The Evolution of the Bathroom Vanity
By Tim Koehler
It may come as a surprise, but bathroom vanities and sinks were popular even before indoor plumbing was available. For the sake of hygiene, our ancestors procured a pitcher of water and a wash basin was kept on a chest of drawers in the bedroom for washing. The pitcher was filled several times a day with fresh water. Once the hands and face were washed, the water in the basin was thrown out the window.
Originally, the term “vanity” was used to describe a vanity table kept in the bedroom where women sat to apply cosmetics. It was a small table (sometimes kidney shaped) with a drawer on either side. Over time, the name “vanity” became attached to the cabinetry used to house the lavatory sink.
At the turn of the 20th Century when indoor plumbing became popular, a room in the home was designated as the bathroom. Pedestal and wall hung sinks were common. A sink with hot and cold running water was a welcome addition to the bathroom, but the bathroom lacked storage.
Bathroom vanities and sinks changed dramatically in the 50’s and 60’s. Cabinetry was introduced to house the sink, hide the plumbing pipes and give much needed storage. Now referred to as vanities, they were very basic with little design or style. The cabinets were made of wood or metal and featured a laminated top. Some designs included drawers. The doors and drawers were plain with simple hardware.
In the 70’s, the double bowl vanity became popular. Vanities took on the look of kitchen cabinets with raised panel doors and stylish hardware. Designers created dramatic looks with custom as well as stock cabinetry. The sky was the limit.
Bathroom Vanities and Sinks Have Come A Long Way
Now, bathroom vanities and sinks come in hundreds of styles and finishes. You can find vanities in every imaginable wood species and laminate. Theme designs ranging from rustic bathroom vanities, contemporary vanities, to very ornate, classic, traditional vanities with hand carvings are readily available. Some manufacturers even specialize in small bathroom vanities. You can find cheap vanities, expensive ones and anything in between.
A recent trend is using an antique chest as a vanity cabinet. Just cut a hole in the top, install a sink and voila! You have an attractive looking antique vanity for a reasonable price. Unless, of course, you bought an expensive antique chest! Remember, you may have to eliminate drawers or reconfigure them to allow for the plumbing.
When choosing a bathroom vanity, there are several things to keep in mind:
• Lighter colors make a room look bigger.
• A taller vanity (34” or more) is more comfortable than the 30” height.
• Vanity cabinets are typically 18” or 21” deep.
• Add drawers where you can.
• Make sure your new vanity or sink will fit in the available space.
• Choose a style and finish that will complement your existing decor.
You can find custom and specialty bathroom vanities and sinks online. Several years ago, importers started bringing beautiful vanity pieces into this country at very affordable prices. You no longer have to order from a custom shop to get a high-end look.
You can top your new vanity off with a variety of counter tops. Choose from cultured marble, solid surface, granite, quartz or an array of man-made, engineered stone. Sinks can be mounted as a “drop-in” or mounted from the top or they can be “under-mounted” which means mounted from underneath.
Do some research at your local cabinet shop or online and see what’s new in bathroom vanities and sinks.