The Complete Guide to Using Vintage Furniture as a Bathroom Vanity

The Complete Guide to Using Vintage Furniture as a Bathroom Vanity

Eleanor Büsing
Feb 18, 2015

Move over, characterless bathroom cabinets. Step aside, pedestal sinks. There's a new look in town, one that's vintage in style but fresh in feel. Repurposing older furniture as a bathroom vanity is nothing new, but lately I've been seeing it crop up everywhere. I'm not complaining; it's a look I love, and I've noticed that my clients are increasingly asking for it, too. If you're considering bringing some vintage style into your bathroom, read on for some things to keep in mind.

Basin Type

In the land of bathrooms, there are four main basin types, and each will be available in an array of materials, sizes, shapes and colors. You may fall in love with a specific basin and choose your furniture piece accordingly, or your basin choice might be dictated by a piece of furniture you want to repurpose. But be wary of doing both simultaneously; not all basin types will work with all kinds of furniture.

Undermount basins do exactly what they say on the tin; they are mounted underneath a countertop, which overhangs the basin a little. They're easy to clean around, and maximize usable counter space. If using a basin like this with a vintage piece of furniture, the countertop material will need to be cut to the shape of the basin, and in a non-porous material hardy enough to withstand water.

Overmount basins, sometimes called drop-in, these basins sit over the countertop with a lip around the edge. They are easy to find, and of all basin types, can change the look of the furniture you pair them with the least, as it's possible for the top surface of the piece to be retained.

(Image credit: Freshome)

Countertop basins are also called vessel basins or sit-on bowls, and they sit atop the vanity, affixed near the waste outlet at the bottom. Countertop basins come in a huge range of materials and shapes, from basic white porcelain to luxe cut crystal and bold colorful acrylic. They can be deep or shallow, and their height is an important factor to keep in mind when pairing with vintage furniture.

(Image credit: HouseNerd)

Furniture basins are meant to be sold with a storage vanity, mix-and-match style, by a bathroom company or showroom. The basin, countertop, and sometimes upstand (small backsplash) are one solid piece, with the storage unit fitting neatly underneath. As such, they can be difficult to use with vintage pieces— unless you follow the brilliant lead in this photo from HouseNerd, and use them overmount basin-style, on top of a much larger piece. How cool is that?

Furniture Type

When looking for the perfect piece of furniture for your future bathroom vanity, don't stick to tables alone. Dressers, desks, sideboards, even vintage sewing machines can get in on this game. Think outside the box and keep hunting until you find something great. But be practical: this is probably not the place to use a priceless antique or family heirloom, as once the piece is altered, you can't go back.

The most important factor to consider is size: whether the piece's dimensions will work for your room, and for giving you enough basin and counter space for your needs.

Height Matters

(Image credit: Smitten Studio)

The "new rule" for a standard bathroom vanity, containing a set-in or undermount sink, is that the countertop should finish 34-36" from the floor. This is a change from the older standard, which was 32-34", and likely a response to the general population getting ever taller.

When using a countertop or vessel basin, the rules change. The idea is that the top of the basin should be at the standard height, not the countertop beneath it, so furniture used as a vanity will need to be lower to achieve this.

Having said all that, I think with this look it's best to have a flexible approach to rules. Believe me, it's very difficult to find the perfect vintage piece at the perfect height for a bathroom vanity! Instead, keep these questions in mind when you're shopping around for furniture:

  • Can I comfortably brush my teeth in front of this piece?
  • Will a mirror hung above the piece be at a height at which I can see my whole face?
  • Who will be using this bathroom besides me? How tall are they? (Children can always stand on a stool to use the basin, and they'll grow anyway, but guests and the elderly, not so much.)

The moral? As long as the height is comfortable and practical for you, go for it. Another idea? Find the perfect piece, remove those pesky legs and wall-mount it at the perfect height for your basin, as in the bathroom above, from Smitten Studio. Wall-mounted vanities have the added bonus of making a space feel larger and being easy to clean under.

Counter Material

(Image credit: Design*Sponge)

The top surface of your new bathroom vanity is an important consideration; depending on the combination of basin and furniture you choose, you might be forced to choose something new, or you might find the existing surface to be perfectly fine. A piece made of hardwood, for example, especially if it's been painted or waxed and oiled over the years, can be usable in a bathroom that gets low-to-regular use.

However if the existing surface is delicate or already in need or repair, or if the bathroom is likely to get a lot of abuse (kids' bathrooms should be especially hardwearing), consider changing the top surface out for something more durable. Marble and quartz work well with vintage pieces, and solid surfaces like Corian offer a modern contrast.


This is the nuts and bolts: how the piece of furniture you choose will actually house your new basin(s). It's important to find good contractors for this: a plumber who feels comfortable working with vintage pieces, and a carpenter who can alter the piece to suit.

Keep in mind that, if you choose a piece of furniture that conceals the pipework, as the dresser above does, you will have to sacrifice some of that storage for this. Depending on the piece you can probably keep some, and a clever carpenter will be able to re-shape the drawers behind the fronts, to maximize storage in the final piece.

If you choose a piece where the plumbing will be visible, such as a table or desk, remember to specify a attractive metal trap. Contractors will normally put white plastic piping into their quotes unless asked for something higher spec, and you don't want to be looking at that every day.

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