An antique bathroom vanity will add a sense of timeless elegance to your bathroom. Vanities made from materials like marble, wood, and porcelain have a classic beauty that can’t be replicated in modern furnishings. Antique vanities often feature ornate details, quality craftsmanship, and materials that withstand the test of time. When properly restored, an antique bathroom vanity will become the stunning focal point of your bathroom.
A Brief History of Antique Bathroom Vanities
The antique bathroom vanities we love today originated in the mid-19th century as indoor plumbing became more common in wealthy homes. These early vanities were made of fine materials like mahogany and marble and accented with details like carved legs and polished hardware.
By the early 20th century, bathrooms were typical features even in middle-class homes. Vanities from this era were often smaller and more affordable but still featured elegant styling like inlaid woodwork and porcelain knobs. Many vintage vanities from the 1920s-1950s have streamlined Art Deco or mid-century modern designs.
Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, cheaper materials like laminate and fiberboard grew more common. While a vintage vanity from this era may still have retro appeal, the quality is often inferior to earlier antiques. When buying an antique bath vanity, aim for one from the 19th or early-to-mid 20th centuries for a true heirloom piece.
Reasons to Choose an Antique Bathroom Vanity
There are many advantages to choosing an antique vanity for your bathroom remodel.
Antique bathroom vanities are made from high-quality natural materials like solid wood, porcelain, and marble that develop a rich patina over time. The craftsmanship stands the test of time, with details like inlaid wood designs and carved legs that add visual interest. An antique brings classic elegance to a space in a way that few new vanities can compete with.
A stunning antique vanity will spark interest and conversation among your guests. The vanity likely has a unique history you can share, and the antiquity gives the bathroom a sense of character and charm. Friends and family may find themselves admiring the antique details like porcelain knobs or beveled glass as you tell the vanity’s story.
Choosing to repurpose a quality antique vanity is an environmentally responsible decision. Restoring an existing piece of furniture is far less taxing on the environment than manufacturing a new vanity. The patina of an antique also adds warmth and personality that can’t be duplicated. Going green never looked so good!
While an elaborately carved antique mahogany vanity can be pricey, simpler antique bathroom vanities are often comparable in cost to new furniture. And the quality will likely far exceed that of similarly priced new vanities. For a budget-friendly option, look for a vintage 1930s-50s vanity. Refinishing and updating an antique piece also costs less than purchasing new.
Antique vanities are fully customizable, from choosing funky hardware to giving it a new stain or paint color. Vintage open cabinets can be filled with pretty bottles or baskets for a look you won’t find anywhere else. Let your vanity reflect your unique taste and style.
What to Look for When Buying an Antique Bathroom Vanity
Keep these tips in mind when shopping for the perfect antique vanity:
- Examine the condition carefully. Look for intact hardware, no rot or insect damage in wood, and no cracks, chips, or discoloration in porcelain or marble.
- Seek out quality materials like mahogany, walnut, teak, or oak wood; Carrara, rose, or black marble; and vitreous china or fireclay porcelain. Lesser quality will not stand the test of time.
- Look for signs of quality construction like dovetail joints in wooden drawers and backsplashes sealed to countertops. This indicates careful craftsmanship.
- Test drawers and doors to be sure they open and close smoothly. Assess if drawer pulls or hinges need to be replaced.
- Determine if the size will fit the space. Add up the width of the vanity and sink to be sure it will work.
- Evaluate if plumbing holes will line up with new sinks and faucets or if modifications are needed.
Taking the time to find a quality antique vanity will pay off for years to come once it’s properly restored to suit your bathroom.
How to Restore an Antique Bathroom Vanity
Reviving an antique bathroom vanity to its former glory takes time and care, but is very rewarding. Here are some tips for restoration:
Give the vanity a deep clean, getting into corners and hardware. For wood, use a wood soap and soft cloths. For porcelain, gently clean with a diluted vinegar solution. This removes built-up grime.
