Think of a rural kitchen in the days before running water, and you'll probably picture a washstand, a forerunner of the modern kitchen counter. In your mind's eye, the wash basin may be sitting on top of the stand, but it's also easy to visualize a basin recessed inside the stand with its front slightly protruding, because that's how many of them were. Setting the basin inside the cabinet lowered it and made it easier to wash clothes and clean dishes.
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Fast forward to the 21st century and browse through home design magazines, and you'll find more than one version of the in-cabinet wash basin, usually mounted in a stylish kitchen cabinet. This type of vessel is now known as a f_armhouse sink_ because it hearkens back to the days of our forebears, but it's a totally modern amenity. Some people also call it a drop-apron sink or apron sink because of its large front panel that extends outward past the edge of the cabinet and down below the countertop.
What's So Good About a Farmhouse Sink?
A large part of the appeal of farmhouse sinks is aesthetic, but good looks alone aren't enough to account for their recent popularity. In fact, farmhouse sinks offer utilitarian advantages over other types of sinks. Some of the stylistic and working advantages of farmhouse sinks are:
- More space. Unlike a drop-in or undermount sink, a farmhouse sink doesn't stop 2 or 3 inches before the edge of the cabinet. Instead, it extends past the front of the cabinet. Besides that, a farmhouse sink is built into the cabinet and is typically deeper than one mounted on the countertop. You have more room for working and storing your dirty dishes, and it's easier to set large pots directly in the sink.
- Easier to use. When using a conventional sink, you have to reach past the front edge of the counter, but when using a farmhouse sink, the front apron is the only thing between you and what's in the sink. Less reaching means less stress on the lower back.
- Water stays in the sink. Because a farmhouse sink is wider and deeper than a conventional sink, water is less likely to splash onto the counter and floor when you're filling pots and doing dishes.
Farmhouse Sinks Aren't for Everyone
One of the big drawbacks of farmhouse sinks is that you can't install one in a cabinet that previously held a conventional sink without modifying the cabinet. You don't install a farmhouse sink by dropping it into a hole or mounting it under to the underside of the countertop; you have to slide it in from the front. That means the front of the cabinet has to be notched to create space for it, and while that's usually possible (in home improvement, almost anything is possible), it can be difficult and expensive.
Not only that, but some farmhouse sinks are very heavy and need more support than that provided by clips holding it to the countertop. The support structure is typically built into the cabinet, and the structure—along with the oversized sink itself —may cost you storage space. Here are some other reasons you may not want to opt for a farmhouse sink.
- It's expensive. A farmhouse sink is not a low-budget amenity. Beside the extra cost of installation, the sink itself will cost more than a conventional one. You may be able to find one for $500, but price tags between $1,000 and $2,000 are more common.
- You may have to modify the plumbing. Because a farmhouse sink is so deep, you may have to lower the waste opening in the wall to guarantee a downward drain slope. Also, there may not be room for a garbage disposal.
- Your sink could crack under its own weight. Clay and porcelain farmhouse sinks are heavy even when empty, and they need a lot of support. If the support structure is insufficient to hold the sink securely when its full of water, it could tip, and the stress forces could crack it.
Styles and Materials
Because the front apron of a farmhouse sink is visible, it becomes part of the kitchen decor, so choice of materials is even more important than it is for a conventional sink. Farmhouse sink materials run the gamut from lightweight metals to easy-to-clean but heavy porcelain and enameled cast iron. Here is a partial list of popular materials:
- Stainless steel
- Enameled cast iron
- Composite stone
A farmhouse sink needs to be supported from underneath, but is also attaches to the countertop, and both overmount and undermount models are available. Overmount sinks have a rim that straddles the countertop, similar to a drop-in sink. Undermount models also have a rim, but it butts against the underside of the counter and isn't visible.
What's Involved with Installation?
It's easier to build a cabinet around a farmhouse sink than it is to install one in an existing cabinet. The best time to install one is when you're doing a complete kitchen remodel and you're either replacing the kitchen counter or you don't mind making major changes to it.
The cabinet must have a hole in the countertop, which has to be cut accurately and cleanly if the sink is an undermount type. You also have to notch the front of the cabinet, and this notch also has to be accurate, because it frames the sink apron. The support structure can be built onto the walls of the cabinet if they are strong enough, but it may need to be a standalone edifice resting on the bottom of the cabinet or the floor. Some sinks come with their own brackets that you screw onto the cabinet or the wall, but not all of them do.
Once the cabinet is ready for the sink, you install it much as you do any other type of sink. Apply caulk to the rim or the countertop, set the sink in place, tighten down the clips that come with it to secure it to the counter, and conclude by connecting the drain, garbage disposal and plumbing.
After installation, some cosmetic touch-ups may be needed, such as caulk or trim around the apron.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.