One of the most dramatic ways to quickly change the look of your bathroom or powder room is to install a new sink. With the unique styles, shapes, designs, materials, and colors on the market today, a new sink is an investment that brings style as well as function.

"Sinks are increasingly displayed as art, customized with hand-painted designs or above counter vessels in unique materials such as stone and glass," said Gary Uhl, director of design for American Standard, a major kitchen and bath products manufacturer. "They are a perfect choice to add personal expression and flair without overloading the senses."

Kohler, another top manufacturer, even has a sink that looks more like a fountain. Called the Purist wet surface lavatory, it is flat and basin-less, and has a water channel around the outside edge, similar to water in a fountain pouring out on a flat surface, then gently sliding away. A mirrored cabinet holds an integral laminar-flow faucet, which makes it appear water is coming directly out of the mirror and onto the "fountain" surface.

Whether you're seeking something this sophisticated to add a sense of style to your bathroom, or it's simply time to replace your worn, chipped sink, the first two things you'll want to consider are how much storage space you'll need and your bathroom's specific installation requirements. Built-in cabinets offer storage that is often hard to come by in bathrooms. The size and material of the countertop will determine the limits on the type and size of basin you can install. Flat countertops - like marble or granite - allow for an under-mounted basin installation, which ultimately allows for more countertop space.

For many, an appealing aspect of buying a new sink for your bathroom - or as the manufacturers call it, lavatory - is the numerous types of sinks available. You can purchase a self-rimming basin in virtually any size, shape and color imaginable, and you'll find a selection of faucet drilling options. The self-rimming sink means you don't have to worry about the meticulous job of bordering the sink with tile, you simply plop the sink down over the tile and the rim - which comes in many decorative, scalloped edge-type styles - and seal it.

One thing you'll need to keep in mind when you select a new sink is that sinks are drilled for faucets at different distances - four inches (centerset), and 8 to 12 inches (widespread). Some sinks do not have drillings; the faucet is mounted directly on the countertop or wall.

If you're working with a small area and are aiming for style more than function, a pedestal sink may be your answer. They come in a range of styles and generally have a large bowl. The down side to a pedestal is that you won't have storage space. Also, if you're considering a free-standing basin, you'll need to be sure you choose a spout that can reach the bowl. A wall-mounted faucet is a stylish option and will eliminate that dilemma.

Another up and coming style is the vessel sink, which looks like a bowl on top of the countertop. Some can be installed with a wall-mount bracket. These sinks are stylish and work well if you're aiming to create a simple, geometric look.

You'll have a huge variety of choice in materials: cast iron, glass, stainless steel, brass, nickel, copper, stone, and many others. You'll want to keep in mind that handpainted features will need extra care. You'll also want to consider that materials like glass and nickel will show water spots. However, if you wipe them down after each use, it shouldn't pose much of a problem. For a material that is durable and easy to clean, consider vitreous china, which is crafted from a clay mixture and fired to an intense heat to vitrify the clay and fuse the glaze. The end product is a durable, non-porous china with a hard, glossy finish.

Spun glass is another emerging sink material. The intensity of the color in the soda lime glass is impacted by the thickness of the basin walls. Air bubbles that form during the casting process work with naturally occurring pigments to give the glass a unique surface.

And manufacturers are offering a wide range of colors, both in neutral tones and rich, vibrant hues, like cobalt blue.

If a new sink is part of a total bathroom overhaul, you'll be glad to know that bathroom remodel projects are a good investment. The national average cost for a bathroom remodel project is about $9,800. About 80 percent of that is likely to be recouped when the house is sold, according to Remodeling magazine's 2001 Cost vs. Value Report.

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