six to eight months for a new custom build (including determining the client’s needs, designing to those needs and deciding how to best to build the project). And it could take longer if there are complications such as other approvals or if someone objects to your project. This time is not spent just daydreaming and staring out the window — your team is working to understand the design and construction to smooth out potential issues in your timeline. 

Be realistic. It’s often difficult for homeowners to know what’s realistic for each phase of the construction process. For instance, one week to construct a kitchen is not realistic due to the number of services and trades involved — installers, plumbers, tile contractors. It would be foolhardy to think that everything could be done to satisfaction in such a short time. 

What’s also confusing is that timelines for suburban developments can be wildly different from a single luxury custom home. We have had clients ask us why a custom home costs more per square foot and takes longer that a tract home. The reason is that developers have crews that move from house to house and are dedicated to that development. This means that for all intents and purposes, they finish their work on one house and move on to the next. 

On a custom house, your framers might be a week late showing up (because their last job ran late), and then the next trade in line is thrown off as well. You can see how this can cause a domino effect on your project. Most contractors can’t wait around until the exact time they are needed on a site — they have to keep their crews busy, or they don’t get paid. So they tend to overbook rather than underbook to make sure they have enough work to keep them busy. 

Often one trade cannot begin work until another is finished. There is time associated with mobilization and demobilization of each trade, and often one of the trades cannot be onsite the exact day or even within a week of when you need it. So often there is downtime that needs to be accounted for. When planning, it is important not to try to plan schedules too tightly, as they rarely work out that way.

Understand the timeline and the implications of what is written. Do you know what demolition entails? The mess? The noise? Words on a spreadsheet can seem awfully abstract when you are looking at them in your living room, but they can mean a whole different thing when one wall of your kitchen is blown out in the middle of a March storm. It might mean that you want to consider moving out while some of the more disruptive work is completed. Your design team should be helping determine this as part of their work. If you don’t understand what specific items mean, clarify them with your team. 

Also, plan for construction to take place when it will best for the project and affect your family the least. One of our clients learned the hard way after he insisted on starting a project just as winter set in. The contractors were only able to pour the footings, and then a cold snap set in, which held up the project for six weeks. The lesson here is to understand what potential delays could crop up that could derail your project timeline. 

What is in the timeline? Your timeline should be specific enough to include a level of detail that helps you and your team understand the logical flow of activities, so you can follow the logical steps that should happen in sequence. It is typical to require the contractor, as part of the contract, to prepare a comprehensive schedule for all work and phases from start to finish and present it at the beginning of the project. This schedule is then reviewed at a start-up meeting, at which the client, architect, contractor and major consultants who might have a stake are present. 

Get a sense of what could affect the timeline. There’s a rule of thumb for construction used by contractors and designers: “It will always take longer than you think.” There are a number of factors that conspire against the pristine order of a freshly minted timeline document: complexity, weather, number of construction workers, permits and inspections, back orders and delays for materials, equipment or fixtures. Make sure you or your team members are aware of products that have a long lead time. These could include materials, equipment or products that are not warehoused locally, such as custom-fabricated furniture, light fixtures or imported tile. 

There are also municipal approvals to consider. A municipal building inspector has to come to the site during construction to check that what is being built corresponds with the drawings. It is the contractor who coordinates these inspections, and who needs to plan for them so work doesn’t stop while everyone waits for an inspection to happen. 

If the inspector feels there is a gap between what has been documented in the drawings and what is being built, he or she can request more information from the team. This is to understand that the changes from what is documented in the drawings will still satisfy the building code. Or worse, the inspector can place a stop-work order, which effectively shuts down the project. And that can put your timeline on life support. But with proper project oversight from your design team, your project should be able to move along smoothly. 

Final details. For some reason the final details on a project often take a lot longer that you might think. The reasons are that they often require very precise work that takes time to get right. Things like installing trim or custom millwork can wreak havoc on a schedule. 

On a recent project, we specified a custom millwork piece for all the bathrooms. The challenge was that it required coordinating three separate trades: the millworker who built the cabinets, the countertop contractor who fabricated the quartz and the stainless steel fabricator who made the custom sink. While the owner is thrilled with how it looks, it did take some time to get everyone involved on the same page. 

One thing to keep in mind is that at the end of the project, most of the budget has been spent and many of the tradespeople have made the majority of their money. This is where holdbacks come in. A holdback keeps a certain percentage of the contract amount set aside until a set number of days after completion. Tradespeople want to see their work completed and will finish up what needs to be done. But in some cases, it is important to not only judge the amount of work done when a contractor applies to be paid but also how much work is left, and can the remaining funds motivate them to finish. It is not unheard of for a designer to return a contractor’s application for payment and insist that certain details are done first before the requested amount is paid out. 

