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Powder Room Bowls
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Closet drama is found in powder rooms these days, not from the inside of a book, but from the dramatic outlay of new high-style lavatory basins. Call them sinks when the ceramic lavatory sits on top a ceramic pedestal; call them bowls or vessels when the basin sits on top the counter; or call them lavs or lavies to shorten the lingo. But what ever you call them, washbasins today are often described as works of art; sometimes they?re even signed.

Take the Fallen Leaves vessel by Alchemy Glass and Light, one of the pioneer manufacturers in a new field that began just about five years ago. This signed glass vessel surrounds a cast metal imprint of leaves pressed between two thick pieces of glass.

?If someone likes this one, we sell them this one because we could order another one and the colors would be totally different,? said Kathy Richardson, sales manager at Pierce Hardware in Snider Plaza. Alchemy also crafts a burnished fossil glass sink and a variety of lava, coral and velvet cienega glass variegated bowls, which sell from $1300 to $1900.

BODY JET-SET, founded in 1997, manufactures glass basins and glass pedestals, such as the Renaissance Glassworks collection of traditional European washbasins in blue, onyx, evergreen, crystal, clear, and the amber on the showroom at Pierce Hardware. These flower-like pedestal sinks, selling from $2295 to $2505, are considered very fragile and definitely limited to powder room use, according to Richardson.

Transforming the delicacy of glass into metal is the Bates & Bates Acapulco polished alegre vessel bowl, measuring 15 inches in diameter and sitting on top a Baroque ironworks stand of pewter. The stand (19? by 19?, 31? h) comes in five finishes from pewter to bronze to dark rust and matt black and costs $1100; the bowl, a shiny smooth interior/hammered exterior aluminum alloy, costs $1195. Together, the two look like sculpture curly metalwork that blends nicely in the curved, obligatory P-trap. By-the-way P-traps are used on all plumbing to prevent the reflux of sewer gases into the house, according to Wayne Allen at Pierce Hardware.

Here, customers can get in some creativity because of the compatibility of different manufacturer products, for instance, a Global-granite bowl at $1150 sits on top an Alchemy bronze pedestal stand that costs $1900, and Newport Brass supplies the oil-rubbed, wall mount Bouvet faucet and handles at $901.

Nob Hill also sells a huge amount of above counter vessels in marble, clear glass, and textured glass compared to just two years ago. And they sell lots of metal sinks, like their own copper sinks, which can be used either above counter or the standard below counter mounting, according to owner, Alan Fishman. Metal bowls fit well in the Southwestern, rustic look that?s popular today. But often, metal bowls are made of various alloys of steel or aluminum finished-off to look like copper, weathered copper, brass, and weathered brass, etc., all of which change color over time.

?They call it a living finish,? Nancy Branch said. ?It?s going to change as you live with it. The manufacturers expect it. Sometimes customers are surprised by it.? Take for example, pure copper color possibilities ranging from light pink to rich brown to aged green, according to HP Austin literature. Consequently, people are looking at metal bowls for decorative qualities. And they?re using them in powder rooms, where contact with water is limited.

?Anything more unusual rather than the typical porcelain,? Fishman said. ?Matter of fact, the typical pedestal porcelain sinks don?t even sell anymore, at least not at this location.?

Another old-fashioned look is gaining popularity?the antique vanity. This nostalgic throwback to the 19th century bedroom pitcher and basin started trending with people cutting antique chests to set in a sink and plumbing, according to Branch. So, manufacturers began designing antique styled vanities, resulting in collaborations such as that, which now exists between Nob Hill and Cole & Co. to sell custom cabinet vanities like the Oriental Bombay chest at 46 ?? w by 22?d by 35?h at $3495. Lavatory bowls in the Belle Terra style from Procher can be ordered in white ($179) and color ($370). And hardware is also purchased separately although everything comes mounted on the vanity.

Kerns-Wilcheck also manufactures powder room vanities, available through Vivian Watson Associates on Oak Lawn. These vanity cabinets are sold without tops, basins, fixtures, or pulls, but come with a template for cutting surface material?marble, primarily. Vivian-Watson carries the bowls and fixtures for wall mounting or vanity mounting, all manufactured by P.E. Guerin?one of the oldest manufacturers of hardware and lavatory equipment.

The story goes that Pierre Emmanuel Guerin was born in France and immigrated to New York City, where he started a business for himself in 1857. That company has been at the same location for the past 109 years and still manufactures every design created since it began, according to David Olenzke, owner of Vivian Watson Associates. So, homeowners can match replacement parts. In fact, ask to see Guerin?s 1914 catalogue of pedestal sinks, which look surprisingly fashionable even today. P.E. Guerin also manufactures a small marble-topped chamber, pot chest lavatory (17 ? ? d) with faux marble sides and beautiful swan fittings for $12,126?perfect in the powder room, bar area, or just about anywhere with access to plumbing.

Glazed and painted china basins are also popular, in part, because of their inherent custom production. For instance, P.E. Guerin makes oval china bowls fired with pewter, gold, or combination decoration for a very distinctive look. For shades of pastels, Marzi Studios, which can be seen at French-Brown on Greenville, custom paints bowls to match tiles, wallpaper, and pictures in just about any design. And new materials, like the Dupont Zodiaq quartz surfaces,, in countertops and insert perimeter rings, also add innovation to custom sink design.

So the drama unfolds in the powder room in a fashion statement that?s worthy of observation and study.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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