Fixtures: Hot and Cold Running Style

Whatever your faucet fancy, from Old World to contemporary, there is a fixture for you.

This isn't your grandfather's faucet anymore. Or is it? Judging from the wide array of models on display in plumbing showrooms, this question is difficult to answer.

"We're seeing a lot of interest in contemporary pieces," says Jeff Settle, owner of Settco Decorative Plumbing and Hardware in Fresno, Calif. "But there's also a trend toward the traditional."

Contemporary faucets for kitchens or bathrooms feature sleek, streamlined styling; it's a dramatic departure from the function over form of grandpa's day. Many of today's models look like they belong on a spaceship. They exude convenience and efficiency, and they emit the sparkle of polished chrome and stainless steel.

But not everyone wants futuristic Star Trek; they prefer traveling back in time — a visual refuge in their home from the hectic world outside. They want faucets that look old-fashioned. "What's old is new again," says Randy Whitworth, manager of the Lange Plumbing Supply showroom in Tulare, Calif. "We're seeing a lot of interest in faucets with the brushed nickel or pewter look."

Finishes like pewter and weathered copper not only look old, they are better at hiding water spots and fingerprints than shiny finishes. They also match cabinet and door handles more easily.

Faucet design enhances this "old" look. Some modern faucet spouts look like old-fashioned spigots. Others have ornate lines reminiscent of plumbing fixtures from the early 20th century. You can even find faucets with spouts made to look like old-fashioned hand pumps.

Jeff Settle says the biggest technological advance in modern faucets is the quarter-turn ceramic-disk valve. Turning the handle moves the holes in both disks into alignment, allowing water to flow.

Unlike compression valves, which use rubber washers, sleeve-cartridge valves and ball valves, the ceramic-disk design is slower to wear out. "Manufacturers (of high quality faucets) offer lifetime warranties on mechanical parts and the finish," says Jeff. "If something goes wrong with the disks, they'll replace them free of charge."

Jeff says modern faucets are available in 30 finishes. More than 20 major foreign and American manufacturers have created hundreds of designs to meet virtually every decorating need. "If you want a faucet with a 24-karat gold swan for a spout, you can find it," he says.

Most high-quality faucets cost $200 to $1,200, says Jeff, although there are faucets available for substantially less than $200 and for substantially more than $1,200. The more expensive the finish material and the more labor required in manufacturing, the more expensive the faucet. A 24-karat gold fixture can cost more than $2,000.

Less expensive faucets don't last as long and usually are regarded as "disposable." Among this group, plastic models are the cheapest and least durable. Faucets with solid brass fittings last longest, while brass or chrome-plated models offer middle-of-the-road life expectancy.

Today's high-quality faucets are designed to last a lifetime, Jeff says. "They're pretty maintenance-free. Just clean them with a damp, soft cloth and they'll last forever."

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