Make Any Repairs
Examine for damage or wear and make any needed fix-ups. Use wood filler for small holes or gouges. Sand and stain touch ups to blend into existing finish. Replace missing hardware or knobs.
Remove or Update Existing Finish
If the original finish is worn or damaged, you’ll need to remove it prior to refinishing. Use chemical strippers for varnish, enamel, or lacquer. Sand paint off gently by hand. Take care not to damage the wood.
Apply New Finish
Choose a stain or paint color that suits your style. For stains, apply a pre-stain followed by several coats of polyurethane for protection. For paint, prime first before painting and sealing with poly.
Install New Sink and Plumbing
Install your sink and faucet on the newly refinished vanity. Modify existing holes or make new cutouts for plumbing as needed. Update with your choice of pretty new hardware and handles.
Style and Accessorize
Add your personal touches! Install lighting to show off the vanity. Fill open cabinets with decorative bottles, linens, or baskets. Complete the look with art and accessories that complement your new antique’s style.
With some time and DIY skills, you can update an antique bathroom vanity to suit your space. Or hire a professional if you need assistance with restoration. The end result will add loads of character and vintage appeal to your bathroom.
Antique Bathroom Vanity Styles
There are many different styles of antique vanities ranging from the late 1800s to mid 20th century. Learning a bit about the era and style of your antique can help with restoration and decor decisions. Here are some of the most popular styles:
Late Victorian Style (1860s-1890s)
- Dark ornate woods like mahogany or walnut
- Elaborate hand-carved details like feet, aprons, and steering wheels
- Marble or porcelain countertops and sinks
- Gilded accents and hardware
- Glass-front cabinet doors or shelves
Restore a Victorian vanity by playing up the ornate details with brass hardware, carved wood mirror frames, and porcelain vessel sinks. Dramatic dark paints and wallpaper complement the opulence.
Art Nouveau Style (1890s-1910s)
- Sleek curving lines and floral/nature motifs
- Light pastel or white painted woods
- Marble, glass, or ceramic tile backsplashes
- Delicate looking legs and hardware
- Often open shelves rather than cabinet doors
Play up the graceful curves with glass knobs, soft pastel paint, and marble herringbone tile backsplashes. Keep the look light and airy.
Art Deco Style (1920s-1930s)
- Angular geometry and clean straight lines
- Exotic veneers like macassar ebony or zebrawood
- Chrome, nickel, or glass hardware
- Glass shelves and mirrors
- Lacquered finishes in black, white, and bold primary colors
Make a statement by lacquering the vanity in shiny black or bold red. Add matching chrome hardware, geometric mirror frames, and glass knobs. The sleek style pairs well with streamlined fixtures.
Mid-Century Modern (1940s-1960s)
- Simple and streamlined forms
- Blonde woods like ash, birch, and oak
- Hardwood veneers like teak and rosewood
- Neutral melamine laminates
- Plastic, metal, or wood drawer pulls
Keep the vibe casual but sophisticated with extra storage, floating wood shelves, retro bowl sinks, and funky new drawer pulls. Warmer wood stains plus painted walls prevent the space from feeling too cold.
The period design of your antique bathroom vanity will provide inspiration for your restoration, whether you embrace the old-world charm or take it in a more modern direction with paint and hardware. Have fun making it your own!
Where to Buy Antique Bathroom Vanities
Finding the perfect antique vanity takes some searching. You’re most likely to uncover hidden gems at these types of locales:
Seek out antique stores and malls that specialize in architectural salvage or vintage furniture. You’ll find a wide range of styles and price points. Check condition carefully since refunds are unlikely. Haggle for a better deal!
Keep an eye out for estate sales in historical neighborhoods. Families liquidating property are often looking to sell antique furnishings quickly. Arrive early for the best selection. Bring a truck if you buy a large vanity.
Search classified ads on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for locals selling antique vanities. Expand your search to eBay, Etsy, Ruby Lane, and 1stdibs for more options. Read descriptions closely to assess condition.
