After homeowners Mark Dvorak and Laurie Ann Bishop snagged several classic jazz-age lavatories at a salvage yard in Berkeley, it was up to master plumber Jeff Deehan to get the antique sinks up and running. For starters, the sinks' old fittings would have to go. To live up to the demands of modern life—and its building codes—the old cast iron and porcelain basins would need some shiny new hardware.
According to Deehan, rebuilding old fittings is difficult. "Antique sinks haven't been used in so long that their washers dry up and the chrome can get pitted and worn," says Deehan. "Besides, there are so many new faucets that mimic their old-time counterparts, there's really no reason to put in the hard work rebuilding the old ones."
Deehan's first challenge was adapting two huge janitorial sinks for use in the master bathroom. Each sink had only one fitting hole, located in the backsplash. Installing traditional hot and cold taps would require drilling two new holes in the heavy sinks, an expensive and time-consuming process that couldn't be done on site. Mounting the sinks presented yet another problem: keeping the backsplash flush with the marble wainscoting would not leave enough room for the 4-inch brass tee that mixes hot and cold water before they flow through the spigot. Deehan's solution drew inspiration from an unlikely source: hospitals. He installed foot pedals—more commonly found on hospital sinks so that surgeons need not touch a tap—to control the hot and cold water lines. Now the tee could be placed below the backsplash and feed water up a single 3/8-inch tube to the spigot.
In the guest bathroom, Deehan converted a circa-1900 cast iron sink with separate hot and cold taps to a more modern configuration; a single, central spigot with knobs on either side. Using a basin wrench designed to reach up underneath the sink, he unscrewed the old stems, nuts and locking washers. Then he removed the porcelain waste knob between the taps to make way for the new spout. To bridge the gap between the old hole and the too-small modern fixture, Deehan scavenged through his junk collection for an old underplate washer, filling it with putty to seal out any water that would splash the fixture. Underneath the basin, he reused the locking washer from the
sink's old drain as a base and tightened the spigot in place. The openings for the hot and cold knobs, on the other hand, were too small. Deehan fired up his diamond bit drill and carefully reamed out the holes until they were wide enough to slip in the new handles. The finished sink was a marriage of old and new, combining retro curves and a nonscalding tap.
While Deehan made refitting these old sinks look easy, he has this advice for homeowners keen on doing it themselves: "Hire a professional. Just for starters, most people don't have a diamond bit drill handy. Plumbers will have the tools to do it right."
Jeff Deehan, of Deehan Plumbing, was the master plumber on the San Francisco house.