Just as there is not one piece of art that everyone agrees is perfect, there is no construction timeline that fits all projects. But by working with your team, you can understand the components that go into your timeline. And that can help avoid timeline trauma during construction.

15 Doggone-Good Tips for a Pet Washing Station

Article By:

This is going to sound harsh, but your dog stinks. Don’t feel bad — it’s natural, and you are nice to let him swim in that creek and run in the mud and roll around in yucky things. You don’t notice anymore, because your schnoz is used to it. But when I come over to visit, the smell of your dog’s bed and the smell on my hand after I pet him is very noticeable, so chances are, the same smell is in your carpets, car and any furniture Fido lounges on. 

You probably mean to wash the dog more often, but it’s a pain in the neck. Large dogs are tough to get into bathtubs, the big shake afterward makes a mess, and the whole thing can be quite an ordeal. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, a home pet washing station isn’t looking so crazy. In fact, you can use them for other things, too. A builder who’s been adding them for years, Vincent Longo, says that one client uses his pet care station for cleaning dirty golf clubs, gardening tools and even the kids after a busy day making mud pies. 

Whatever your thoughts about pet wash stations, there’s no denying their popularity. If you’re thinking about adding one, here are some ideas to consider. 

Incorporate the washing station into the mudroom. Mudrooms are a very popular spot for dog wash stations. Dogs enter from the back or side door, and their muddy paws never make it into the rest of the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Include a handheld showerhead or sprayer. Not only will it help you get your dog’s entire bod nice and clean, but it will also let you do a quick paws-only wash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be prepared for the big shake. Anyone who has ever washed dogs knows that afterward they shake off the water with gusto and get the entire area wet (including the person doing the washing). Having a surround and floor that can stand up to water will keep the big shake from damaging drywall and floors. 

If your dog is the type that runs around the house in crazy circles after a bath, all I can recommend is shutting the mudroom door until Sparky dries off and calms down, or else letting him into the garage for the runaround.

 

Go bigger with the drain. Longo recommends using a 3-inch drain in a pet washing station. It will handle dog hair better than the standard 1½- to 2-inch shower drain. He also recommends adding a hair filter over the drain.

Clearly, this dog loves the pet wash station and is just begging for a rinse. 

Consider an elevated dog bath for smaller pets. It will be easier on your back and knees in the long run, as long as your dog is willing and able to jump into it, or you don’t have a problem lifting your pet into place.

 

Step it up. In this clever design, the counters double as steps up to the basin. The middle step serves as a drying station and has room for a cozy pet bed underneath. 

For smaller dogs a large utility sink plus a sprayer is all you need. 

Use what the pros use. You can find professional bathing stations complete with ladders or ramps at places like ProGroom. 

Combine gardening and pet grooming. Pet washers are also great places to water plants, rinse off mucky Wellies and clean your gardening tools.

 

Incorporate your own style. This custom dog bath utilizes vintage tiles that the homeowner had been collecting for years.

 

Have drying towels handy. An overhead drying rack is a handy spot for drying dog towels as well as laundry. If you utilize this kind of system, be sure to remove your people laundry before the big shake. 

Embrace the theme. This area celebrates dogs in the wallpaper and has plenty of shelves for dog supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consider going high-end. Do you and your pet have luxurious tastes? If so, try a dog-specific tub. When family-owned company Hydro Systemsdecided to dip into dog bath design, the owners collaborated with their groomer of more than 20 years, adding features like skidproofing to prevent slips and slides, and even an optional jetted whirlpool system. 

Is your dog the spa type? Do tell, because this idea is certainly new to me, and I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Unless the dog’s name is Zsa Zsa. Then it makes sense. (Seriously, though, the folks who designed this tub and added the spa option say it’s a matter of personality on a case-by-case basis.)


This model is for smaller dogs. I included it because a photo of a dog sitting in its own personal bath wearing a bling-bling necklace simply must be shared.

 

 

 

 

Think about storage for supplies. Just like a human shower area, this one has handy shelves for dog shampoo and sponges.

 

 

Take it outside. Homeowners are increasingly incorporating pet washing stations into their outdoor showers. All it takes is a handheld sprayer or showerhead that can reach down to the ground. Rinse off muddy paws here before they can get inside and muck up your rugs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Provide a clean path to the door. A concrete, gravel or stone walkway will prevent your dog from dirtying up his paws on the way in from an outdoor wash. Unless, of course, the dog breaks free and does that crazy circle thing out in the yard.

 

Homeowner’s Workbook: How to Remodel Your Kitchen

Article By: Rebekah Zaveloff

You’ve decided to remodel your kitchen. Now what? Not knowing where to start, many homeowners fall into two camps. Some start by looking at appliances. Others start by collecting inspiring kitchen photos. Some decide they need more room. Others simply want to upgrade their current kitchen. Homeowners may find themselves in this exploration stage for a year or longer before they start interviewing kitchen designers or general contractors. 

