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Based on the centuries-old design of Chinese washbasins used in the days before running water, vessel sinks are a contemporary, traditional, fun, elegant, and even cutting-edge choice for your home.

Today, you can find a vessel sink – essentially a free-standing sink that sits directly on the countertop or furniture on which it is mounted -- made of cast iron, glass, natural stone such as marble, decorated vitreous china and even in select materials such as stainless steel and bronze. Here’s how to make the most of this distinctive style.

First things first

Choosing a vessel sink can impact the placement of pipes, so make sure to take that into account when you plan your plumbing.

Vessel sinks also require a different counter height than most traditional bathroom sinks. Conventional recessed-bowl sinks sit at counter height, usually 32 to 36 inches above the floor, which is a comfortable height for brushing teeth and washing hands. Consider a lower counter height to accommodate if your sink sits on top of the counter.

Other installation options: mount your vessel sink on the wall with a bracket or install it on a piece of furniture designed expressly for a vessel sink.

Vessel sinks are no longer a trend--they're part of a design ethic.

Standing out

You want your vessel sink to coordinate with the other fixtures in the room, certainly, but you don’t need to match them.

“If you’ve got a standard toilet and a standard tub, you can do anything with a vessel sink,” says Seattle-based interior designer Barbara Kalis. “The trend is for it not to match.” For example, if you have a white toilet and a white tub, says Kalis, you could choose a white vessel sink, “or you could do metal, you could do glass, patterns—almost anything you want."

And you can use a wide variety of countertop materials, according to Kalis. “I’ve seen vessel sinks on wood planks, on concrete, on tile, including mosaic; I’ve seen them on granite or marble slabs.” Keep in mind that the vessel is likely to draw more attention than the countertop it sits on. “They tend to be the focal point of the bathroom because they’re so beautiful, so it’s best to make the countertop secondary,” Kalis says.

Fitting faucets

When choosing faucets, vessels require a few special considerations. If the water flow hits the side of the sink, it can cause splashing; you’ll want it to flow to the bottom. Make sure there is enough room between the faucet and the sink for users to wash their hands or brush their teeth.

Because vessel sinks sit above the countertop, they require a counter-based faucet with a long neck that can reach up over the side of the basin and allow adequate clearance in the basin. Another option for a vessel sink is a wall-mount faucet, which Kalis says makes the most practical sense. “Most wall-mounted faucets have a bigger throw–or reach–from the back of the wall to the middle of the sink,” Kalis says.

The shape of things to come

Another reason to love vessel sinks is the variety and uniqueness of their shapes.

“Vitreous china sinks are like black-and-white photos, where you focus on the shape of the sink,” says Kalis. Striking shapes include the Vox® round style and the square Bateau®. Some vessel styles, like the Conical Bell® Vessels, have deep bowls, while others, like DemiLav® Wading Pool®, are shallower.

Distinctive as they are, vessel sinks styles are classic and therefore not in much danger of becoming outdated over time, according to Kalis. "A fad turns into a trend and the trend becomes standard," she says. "The [vessel] style has been around too long now to date the space. It is no longer a trend; it is part of the design ethic."

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