the kitchen sink
Cappuccino is to the kitchen sink what avocado is to the bathroom suite. So if you are the owner of a muddy beige sink, you are seriously out of date.

It could even affect your chances of getting the best price when selling your property. Almost every survey by estate agencies and mortgage lenders puts a designer-name kitchen at the top of a buyer's must-have list, after location, price and garage. It's one of the few improvements that pays for itself when you come to sell (unlike double glazing, or re-decorating in neutral shades).

According to the latest issue of Which? a new kitchen is one of the few house improvements to add value to a property. It is, after all, off-putting to view a house where the sink looks as though it's used regularly for cleaning paint brushes.

It may sound silly to regard the humble kitchen sink as a fashion statement. But it's no accident that estate agents throw in as many high-profile brand names as possible in sales details. Buyers like to think they're getting a classy product - even better, an expensive fitting that they haven't paid for themselves.

Carron Phoenix in Falkirk, Scotland, is one of Europe's leaders of kitchen sink dramatis personae. One of their top of the range products sounds like a fitting Fred and Wilma Flintstone might have bragged about to their Stone Age neighbours: a sink made from granite. The coloured quartz crystals are ground and bonded with 20 per cent acrylic resin, then, during manufacture, the crystals are forced to the surface, making the sink as hard as rock.

Dropping pots in it, pouring boiling water over it and clattering cutlery around in it will not cause stains or chips, the makers claim. It comes in a range of colours including slate grey and oatmeal-and-white.

In Savills' most recent survey of buyers, stainless steel was the most favoured kitchen sink finish. Polished Metal Products - which also produce the more traditional fireclay French farmhouse sinks - have just launched a new range of Soft Option stainless steel sinks, inspired by a Canadian design. They have an unusual, rolled edge which fits snugly under the surrounding surface and creates a waterproof seal.

Currently the hot favourite of developers fitting out high- priced warehouse conversions, the professional cook look matches stainless steel cupboards and cookers. Prices start at pounds 195 for a small bowl and rise to pounds 415 for a two bowl combination. Matching taps by Asquith, Philippe Starck and Diverso of Italy will add up to another pounds 241, depending on finish and style.

Franke (another estate agent buzz-word) have exploited the demand for purified water by producing a three-way tap with an integrated water purification system.

The Triflow comes with a range of taps, including porcelain and Corian, to match the work surface. They also come in the currently popular pewter, and a two-tone nickel and gold. Prices start at pounds 347. The company's corner sink designs, perfect for kitchens that have been squeezed into oddly shaped conversions, start at around pounds 270.

Bald UK make a range of integrated sink and worktops, which is handy if you want to replace the whole top of the unit without fiddling about cutting into an existing worktop. Prices start at pounds 58 a metre, plus VAT.

But some people will always be unimpressed by high-tech sink think, and go for the traditional Belfast or butler sink. The kitchen maker John Lewis of Hungerford says that the real Belfast sinks are too big and impractical, so he imports cast-iron sinks, coated in white enamel, from America. They still look right for the period and come in three different sizes, starting at pounds 245 plus VAT.

Brass and Traditional Sinks, which make traditional farmhouse, enamelled fireclay sinks, have developed French designs to suit the UK market. They also designed the New Yorker - a double-bowl fireclay sink - for the American market, but it works just as well in a British kitchen. The French Farmhouse starts at pounds 218, the New Yorker at pounds 371. All the taps are British made.

Having spent a small fortune on your sink, you may find it painful to leave it behind when you move. But the Herefordshire firm Berrington have made it possible to take everything and the kitchen sink. Their Classic English range is custom-built, free-standing kitchen furniture and includes a cupboard built around a butler sink by Armitage Shanks. The top and interiors are oak, the drawer pulls solid brass. A piece like this costs pounds 1,089, including taps but not including delivery. As it is all free-standing and fully finished, you don't need to have it fitted. Apart from any electrical and plumbing connections, the furniture is loose, so you can take it with you when you go.

Carron Phoenix (01324 638 321); Polished Metal Products (01291 650455); Brass & Traditional Sinks (01291 650738); Bald UK (01933 225985); Franke (0161-436 6280); Berrington Furniture (01885 410606)