Are faucet manufacturers addressing "function" as well as "form?"

Moen's Monticello cathedral and high-arc faucet
Jan Weimer knows her way around a kitchen.

She is a consultant to consumers, architects, designers and contractors in the field of kitchen design. In her book, "Kitchen Redos, Revamps, Remodels, and Replacements: Without Murder, Suicide, or Divorce," she specializes in organization, creation of functional layouts, and selection of equipment, appliances and materials with a focus on value - and prevention of costly mistakes.

"It's not important for people to love to cook in order to enjoy a great kitchen," says the design consultant from L.A., whose own kitchen recently has been featured in national home design magazines. "Consumers want a kitchen that is simple, clean, affordable - and working."

Moen's Colonade pull-out faucet
Faucet and sink manufacturers come out with "the next big thing" every year it seems. But is their attention to form swirling "function" down the drain?

In the past 10 years or so, the kitchen has been reborn. No longer do cooks create their masterful meals behind walls closed in by cabinets, only to emerge into the dining room on a cloud of fragrant steam. The kitchen has become the Great Room - an open and airy cooking space on display where others may view the behind-the-scenes activity.

"People are looking for that 'quality of life' in their everyday lives," Weimer says. "The kitchen has become a way for family and friends to co-mingle. It's an emotionally nurturing space."

And with this quality of life consumers strive for, they're also looking to control the quality of the fixtures and appliances in their homes. They don't want faucets that look beautiful but leak, or handcrafted sinks that can't hold a pot. Today's consumers are looking for quality tools in the kitchen that will enrich their lives, according to Weimer. They want to cook and clean easily with tools - not toys or gadgets - that will respond well in their hands or at their touch. Like a well-used wrench or hammer, they want things that will work and last.

At this year's Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Orlando, new products and finishes for the kitchen abounded. Weimer applauds the variety, for she believes in the more the merrier. But she worries that kitchen design is giving in to trends and scrimping on flexibility.

"Vegetable sinks. Who wants that?" Weimer laughs about the smaller, less deep side sinks used mainly for rinsing fruits and vegetables. "If you have enough room for one of those, you have the room for a full-sized, deep-bowl sink that will outlast its use as a simple rinsing gadget."

In today's market, consumers are willing to pay the price for quality. But they need more than just an aesthetically pleasing finish. "They're not getting the 'guts,'" as Weimer would say. Will these new finishes stand up to daily (possibly abrasive) cleaning? Will the faucet pullout have easy-touch buttons, and a fine spray you can water a window box garden with? "A faucet doesn't have to have all the bells and whistles, but it's got to have a clear job description," Weimer says.

The following products from this year's K/BIS are a step in the right direction: Functioning Form.

Kohler's Coralais pullout kitchen faucet and optional loop handle.

Test Your Metal

One look that has returned to the kitchen is copper. Reminiscent of the copper pots and pans that appeared in kitchens of old, the finish can be seen on Moen's Monticello¿ cathedral and high-arc faucets, as well as its new Colonnade, a pullout wand with a simple, spring-activated button. All of Moen's copper faucet components feature the LifeShine¿ titanium-strengthened finish. This means the beauty of the finish cannot be scrubbed or worn off.

"The durability factor must be taken into consideration," Weimer warns. She notes, from her experience with clients, that consumers are looking for a personal signature, a way to express themselves. This can be achieved through a kitchen faucet finish, but it is critical that they don't invest and reinvest in a finish that fails to hold up to the daily grind.

Delta uses a rigorous manufacturing process to create its new Venetian Bronze, a rich, non-glossy finish evoking and old-world feeling. The plated part of its faucet is oxidized to chemically convert to top surface to a hard, dark layer. They are then hand-buffed to bring out each part's bronze highlights. Finally, parts are treated for corrosion resistance with a baked-on coating to ensure strength and durability.

In a recent consumer poll by Delta, it was found that people turn their kitchen faucets on and off about 20 times per day - some as many as 40 times per day. Nearly 47 percent of their respondents said they would like to see improvements in "ease of operation" of faucets by the year 2010.

Kohler's "been there, done that" and debuted its Coralais pullout kitchen faucet and optional loop handle. The pullout wand has two spray options - spray or aerated - and includes its MasterClean spraface, keeping calcium build-up at bay.

It also features full-metal construction and one-piece ceramic valves for trouble-free operation, even under the hardest water conditions. A high-temperature limit stop on the valve cartridge lets homeowners set a comfortable maximum water temperature. The new loop handle is ergonomically designed to provide user comfort, which is important for turning water on and off with an elbow when hands are full.

With more than 30 years in various facets of the food and kitchen business, Weimer knows this to be true: The key to selling anything is to communicate function.

"Continued research and increasing technology can only help with giving consumers the quality they look for and deserve."

A devotee of food and everything related to it, Jan Weimer is a restaurant consultant, recipe developer, cookbook author and former chef whose own kitchen has been featured in national media. She was the executive food editor of Bon Appetit, and her articles on food, wine travel, and kitchen design have appeared in Food & Wine, Metropolitan Home, and the New York Times among other publications. She can be reached at 323/667-0590; e-mail