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Everything You Need to Know About the Kitchen Sink

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

When you’re at the kitchen sink cleaning lettuce or rinsing dishes in preparation for the dishwasher, do you ever wonder about the origins of this trusty staple in the heart of your home? Or did you ever wonder where the expression “everything but the kitchen sink” originated?

The answer to the latter question has a short history. The idiomatic expression developed at the onset of World War II when everything made of metal was collected, melted down and re-used for the war arsenal. The only objects omitted were porcelain kitchen sinks.

History tells us that the dishwasher was invented by a woman in Illinois in the 1880s, but nobody in my middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood had a dishwasher when I was a kid. Those were the days when children shared the chores of washing dishes over a kitchen sink that somehow seemed higher than necessary.

But then, since I was the youngest of three, I never really had to wash the dishes. I only dried them and my older sister and brother, who were tall enough to actually reach into the sink, did the washing. Then, of course, my mother probably trusted their coordination better than mine. I prided myself on drying the best dish and best glass, leaving no tell-tale drops or streaks.

My mother never had a dishwasher until she won one at an appliance store when I was nine. I remember the great joy in learning that the new appliance in the house, which significantly diminished the open space in our eat-in kitchen (we had no dining room), both washed and dried the dishes. It was convenient, yes, but the dishwasher’s bottom line effect was that my siblings and I probably spent less time together after its arrival.

Kitchen sinks probably have the longest history of all, starting with the Neanderthals. The first sink was simply a large rock that had eroded into a concave shape from centuries of rain. There was not much progress through the ages until the time that households included rooms designated as kitchens. For centuries, most kitchen functions were performed around the cooking hearth or, for wealthier families, in a separate building, to reduce the chance of household fires.

During the early 1800s, our first kitchen sinks involved a process of pumping water from supply tanks or wells and collecting it in bowls, which were placed into dry sinks made of metal troughs and built into wooden cabinets. Copper and nickel silver, an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel, were among the first materials used for butler sinks, usually found only in wealthy homes.

In the 1920s, indoor plumbing created the need for sturdy sinks, made of manganese silicon, carbon and iron, and since World War II, porcelain.

With the convenience of the dishwasher, homeowners spend less time toiling at the kitchen sink today, yet it has greater potential than ever as a decorative element, equal in interest to homeowners and decorators as is the countertop and backsplash.

With less rigorous use, today’s bowls come in a wide range of materials from the expected porcelain to the newest kind of granite composite. There is also a return to copper, which I think is the most interesting material of all in that it develops its own patina with age and proper care.

Kitchen sinks are always best installed from below the countertop and at a lower level so that water and waste materials can be easily scooped from the counter into the bowl. More sinks are now available with the drains strategically placed at the back of the bowl so that there is more front storage space in the cabinet below.

More and more, I am seeing installations of the farmhouse kitchen sink, which features an apron that extends an inch or two from the countertop to show the full depth of the bowl. It is offered in a variety of stones, including granite, soapstone or limestone. They are also manufactured in cast iron, stainless steel, copper or fireclay, which has the finish of china.

Currently, the wisdom of attaching a waste disposal unit to the kitchen sink is being questioned. Sentiment now is that it is not the greenest way to dispose of kitchen waste.

While there are many options for the kitchen sink, there is a general sense about locating it directly under a window, to avoid a claustrophobic feeling and to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors as we perform our chores.

Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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