Kitchen & Bath: Installing a Farmhouse Sink
The farmhouse sink has risen from the salvage yard to become
an increasingly popular option in today's kitchen. Also called
an apron-front sink, the traditional farmhouse sink was hung on
the wall at a height that suited Mrs. Greenjeans. But today,
wall hanging is the exception, not the norm, making
installation more of a challenge. Because many of these sinks
are now custom made, and most have unusual installation
requirements, planning for a farmhouse sink should begin early
in the kitchen design stage.
Special cabinet requirements can come into play. For example,
reinforcement may be necessary under a vitreous china or
fireclay sink, which can easily weigh in the hundreds of pounds
empty. A deep bowl is one of the appeals of these sinks, but
there's no single standard among the many designs and makers.
The supporting cabinet must be either custom made or somehow
adapted to permit rim alignment at the countertop. In some
installations, filler strips are used to complete the apron's
integration with the cabinet front. And just to keep things
interesting, the sink may install as an undermount, rim mount,
tile-in, or even be surface mounted, vessel style.
Additionally, the sink may be installed with its apron flush,
recessed, or projecting from the cabinet front. Each method and
every design variance carries its own peculiar details, making
manufacturers' prescriptive instructions scarce.
A farmhouse sink faucet is typically wall mounted or installed
in the countertop behind the sink. Wall mounting may require a
special wall buildout at the backsplash to keep the supply
lines out of the exterior wall. The area at the back of the
sink is also more exposed to drips and splashes under either a
deck- or wall-mounted faucet, making watertightness imperative.
Some makers offer sinks with integral backsplash and faucet
panels, providing an all-in-one solution (see Figure 1).
Figure 1.A high integral backsplash conceals
wall-mount faucet supply lines and simplifies waterproofing the
Apron sinks are manufactured of many different materials,
including stainless steel, hammered copper, enameled cast iron,
solid surfacing, quartz composite, granite, and fireclay. But
the quintessential farmhouse sink is definitely the fireclay
version, first manufactured in England around 100 years ago and
made in the same manner today. The fireclay is slip-cast, or
poured in liquefied form, into plaster molds, then dried,
glazed, and kiln fired. The result is a material of notable
hardness and durability. Due to its thick walls, hands-on
fabrication, and material shrinkage during firing, actual sink
size can vary by plus-or-minus 2% from nominal dimensions. This
makes it advisable to wait until you have the unit in hand
before cutting and fitting the countertop or cabinet front.
It's also why you can forget about requesting an installation
template, as each unit varies slightly from the next.
Keep plumbing in mind when
placing an order; manufacturers may provide special fittings
essential to a farmhouse hookup. The inherent wall thickness of
a fireclay sink — up to 2 inches in some models —
can complicate a standard disposal installation. Some sink
manufacturers offer flange adaptors or even special disposal
units made to fit fireclay sink drains. Furthermore, the drain
may be located toward the front of the sink. The sink's rounded
outside corners require it to sit forward to clear the cabinet,
so the cabinet must be at least 24 inches deep, front to back,
to enclose the disposal unit.
Granite, slate, and
soapstone can be carved into beautiful farmhouse sinks,
but you'll definitely want some help with the installation and
a cabinet capable of carrying a serious load. Some models weigh
in at over 300 pounds (Figure 2).
Figure 2.A solid-stone apron-front sink can easily
weigh 300 pounds and claim a considerable piece of the
High-quality stainless steel, 18-gauge or heavier, with
18/8-chrome/nickel content (18% chrome for strength, 8% nickel
for corrosion resistance), seems to be the standard
specification in the farmhouse category. The apron front is
often made of heavier, more dent-resistant material than the
bowl; for example, the Cotswold sink features a 16-gauge apron
and 18-gauge bowl (Figure 3).
Figure 3.Stainless steel shows no sign of losing
its dominance in the sink department. Apron-front models
typically feature 18-gauge basins and heavier 16-gauge aprons
to help withstand frontal impact.
Copper means custom, and a
custom copper sink has much going for it. Custom Sinks by
Rachiele offers many unique features, including a
patent-pending apron-front basin made to fit stock cabinetry. A
shorter-than-typical apron is designed to fit over the face
frame rail of a standard sink base cabinet (Figure 4). The sink
basin drops behind the face frame, permitting the forward
installation and deep basin characteristic of the farmhouse
style. This is one good way to get the farmhouse look in a
retrofit situation or when working with stock cabinets.
