Vessel Sinks: Complete Guide, Basics, and Pros and Cons

Interiors of a bathroom
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Remember the first time you saw a vessel sink? It may have been while watching a home show, visiting a friend's house, or attending an open house--but you may have felt confusion, wonderment, or delight?

Vessel sinks provoke many emotions, not only from homeowners but from industry professionals such as designers, contractors, and bathroom remodelers.  Sometimes that emotion is love, sometimes fervent dislike.

 Rarely does anyone have a neutral opinion about them.

Is the Trend Over?

In 2013, when Lauren Hunter of Remodeling  polled designers, asking, "True or false.  Vessel sinks were just a fad," the answer was a resounding "True!" from all.

So, at least from the perspective of taste-makers, vessel sinks are very dated and are not being installed in the numbers they were in the early 2000s.  According to industry professionals, vessel sinks functionally never worked well.  Aesthetically, they were good for that initial moment of surprise, but little else.

But homeowners are free to follow their own tastes, and if a vessel sink is part of your tastes--go for it.  

Defined

A vessel sink is a basin that sits on top of a bathroom vanity or counter, rather than inset like traditional drop-in or undermount sinks. These sinks are found only in bathrooms, not kitchens, as their size and style would not be practical for the kitchen environment.

More specifically, vessel sinks tend to be found in decorative bathrooms, such as powder rooms or guest bathrooms, where the sinks are not used very often.

The vessel sink basin can be any material--fired ceramic, glass, stainless steel, stone, copper, or marble. Glass and ceramic vessel sinks are the most popular types today.

Types: Above and Below Counter

There are two distinct types of vessel sink installations:

  1. Above-Counter Installation: The vessel sink basin rests completely on top of the counter or vanity. When people think of vessel sinks, this is the most version they usually have in mind. After a drain hole of 1 5/8" to 1 3/4" is drilled, no additional cutting of the countertop is required.
  2. Recessed Installation: Recessed installation allows for greater basin stability. A hole greater greater than the diameter of the drain hole, but smaller than the sink diameter, is cut into the countertop. This allows the sink basin to rest about half-way down.

Pros/Cons

Vessel sinks tend to elicit superlatives from everyone who sees them: it's either "I love them" or "I hate them." Let's look at both sides of the issue:

Advantages:

  • Style. Add panache to your bathroom for relatively little money.
  • Installation. Avoid costly and difficult sink cut-outs. You need only one hole cut out for the drain pipe.
  • Changeability. Because vessel sinks are not stuck in place (as drop-in sinks are), they can be changed out fairly easily.
  • Space. You can gain a bit of extra counter room because the vessel sink basin takes up fewer area than recessed sinks.

    Disadvantages:

    • Gimmicky and Dated:  Some designers consider vessel sinks to be impractical, verging on gimmicky. Has the fad come and gone already?
    • Durability. Because of the exposed edges of the basin, they are prone to chipping and breakage.
    • Stability. Vessel sinks are secured only at one point, rather than the entire perimeter. A recessed vessel sink, which sinks about half-way into the vanity but not as far as a drop-in sink, adds greater stability.
    • Cleaning. Difficult to clean around the area where the vessel sink basin meets the vanity or countertop.
    • Overflow. Vessel sinks do not come with overflow relief drains.
    • Higher.  The higher rim can be an issue for shorter folks.

    Installation

    Within the category of sink installation, on a scale of 1-10 installing a vessel sink ranks around 3 or 4.

    In other words, vessel sink installation is decidedly not a mandatory professional-only installation. As a homeowner with little DIY skills, you can install your own vessel sink.

    For the installation process for an above-counter vessel sink (rather than the recessed variety), it is important to note that your sink should come with a connecting ring that acts as an interface between the rounded bottom of the basin and the flat countertop. If not, then your sink basin may have a flat bottom that requires silicone caulking between basin and counter.

    Tip: When installing a glass vessel sink, you must have a connecting ring. Silicone caulk applied to the bottom side of a glass vessel sink will be visible through the top and will be unsightly.

    Faucets

    One advantage of traditional drop-in sinks is that the aprons of these sinks have pre-drilled holes for the installation of faucets and handles. But how do you handle the matter of fixtures when it comes to vessel sinks?

    Faucet Configuration

    Holes are drilled into the countertop or vanity to accommodate the faucet(s). It is entirely up to you whether you choose a single- or double-hole configuration.

    Choose "Vessel-Sink" Faucets?

    Faucets are often advertised as being specially made for vessel-sink faucets. What these manufacturers are actually advertising is that their faucets clear the high rim of the vessel sink basin. Faucet heights of 4" or greater should clear most vessel sink basins rims with plenty of room to spare.

    Cost

    Not long ago, vessel sinks were exclusively high-end designer products. Now, with the surge of popularity of vessel sinks, homeowners at nearly any budget level can afford a vessel sink.

    Prices for name-brand vessel sinks range from just around $120 to about ten times as much, or $1,200. These prices do not include installation, faucets, or vanities.

    The average cost of vessel sinks is around $235.