Bathroom Vanity Design

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Bathroom Vanity Buying Guide

Before you update the vanity, check out these tips and tricks for creating the most stylish and comfy bathroom layout.

Miseno custom vanity, sage green, double marble sink, gold faucets.

The average home bathroom is designed to be more economical than comfortable, and often a homeowner’s personal touches are limited by misjudging the size of their space. The vanity takes up a lot of real estate in the design of a bathroom floor plan; the sink is at least a third of the function of a bathroom, after all. There are options, however. Just because it takes up a third of the functionality of the room doesn’t mean it must take up a third of the floor space. There are a few rules to keep in mind when choosing or upgrading the bathroom vanity to get the highest value out of the whole room.

What to Know Before Buying a Vanity

Before you even look for a new vanity, start with the size. Everything must fit in a way that is comfortable enough to actually use. Consider your bathroom space and determine the answers to these simple questions. (Yes, you might want to grab your tape measure.)

Graphic of bathroom layout showing a larger space with a double sink vanity

Is the bathroom narrow, wide, or open?

The answer to this is more than just looking at the physical dimensions of the room - though you should have those numbers on hand, too - but instead gets to the visual appearance of the space.

  • How big does it appear to be?
  • Does the room have an obvious shape to it?
  • Does the existing vanity, shower, bath, or toilet alcove call more attention to one area or another?

The visual weight of any feature in the room is looking at what first catches the eye, and whether it looks more or less like it takes up the amount of space that the tape measured dimensions would imply. If something is mismatched to the space, for instance the vanity, then it will seem to take up a larger portion of the bathroom floor space than it actually does. This influences the perception of the shape and size of the entire room, so it’s a good idea to select a vanity that will accent the lines already at play.

Graphic showing a galley style bathroom layout and smaller single vanity.

For instance in an open floor plan bathroom, larger vanities work well when they are proportioned to the other features of the room like the bath or shower alcoves. In a narrow, galley-shaped bathroom, a wall-mounted vanity will give the illusion of more overall space, though you will sacrifice storage space for it. The trick is to keep the visual weight of the vanity in proportion with the space, so a narrow room will call for a narrow cabinet, while a wider, more open space will allow for a larger vanity.

Illustration of a main shut-off valve, water drop and a vanity with sink.

Where is the plumbing located?

The vanity connects the sink and faucet to the house water lines, which means any new vanity should have an open area to fit around the supply pipes and hoses, without pinching or cutting off regular operation. It should also allow unobstructed access to the supply valve.

Unless you plan to reroute the plumbing, the vanity has to fit in the space near and surrounding those pipes. That is an important factor for both the look of the finished room, and the budget while designing it; working with the existing layout is much cheaper and saves on the cost of having a contractor redirect the water lines. Finding a vanity that fits the current plumbing layout also saves on the overall time required to complete your bathroom update project.

American Standard vanity cabinet in smoked gray. People walking in room.

How much space is available?

Look at the available space around the existing plumbing, but also in relation to the other permanent features of the room. The vanity should not be placed in such a way that it interrupts foot traffic to and from the room, blocks access to the toilet alcove, bath tub, or shower stall, or in any other way that makes the room uncomfortable to use. The cabinet doors and drawers should not be blocked by walls or other bathroom features, including the plumbing. All of these obstacles should be planned for when deciding what type of vanity to buy.

Bathroom Vanity Styles

It might seem complicated at first, but there are multiple styles of vanity cabinets to help you find the perfect match for your bathroom. The key is to find a design that offers the functionality your household needs and the look that complements your space.

Freestanding Installation

Miseno vanity set with mirror in sand dollar finish.

Whether a single or a double vanity, freestanding vanity cabinets offer sturdy storage options in addition to the sink space. These cabinets allow design freedom through their self-supporting structure. From counter tops for decoration, to drawers and cupboard cubes for organization, these cabinets provide storage and utility options, no matter where they are placed. They stand on their own and often do not need anchored to a wall, allowing greater versatility to accommodate water supply lines.

Wall Mounted Vanity Installation

Kohler wall mounted vanity in linen white. Matt black faucets, pink wall.

With wall mounted vanities, the most popular feature is their simplicity. To save space, these floating vanities anchor to the wall, resulting in a clean, contemporary look that opens up the visual space of the entire bathroom. Many wall mounted vanities provide storage alternatives, from cupboards to drawers. Where there is a wall with sufficient stud support, wall mounted vanities are an excellent option for bathrooms of all sizes.

Corner Vanities

Bissonett Comprimo Wall-Mount or Free Standing corner vanity.

For smaller bathrooms, look for a space saving corner vanity. Corner vanities are often freestanding, or wall mounted, or a combination of both installations. These oddly shaped cabinets work with all sink shapes, from recessed to vessels, and offer modest storage alternatives. They can help open up a cramped layout and preserve the floor space for easier access to the other areas of the bathroom.