Naturally, when working with a sheet-metal sink, whether copper
or stainless steel, there's no unusual concern about its weight
or the need for extra structural support.
Figure 4.This one-of-a-kind custom sink design
provides a retrofit or stock cabinet solution by fitting the
apron over the top rail of the face frame and replacing the
drawer face blank.
Solid surface. The 105-pound
Blanco Silgranit sink, made of 80% granite and 20% resin, is a
hybrid combo of the self-rimming, vessel, and farmhouse styles
(Figure 5). Its 3 1/2-inch-high "apron" substantially raises
the rim above standard counter height, which could play to the
advantage of a tall user, or you could compensate by lowering
the sink section of the countertop. This sink can also be
adapted for undermounting, giving it plenty of
Figure 5.This sink approximates the farmhouse look
in a drop-in format. The 3 1/2-inch-high rim height should be
considered when establishing the height of the countertop. The
granite composite material is said to be extremely stain and
The American Standard Chandler apron-front sink (Figure 6) is
made of solid Corian. Therefore, the sink might seem like a
natural for an integral, undermounted installation in a
solid-surface countertop. In fact, it's made only for drop-in
rim mounting and weighs a relatively light 66 pounds. A
rectangular recess in its apron allows the installation of a
decorative tile frieze.
Figure 6.Despite its solid-surface composition,
this sink is designed for rim mounting only, making for a
fairly conventional installation.
In the truly traditional "unfitted" farmhouse look, the sink
either hangs on the wall or rests on a piece of furniture
exclusively dedicated to the task (Figure 7).
Figure 7.An upscale look from the turn of the 19th
century makes a comeback in this contemporary
Some makers have tie-ins with cabinet manufacturers and can
provide period-look and contemporary bases for their sinks.
Rohl will commission cabinetry from a small, local firm for
some of its imported Shaw's Original fireclay sinks. Working
the other way around, Crown Point Cabinets will build its
cabinet to suit any sink model. And Vanity Flair claims its
cabinet will "accommodate most all farmhouse sinks" (Figure
Figure 8.If the sink manufacturer doesn't offer a
proprietary cabinet, a custom cabinet manufacturer can build to
suit the sink (left). Vanity Flair claims its furniture-style
base will accommodate most farmhouse sinks
The "ideal" height for the sink rim is between 4 and 9 inches
below the elbow of the standing user, according to Dino
Rachiele, an experienced kitchen designer and the founder of
Custom Sinks by Rachiele. Rachiele has made an informal but
rigorous study of the ergonomics of kitchen sink usage and
offers the following guidelines: For users between 5 feet and 5
feet 3 inches tall, the "perfect" bowl depth is 8 1/2 inches
because the bottom of the sink can thus be reached without
uncomfortable stretching; from 5 foot 4 inches to 5 foot 5
inches, the best bowl depth is 9 inches; from 5 foot 5 inches
to 5 foot 6 inches, a 9 1/2-inch bowl is most comfortable; and
5-foot-6-inch to 5-foot-11-inch users will feel at home with a
10-inch-deep bowl. Oddly, however, users 6 feet and taller
should regress to a shallower, 9-inch-deep bowl to avoid
bending at the waist and developing an aching back. These
guidelines assume a standard, 36-inch countertop height.
Although current kitchen design often uses varied countertop
heights to ergonomic advantage, the presence of an adjacent
dishwasher tends to anchor the sink counter at 3 feet.
Naturally, your clients may have their own thoughts on what
feels right and should be consulted.
There's said to be another ergonomic advantage to a farmhouse
sink: Because the work area is brought further forward than in
a standard, countertop installation, the need to bend and reach
is theoretically lessened. But make sure the valve location
doesn't force the user to lean forward to reach it, defeating
the sink's forward design advantage. Narrow front-to-back
depths, wall-mounted valves, and long-necked spigots all
contribute to the classic farmhouse look.
The way things used to be,
today. The doors in a standard sink base cabinet are
usually too tall to fit below the typical farmhouse basin.
While it's possible to modify a stock cabinet, it's more common
to order a custom cabinet for a specific sink. Kohler advises
the construction of a sink cabinet capable of supporting 300
pounds for its fireclay sinks. Vertical cabinet panels of
3/4-inch cabinet-grade plywood with direct bearing on the floor
should easily satisfy that requirement.