Once you’ve pondered long enough and you’re ready to green-light a kitchen remodeling project, then what? We’ll start with the first 9 steps and we’ll get into the nitty-gritty details under specific steps as we move through the complete workbook. 

Step 1: Think about what you need

This step is all about how you use your kitchen, and finding the layout and features that fit your household’s lifestyle. Get ideas from every resource possible, including Houzz guides and photos, showrooms, books, magazines and blogs. 

Think about your priorities: how many people will be cooking and gathering here, and how they’ll need to move around in it. Do you need an addition? Or can you work with your existing kitchen footprint?

If you haven’t already, start saving photos of kitchens with features that suit your style. Your collection can be organized and beautiful like a scrapbook or it can be filled with random, unorganized images. I actually prefer the latter, because I like to randomly stuff images into my folders and ideabooks and go back to them later on for edits. 

Step 2: Research and plan

Ready to green-light that project and take the plunge? The best place to start is by formulating what’s commonly referred to as a scope of work and figuring out your preliminary budget. 

Both of these may be subject to change, so don’t feel like you have only once chance at this. Budget and scope are intertwined and often change many times during the design process as you become more educated and able to reconcile what you want and what you can afford. As a homeowner, you’re not expected to walk into this knowing what everything should cost. Remember, this is an educational process. 

Step 3: Find the professionals you will need

Even if you’re going the DIY route, unless you’re building your own kitchen cabinets and doing your own electrical and plumbing, you’re going to have to work with a professional at some point. It may be as brief as leaning on your salesperson to help you in selecting and ordering your appliances or cabinets, but it’s something to plan on either way. 

Some people start by visiting big-box stores or cabinet showrooms where they can see everything. Many homeowners get referrals from friends or colleagues and start by hiring an architect or designer. Still others might work on their own with a builder or contractor. Pros are available to help you with everything from contracts and permits to space planning, budgets, choosing finishes and fixtures, shopping, ordering products, helping you set up a temporary kitchen, and managing your project from start to finish.

Step 4: Schematic design

This phase includes sketches, space planning, preliminary floor plans and elevations showing the layout and cabinet sizes. I try to keep my clients focused more on layout and space planning, even though the temptation is to talk about what the kitchen will look like. But I find that getting caught up in the look too early can distract from the space planning phase. 

Plus, you need a plan in order to figure out what materials will go where, and how many square feet you will need, and ultimately how much this will cost. I like to begin the contractor interview process early and give them a preliminary drawing packet and scope of work so we can get some ballpark construction numbers. At the same time you can be sending out drawings for estimates on some top choices of finishes and fixtures.

Step 5: Fixture and finish specification

Throughout this process, and probably long before, you have been saving photos of kitchens you love into your ideabooks and folders. You’ve found your style, whether it’s modern, classic,traditional, cottage or a personal style in between. You probably know if you want a white kitchen, a natural wood kitchen, or some color

Now you need to make your final selection of finishes and fixtures. This usually includes: 

  • Cabinetry construction type, doorstyle, finish and color
  • Countertop material
  • Refrigerators and other appliances
  • Kitchen sink and faucet
  • Light fixtures
  • Flooring 
  • Backsplash
  • Decorative hardware 

Step 6: Work on design development and construction documents

This is the stage when you finalize the design and prepare final floor plans, elevations, details and, if applicable, mechanical and electrical drawings, lighting switch plans, and exterior elevations.

This is where your final permit set or Construction Drawings (CDs) come into play. It’s important to have finishes and fixtures selected at this time, since this is what will be considered in the final pricing from the contractor. 

You’ll submit drawings for permits. These have a lead time, so check the timing with your local village. You’ll need an architect, designer or licensed contractor signed up to finalize the paperwork and pick up your permits, so get ready to hire someone in the next step. I often find that we’re submitting for permits around the same time or a little bit after we’ve placed the cabinet order, due to similar lead times. 

Step 7: Get contractor estimates

If you don’t already have a licensed contractor on your project, your next step is to find one to carry the project through. I always recommend to my clients to get at least 3 different contractor estimates. I like to do preliminary walk-throughs with the contractors once the schematic designs are done so we can get some ballpark estimates and find out if we’re on the right track or need to pull back some to fit the budget.

Step 8: Get ready for demo

The big day is upon us, most likely something like 4-8 weeks from when you submitted for permits. Time to get that schedule firmed up and plan on cleaning out the cabinets, putting what you don’t need in storage and — if you’re living in the house during construction — setting up a temporary kitchen so you don’t lose your mind!

You may be moving out of your house temporarily, but most homeowners white-knuckle it and try to live in the house through construction. Preparation and organization can save your sanity.

