Faucets That Function

Modern faucets deliver high style without sacrificing function. Here are the features to shop for when selecting your kitchen's most fashionable fixture.

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You've probably seen the commercial: A well-dressed couple meets with their architect. Without a word the woman reaches into her bag and pulls out a sleek, polished nickel faucet and says "Design a house ... around this."

While you might find the notion extreme, it may not be far from reality for someone creating their dream kitchen. Today's faucets aren't just a delivery system for water to the kitchen sink, they're a style statement.

Whether it's a gleaming high-tech spout you clipped from a glossy magazine or a timeless bronze fixture you coveted in the showroom, the faucet you choose can inspire your entire kitchen. But this particular sink fixture isn't just about appearances, say experts. It needs to meet the demands of your cooking and cleanup needs and make life easier. Otherwise, that fancy looking faucet could wind up as an expensive and frustrating design disaster.

A kitchen faucet can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $1,200, depending on the materials used and the finish you want. But most plumbing and design experts say that for a quality faucet that lasts 10 to 20 years, you should start your search in the $300 range.

"Faucets are like shoes" says Marc Schlesser, chief designer at MyHome (www.myhomeus.com), a full-service design firm in New York City. "You get what you pay for — and if it's cheap, it won't last."

Schlesser advises consumers renovating their kitchens — or just looking to update the faucet — to visit a kitchen design showroom as well as the chain home stores to compare the products and "feel the difference." A good fixture should have substantial heft and the best materials even in the details: the latest ceramic disc valve rather than plastic to control water flow, and a heavy-duty woven sprayer hose instead of vinyl.

Here's more of what's on tap when shopping for kitchen faucets today, with a few tips from the experts:

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Spouts

The most popular spouts today are high-arching "goosenecks," and for good reason. These elegant spouts can rotate to both sides of your sink, and, because of their height, are extra handy for filling large pots.

Pull-out faucets — spouts with sprayers attached — reach anywhere in a two- or even three-bowl sink, fill large stockpots, coffeemakers, and buckets outside the sink, and can replace a separate side sprayer. Look for one that extends 20 to 24 inches. Pull-down spray faucets let you adjust the water flow, choosing between an aerated stream and a spray. Some offer a second, more powerful spray setting for intense cleaning.

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Pot Fillers

Another type of auxiliary faucet gaining popularity — especially for large families — is the "pot filler," a spout on a hinged arm usually located next to the range or wall-mounted on the back splash behind it.

Side or Overhead Sprayers

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Schlesser says the "get what you pay for" rule for faucets also applies to the side sprayer: "It takes a lot of abuse, so it needs to be a product of fine engineering."

One of the newest features to the sink area is overhead, pull-down sprayers for pre-rinsing before a trip to the dishwasher. Inspired by restaurant equipment, these sprayers (some are separate while others are attached to the faucet), are larger and have a higher-pressure spray than traditional side sprayers, says Dave Bloom, sales director for George Morlan Plumbing in Portland, Oregon. This professional gear is perfect for cooks who love to entertain (and use a lot of dishes and pots). Several manufacturers have designs for the home, but you can also find industrial-grade sprayers in restaurant equipment stores. Though restaurant equipment is more affordable, these sprayers can be heavy and require more space above and around the sink.

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Handles

Faucets with a single handle — either attached to the spout or located to the side — take only one hand to use, freeing up the other to hold vegetables or a pot for instance. They take up less space and hence, create a minimal, contemporary look.

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Two-handled faucets allow you to adjust water temperature more precisely and may the perfect fit for a retro or period-style kitchen. But there may be a better reason to choose a single handle, says Schlesser. Aging boomers, who may have less mobility 10 to 15 years in the future, might want a faucet that will be easier to use as they mature.

Finishes

Most faucets are made of cast brass and are chrome-plated, says Bloom. But newer, higher-end faucets by several manufacturers (KWC and Hansgrohe, for instance), are made entirely of stainless steel, which come from an entire block of stainless steel carved to form the design. A carved stainless faucet should last 15 to 20 years. Today's better faucets also have special coatings (and lifetime warranties) guaranteed to resist scratches and abrasive cleansers.

The finish itself can also dictate the style of your fixture, says Moody. Brushed or satin nickel finishes generally are considered modern. Chrome, depending on the design, works for both high-tech or vintage kitchen designs. Bronze, antique brass or copper usually say "country," whether your kitchen resembles a rustic cabin or a sophisticated Tuscan farmhouse.

Classic chrome faucets are usually the least expensive, but often have a bluish cast — not the ideal match for popular stainless steel appliances and fixtures. Instead, choose polished or satin nickel or brushed stainless, says Schlesser. These have a warmer, yellow undertone; they cost 25 to 40 percent more for the same design, but hide scratches and are more aesthetically pleasing.

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Multi-Tasking Faucets

Some homeowners today want a faucet that also delivers purified water on demand. Filtering faucets start at $300 and are usually housed under the sink; others are situated inside the spout. "Anti-scald" faucets let you set the maximum water temperature, which is important if you have small children in your home. Another choice is a filter system with a dispenser that delivers both hot and cold drinking water.

Bottom Line

Schlesser, whose newly renovated kitchen boasts a top-of-the-line faucet by KWC, says he tries to convince clients that the kitchen faucet is a key purchase — not the place to cut costs. "You can get them excited about the oven and fridge or dishwasher, but there are huge differences in quality and functionality of an inexpensive fixture that looks great and the engineering marvel of a great faucet."

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