Vanity Selection

Signature Hardware Benoist vanity in reclaimed pine and Everette vanity.

To offer greater customization for every individual home, manufacturers sell some vanities as two main pieces: the vanity cabinet, and the vanity top. The top includes the sink (or sinks) and the counter top, with some offering a short backsplash attached as well. The vanity top is usually made of a heavier, water resistant material, such as ceramic, granite, acrylic, or stone, among others. Vanity tops are often built with an inch or more of overhanging edge that measure slightly larger than the cabinet bases. Keep that in mind as you shop, because it is important to order the correct size top to match the cabinet.

If you would rather go with a top and cabinet already paired up, look for the all-in-one solution of vanity sets. Complete sets are often prepackaged with mirrors and other features that coordinate different pieces with the design of the vanity.

Vanity Sinks

Miseno Marvin free standing vanity, marble counter, undermount sinks.

The first consideration for the size of the vanity is to determine how many sinks it should have. The choice between single or double vanities gets down to how you plan to use the space as much as the actual physical state of the room itself.

  • A single vanity will have only one sink inset, though it may range in width from 24” to 61” or more. Single vanities are great for smaller bathrooms. They can even be placed side by side next to each other to allow storage, save space, and add unique character.
  • A double vanity will be wide enough for two people to stand at and use at the same time. They are most often found with two or more sinks, with the entire vanity ranging from 48” to 80” in length.

Sink Types

Kohler Iron/Impressions Vanity Top with Single Faucet Hole in almond finish

Regardless of the installation method, there are a variety of different sink types for bathroom vanities. The recessed or integrated sinks have the sink formed into the vanity top directly. These sinks are one piece, shaped to fit the vanity design, which allows for shallow, quick rinse sinks or a deep bowl of the same material as the rest of the vanity top.

Console sinks take up much of the vanity surface area, leaving ledges for the faucet installation and minimal storage for soap or other regularly used items. They are usually wall mounted and balance off of two front supports. Unlike most vanities, these sink options allow little to no opportunities for storage.

Signature Hardware Thera lava stone vessel sink, Kohler DemiLav drop in.

Other sink offerings are the drop-in sink, which installs into a hole cut in the vanity top and rests above the counter to help minimize mess from water splash. Undermount vanity sinks are installed below the vanity counter, creating a smooth, vertical edge. Both drop-in and undermount sinks are often made from different materials than the vanity top and cabinet, allowing for combinations like a porcelain sink below a marble vanity top.

Vanity Height

American Standard Townsend vanity in smoked gray finish. Man shaving.

The vanity height itself is another key element to the comfort of the room. The height standard can change depending on the intended use of the bathroom, from the master bath to the guest bath, to a kids’ bathroom.

Master Bathroom Vanity - The master bath vanity should be 36 inches high. Also the standard height for kitchen cabinets, the added height is generally more comfortable for repeated, daily use.

Guest Bathroom Vanity - For a spare or guest bathroom, look for a vanity that stands 32 to 34 inches high. This is a great compromise for a bathroom used by both children and adults to better accommodate different heights.

Kids Bathroom Vanity - Today’s kid’s bath vanity should come to about 30 inches high. While it is a little low for many adults to use, the lowered counter space makes it more manageable for kids. Look for vanities with a pull-out step in place of the bottom drawer, to give the younger kids a boost as they grow.

Vanity Features

Kohler Poplin sinlge vanity in Claret Suede finish.

The modern vanity is much more than just storage space for the sink. Be sure to look for vanity cabinets packed with the extra options and features designed to make life’s daily routines that little bit easier.

Electrical outlets - There’s always a demand for outlet space in the family bathroom. From hair dryers to shavers, electric toothbrushes and phones, everyone has something to charge. Some vanity cabinets now offer hidden outlets tucked safely away from the bathroom humidity and moisture in drawers and cabinet corners to plug those necessities in where they can be easily used.

Shallow drawers - Many bathroom toiletries and accessories are smaller items that can be hard to keep track of. Adding drawers with different depths or slanted dividers between drawers keep hair ties, brushes, and other small items more easily at hand with less room to get lost.

Organizers - From built-in metal cup holders to cross pieces, look for vanities that create designated spaces for the different odds and ends that are used in every bathroom. This could be shelves or hanging racks for towel storage, or pockets for curling irons and hair dryers.

Customizable technology - With the advancement of Bluetooth and WiFi compatibility, vanities and medicine cabinets now come equipped with speakers and charging stations for phones and smart home sound systems. Start each day’s morning routine with the help of your favorite music, podcasts, or more, depending on the features you choose.

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