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The Kitchen Sink: An Increasingly Decorative Element

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

When you’re at the kitchen sink cleaning lettuce or rinsing dishes, 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 is somewhat obscure, with its earliest reference found around 1918. But there is more reliable information about the sink’s history.

I am old enough to remember the days before most people had dishwashers, when children shared the chores of washing dishes over a kitchen sink that somehow seemed higher than necessary for little kids like me. But then, since I was the youngest of three, I never really had to wash the dishes. My older sister and brother, who were tall enough to actually reach into the sink, did the washing. I prided myself on my drying, leaving no telltale drops or streaks.

My mother didn’t have a dishwasher until she won one at a drawing at an appliance store when I was 10 years old. I remember the great joy in learning that the new appliance in the house 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.

I find it fascinating to know the history of everything involved with today’s homes, and kitchen sinks probably have the longest history of all, starting in the Neanderthal age. 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 lessen the chance of household fires.

During the early 1800s, our first official sink needed water pumped from supply tanks or wells and collected in bowls set into metal troughs. Copper and nickel silver, an alloy of zinc, copper and nickel, were among the first two materials used for the butler sinks usually found in the homes of the wealthy.

One of the most charming features in the oldest wing of my recently sold 1734 home, is a very early 19th century indoor plumbing system, with a hand pump on a wooden counter, directly over an artesian well found in the crawl space below. The water at one time drained into the still-existing metal trough sink, which features a drain for waste water.

In the 1920s, indoor plumbing created the need for sturdy sinks made of non-corrosive materials like copper and nickel, manganese silicon, carbon and iron, and from 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.

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 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 protrudes an inch or two from the countertop to show the full depth of the bowl. It is offered in a variety of stones such as granite, soapstone or limestone. They are also manufactured in cast iron, stainless steel, copper or fireclay, which has the finish of china.

While there are many options for the kitchen sink, there is always strong sentiment to locating it directly under a window, both to avoid a claustrophobic feeling and to enjoy a pleasant view as we perform otherwise boring chores.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( His real estate site is, and his blog is To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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