Drop-in, tile-in, or undermount? The most significant
difference between a drop-in and an undermount farmhouse sink
is the sequence of installation. A drop-in sink follows the
finished countertop installation and is complicated only by the
possible need to fit the cabinet face around the apron.
Stainless-steel and copper sinks can be undermounted using
clips, anchors, sealant, or a combination to secure the rim to
the countertop's underside. A tile-in sink (typically cast iron
or ceramic) is installed after the countertop substrate
(exterior-grade plywood and tile-appropriate backerboard) with
its rim raised by the thickness of the tile and backerboard.
Kohler emphasizes that the rim and weight of its fireclay sinks
must not bear on the tile backerboard. Any undermounted
fireclay, stone, iron, or vitreous china sink should be
installed in, and be entirely supported by, the cabinet before
setting the countertop. The sink rim must be absolutely trued
to the top of the cabinet to ensure complete contact with the
countertop's underside. A bead of sealant — silicone is
best — between the rim and the countertop is the only
assurance against a leaky installation. Masking tape applied to
the countertop edge and inner face of the sink bowl will keep
the squeeze-out under control while you tool the sealant. Let
it form a skin before you pull the tape.
The weight of a stone or fireclay sink and the lack of access
to the underside can make height adjustments somewhat dicey.
Fireclay sinks in particular are known to be slightly
irregular, making it difficult to prepare precise support.
Veteran Seattle installer Dave Starr has developed a neat trick
for fine-tuning the installation of a heavy farmhouse unit.
Before setting the sink, Starr installs a tee-nut under each
corner in the cabinet support panel, drilling completely
through the panel to allow screw insertion from underneath
(Figure 9). With the sink set on the support panel, he then
uses the screws to precisely adjust the height of each corner,
flush with the top of the cabinet. A generous blob of silicone
at each screw helps hold the sink in position.
Figure 9.Tee-nuts provide adjustability beneath a
slightly irregular ceramic or fireclay sink slated for
undermounting. A generous dot of sealant at each screw location
and a bead around the rim help secure the sink in
In heights of
24 or 34 inches, the 4-inch-deep Gallery Collection features
stainless-steel bodies (Deluxe model), 1/4-inch beveled glass
mirrors, Euro hinges, and 1/4-inch adjustable glass shelves.
Mirrored door backs maintain the view while the cabinet's open.
The conventional 14-inch width makes this line a good choice
for swap-out upgrade installations. Cabinets may be
surface-installed or recessed, with decorative wood or mirrored
surround kits available to enhance the look of either method.
The Deluxe model is also offered in a 6-inch depth for a few
dollars more. List prices start at $300 for the Classic model
in white enamel on steel and go up to $550 for a 6-inch-deep
Deluxe in stainless steel. Real wood accessory frames are also
available for recessed or surface-mount applications, finished
or unfinished, at $150 to $300 for recessed and $350 to $700
for surface mounting.
Assortment of Options.
with a standard, 23 1/4-inch-wide two-door mirror cabinet, the
Multibox system can be easily expanded to 47 1/4 inches wide by
hooking on a couple of 11-inch side units. Integrated,
color-corrected fluorescent strips not only provide grooming
light but rotate with the door to light the cabinet interior.
Side units may be ordered closed and mirrored, or open and
fitted with two to eight optional white plastic pullout storage
boxes. White, aluminum, and many hardwood finishes can be
specified. Cabinet depth is a generous 7 inches; however, the
cabinet is intended only for surface mounting. The basic unit
costs $1,195; side units cost $450 to $515, depending on
configuration and finish selected.
Duravit USA, 888/387-2848,
French for Metal.
aluminum framing, mirrored interiors, rubber door gaskets,
swing-out magnifying mirrors, and adjustable glass shelves are
all standard in the Metallique Collection line. Cabinets are
available in 20- or 24-inch widths and 30- or 40-inch heights
and have a 4-inch interior depth. An optional interior safety
lock-box pilfer-proofs prescription medicines or jewelry.
Cabinet frames are available in polished chrome or brushed
nickel finishes to complement other bathroom fittings.
Suggested retail prices start at $690 and run to $1,843,
depending on options and finish.
Robern, 800/877-2376, www.robern.com.