Discuss the logistics ahead of time with your contractor. Will you meet once a week for updates? Will you have to be out of the house for certain tasks like demo or flooring? What about debris removal and dust? Are there any family allergy issues? What is a typical work day for the crew? Getting all this on the table beforehand can set expectations and make for a smoother ride. 

Step 9: Surviving the dreaded punch list

Once construction is over, well … almost over … there’s always this annoying little list of items that are missing, wrong, or simply forgotten about. A missing light switch plate, a caulk line that shrank and pulled away from the wall, paint touch ups — small things like this, and sometimes bigger things like the hood doesn’t work, or there’s a big scratch in the newly refinished floor. 

Sometimes the homeowner does the punch list. It can be as informal as an emailed list of items that need to be fixed or finished. I like to use a little form I put together that identifies the item to be fixed or finished, the responsible party and the date of completion. I send it to the client for review, changes and additions, and then off to the contractor. 

It’s inevitable that the contractor may have to make multiple visits back to the house to finish these items; prepare yourself for more than one visit and you’ll be fine.The best way to approach this is with a Zen attitude. Things happen, little things get missed. It’s sort of like making a list for the grocery store and still forgetting some key ingredient. We all do it.

Surface Value

Consumers play it safe and practical when choosing kitchen countertops

If you had to sum up current kitchen countertop trends in a few phrases, you might use the following: durability, generational preferences, clean and simple and ice cream sundaes. When taken together, they reflect prevailing consumer attitudes about kitchen remodels (and perhaps home improvement projects in general). Sure, they’re renovating for themselves but hey, let’s not get too crazy.

Practical Matters

This sentiment may explain why many of the trends may seem familiar and why performance remains a key concern in purchasing decisions, even as aesthetics have assumed more of a leadership role. “The recession had changed people’s attitudes about experimentation,” said Kelly Morisseau, a Walnut Creek, CA-based designer and author of popular industry blog Kitchen Sync. “I see quartz countertops going as strong as ever but less demand for materials like concrete and stainless steel.” In Ambler, PA – David Stimmel – of Stimmel Design Group, still uses concrete countertops in much of his work but agrees engineered stone is king, its popularity no doubt buoyed by its ease of maintenance and durability.

But all is not engineered stone. White marbles, such as Carrara and Calcutta Gold, continue to have their admirers, and thanks to a flood of lower-cost varieties from overseas, granite has not completely gone away, noted Chad Seiders, executive director of Artisan Group. A softer, warmer alternative, solid surfacing has also regained its footing, especially among those with a taste for the sleek, contemporary and even monolithic. “It’s a better-performing material in that you can do more with it,” said Thomas Perich, North American marketing manager for surfaces at DuPont, citing advantages such as a lack of seams and ability to create coved backsplashes, integral sinks and thick edges. “You just have a lot of flexibility.”

Safety in Colors

As to color, the selections are vast and many, yet consumer preferences still tend toward the conservative. “A lot of clients want to go for the bold colors, but in the end, they never really do,” Stimmel said. Most play it safe with earth tones, such as creams and caramels, or what Morisseau calls “ice cream sundae colors.” Summer Kath, senior director of business development and strategic partnership at Cambria USA, also sees interest in grays, browns, black and, of course, white. Not surprisingly, a recent best seller for Cosentino North America, noted Lorenzo Marquez, the company’s VP of marketing, resembles white marble. 

In fact, Martinez said, “We’re finding that homeowners and designers are seeking options that offer the aesthetic of, say, a marble or granite,” a trend borne out by the latest quartz offerings from Consentino and Cambria. Nature-inspired, the designs are rich in veining and dramatic in movement – a look favored by the older Boomer set whose kitchens are more traditional, said Morisseau. The younger, contemporary inclined are apt to choose calmer options with smaller particulate or, if they live in cosmopolitan areas, solids, which are emerging in Europe, said Perich. 

Mixing and Edging

Where self-expression lets loose is in the mixing of materials and colors – although that, too, can depend on geography – and the varying of countertop thickness, which can range from ½ inch to 1½ inch to 3 inches. Most industry experts agree simple edges and mitered corners are in, but some still field requests for ornate, classic treatments. Also being specified are chiseled edges on engineered and natural stone, as well as wood tops with “a naked or bark edge” that appears as if just sliced from a tree, Stimmel said. Perich has also noticed that in Europe and, to a lesser degree, on these shores, contemporary kitchens are moving toward ultra-thin countertops with virtually no edge.

Developments to watch for? Maybe. Much depends on factors beyond the realm of kitchens and baths – politics, economics, culture – and their impact on consumers’ mood. There will always be curiosity and demand for the next big thing, but if the present is any indication, form and function still go hand in hand.