Choosing Bathrooms sinks and Countertops

Selecting a bathroom sink and countertop can range from being very easy to a real pain in the neck. That's because you have to consider the vanity cabinet, countertop, sink, and faucet all together. We lay out an approach to simplify the process and tell you the pros and cons of your options.

Develop a plan first
You'll be tempted to just go to a bathroom show room and start ordering. You will find that there are lots of choices and all are tied to how much you want to spend in terms of time and money. Get organized first. We suggest you organize your bathrooms into four categories according to the money you will spend: master bathroom, powder room, every day bathrooms, guest bathroom and utility basement bathroom. Spend the most money in the master bathroom and powder room and the least on that basement or utility room bathroom.

Even more important, decide on a common color theme for the vanity cabinet. If you don't do this you will go crazy trying to mix, match or coordinate the colors of the countertop, and sinks with the vanity cabinet.  If you have a cabinet color in mind and can get a sample take it or a door sample when you shop.

One thing you can't do is select items separately without considering how they will work together. Before doing that, you need at least a basic understanding of what to expect and some of the constraints. If you understand this you'll spend your hard earned money much more wisely.

The Parts are greater than the Sum
So lets start with the individual components first and in the following order:

1) Bathroom vanity cabinets can sit on the floor, have legs like furniture or be floating. The depth of the vanity cabinet in the U.S. is usually 21 inches or 18 inches deep. They come in 24, 30, 48 and 60 inch widths. Floating cabinets can come in totally different sizes. If you decide you want a floating cabinet say from Porcelanosa's cabinetry line you may be pretty well restricted to the sinks and countertops that will accommodate their products. In other words you can't just take any pre-made single unit sink/countertop and put it on top of a cabinet. It's probably not going to fit.

First decide on the depth of the cabinet- 18 and 21 inches are the norm in the U.S. with 24 inches being more common and nail down that color. Then choose the style: traditional (sits on the floor), on legs, or floating. Then the color(s) of the wood.

Floating cabinet by Xylem

2) Countertops can be made of cultured marble, quartz stone, concrete, granite, marble, glass and even wood. Quartz stone, granite and marble can be customized to size and specific edges. Of course these cost more unless you can find scrap pieces from a granite or stone fabricator or wholesaler. It pays to ask especially if you only have a few bathrooms.

Some backsplashes are pre-cut with a built in backsplash and others can be fabricated to your wishes. You'll want to consider whether or not you need that backsplash or just will use the wall tile. The latter assumes that you are tiling to the ceiling or doing a wainscoting at least 39 to 42 inches high above the floor.

Countertops that are pre-cut are usually less expensive. You will find that they have a single hole or three holes to mount the sink faucet. The latter three hole countertops have the hot and cold water handle with a 4 inch or 8 inch spread. The 4 inch spread for a sink faucet is one unit and is contractor grade, so if you want a more sophisticated look, for the 8 inch spread (commonly called widespread) or the single hole faucet. We like single hole faucets since they prevent hot water scolding and make for a less clutter and contemporary look.

3) The sink can sit on top of the counter (vessel sink), or it can be an overmount or undermount sink. The overmount variety has a rim that supports the sink on top of the countertop, while the undermount sink is attached to the bottom of the countertop. A good example of a typical undermount sink is the Kohler Caxton K-2410. This model comes in many colors and several sizes to accommodate all bathroom vanity cabinets and tastes.

4) Single unit sink and countertops are becoming more common. They've traditionally were made of of cultured marble, but now glass and porcelain units are available. The glass units provide a very contemporary look while white porcelain units go with almost anything.

Xylem countertop sinks

5) Sink faucets come in two major types- single hole, two hole or three hole. Most sink faucets are mounted on the top of the countertop but a few can be mounted on the wall. Select your faucet with replacement parts in mind and avoid the "mystery meat" brands that you never heard of. If the faucet fails, finding that replacement part is going to be a lot cheaper than buying a brand new faucet. 

Sink faucets come in many finishes with polished chrome and brushed nickel being the  more common choices. In Europe where the trend in bathroom design tends to favor sleek and contemporary lines, polished chrome faucets prevail. You'll pay 40 percent more for brushed nickel in a bathroom. If you like brushed nickel then use it in the kitchen instead.

Basic Choices
a) Bathroom vanity cabinet set- includes a vanity cabinet, countertop, sink, and sometimes even a faucet. These are found at Lowes, Home Depot and Costco. You are fairly limited to a limited number of vanity cabinet colors and the countertop is usually a fairly common granite. Some units come without the sink faucet. If you choose such a set, note the number of holes for the sink faucet and choose a faucet beforehand.  

b) Bathroom vanity cabinets- for traditional bathroom vanity cabinets it is hard to beat Kraftmaid for color, style and price. Find any store that offers Kraftmaid Cabinetry and ask the designer to price the bathroom vanity cabinets. We're not talking about Kraftmaid's separate line of bathroom vanities; these are in our opinion very limited. Waltz over to the kitchen door samples and select the style and color you like, then get the designer to cost out the same door style and color in a bathroom vanity. Compare prices with and without plywood construction. The latter will hold up for years.

For a more contemporary look we like the Bertch Bathroom Cabinetry Insignia Line. The legs are angled and this gives a more contemporary look to the unit. 

Bertch Insignia Line

c) Cultured marble sink and countertop- also found in many of the home improvement stores in several basic colors and sizes. You'll either go with a white or colored vanity cabinet. This an inexpensive, basic look and the sink faucet is usually three holes with a 4 inch spread.

d) Quartz and man made countertop with separate sink- things get more complicated here as you start to combine the elements of the set. Quartz countertops come in almost every color of the rainbow and the color is uniform. No fuss or bother here. You be able to have the stone cut to fit single hole, two or three hole faucets and it can accommodate any type of sink. Expect to pay more for these but get the look you want. Quartz is also pretty kid safe.

e) Granite and marble countertops are next in line. These are natural stones and each is as unique as the earth they come from. If you can find a slab that is fairly consistent and have a common color theme these will work fine. Some granites and marbles are very consistent, but also dull. The beatury of these stones is there variation. It's a tradeoff, but very hard work to match a granite or marlbe to a vanity. A good strategy is to first choose the stone and then try to match it to the vanity cabinet and sink color.

Both granite and marble have to be sealed annually and you have to be careful with them. If you have kids think twice before choosing a light colored granite or marble. The stones can also stain from hair color and other bathroom products.  

f) Next up the line are the single unit sink/countertops. We are partial to these and for good reason. These come in colored glass and white porcelain. They fit over standard traditional or contemporary vanity cabinets that are 21 inches deep and have a square bowl. Xylem, a chinese company makes them and other bath products.  This simplifies your task, but be sure to choose a sink faucet first and make sure the the single unit has the required number of holes that you need. Union Hardware in the Washington DC area stocks these countertops. Other bathroom showrooms probably have them too.

It's hard to go wrong with with white porcelain for a common theme for all of your bathrooms, except the master bathroom. Inspect the sinks closely when you take delivery. Some of the less expensive white porcelain products may have dimples or imperfections in the porcelain so be careful. Generally the European made porcelain sink/countertops are of much better quality, but you will pay for that. The Chinese made products lkike Xylem's will do fine for every day use.

g) Floating cabinets- you are at the high end here so be prepared to pay money. Everything is designed to go together and generaly you are limited to vessel sinks and single unit sink/countertops. The look is much more contemporary. We like either the lighter or darker woods. Zebra wood is an option but we think it's a fad.

Pleas share your ideas and insights. Note, none of the products we referred to are paying us. We just think that they offer good value and they may suit your needs.