Architectural Salvage Companies
These businesses remove materials from old homes slated for demolition and resell them. A great source for clawfoot tubs, vintage sinks, and other antique bathroom fixtures alongside vanities.
Habitat for Humanity ReStores
Donations of secondhand building supplies, furniture, and home goods often include vintage bathroom vanities. You’ll save money while supporting a good cause. Check back often as inventory changes regularly.
With persistence, creativity, and some restoration work, you’re sure to find the perfect antique vanity to give your bathroom just the vintage vibe you love. Happy hunting!
Popular Antique Bathroom Vanity Materials
Antique bathroom vanities were handcrafted from quality natural materials built to last generations. Here are some of the most common materials found in vintage vanities:
- Mahogany – Rich red-brown finish, intricate carving
- Oak – Natural golden tones, strong and sturdy
- Walnut – Dark chocolate finish, striking grain patterns
- Teak – Warm blonde wood with dark accents
- Birch – Pale wood with varies natural markings
- Vitreous China – Bright white, glass-like glaze over ceramic
- Fireclay – Smooth white porcelain used for sinks
- Enameled Cast Iron – Chip-resistant porcelain coating in colors
- Marble – Elegant veining and upscale look
- Onyx – Dramatic banding in black, white, brown, or gray
- Travertine – Earthy style with pits and valleys in surface
- Granite – Durable speckled stone in gray, pink, black
- Ceramic/Porcelain – Glazed surfaces in white, black, and bold colors
- Glass & Metal Tile – Shimmering iridescent wall tiles
- Subway Tile – Classic 3×6 white rectangular tiles
- Hexagon Tile – Shape tiles laid in unique patterns
- Formica – Durable plastic coating popular in 1950s-60s
- Masonite – Hardboard with faux bois, granite, or tile patterns
- Plastic Laminate – Melamine or acrylic sheet layer for shine
Choose materials that complement your vanity style, whether you stick with the original or upgrade with new surfaces and sinks. Mix modern materials like concrete and metal with vintage styling for a unique combo.
Refinishing or Painting an Antique Bathroom Vanity
Refinishing or painting are great ways to update an antique bathroom vanity and customize the color. Follow these steps for best results:
Prep the Surface
- Remove existing finish with chemical stripper or sandpaper
- Clean thoroughly and fill any holes/gouges with wood putty
- Sand until completely smooth and wipe away dust
Stain and Seal
- Apply wood conditioner or pre-stain for uniform absorption
- Use gel stains for easier control and layer until desired color
- Seal with 3-4 coats of water-based polyurethane for protection
- Prime first with an oil-based primer for best adhesion
- Use semi-gloss or high-gloss paint for easy cleaning
- Try chalk paint for a smooth shabby chic finish
- Seal with polyurethane for durability and shine
- Remove old hardware and fill holes with wood putty
- Upgrade with new knobs, pulls, or hinges in bronze, silver, glass etc
- Drill new holes carefully if needed before attaching hardware
Take proper safety precautions and allow adequate dry time between steps. Soon you’ll have a striking new focal point for your bathroom!
Ideas for Repurposing Antique Vanities
An antique vanity doesn’t have to remain in the bathroom if you have another great idea for utilizing the piece. Some creative ways to repurpose a vintage bathroom vanity include:
Kitchen Island or Cabinet
Remove the sink and top to convert the vanity into a kitchen prep space or cabinet for storing cookware and more. Add a butcher block countertop, pendant lighting, and barstools.
Hallway Console Table
A narrow vintage vanity can double as an entryway console. Top with a mirror and decorative bowl to catch keys. Perfect for small spaces.
Add new hardware and a stained finish to transform a single vanity into a nightstand or low dresser for the bedroom. The drawers provide extra storage.
Mount a vanity flush to the wall, removing any backsplash. Add a wood top to create a bench seat with storage below for outdoor shoes, sports gear, and school bags.
Strip off cabinet doors and attach wheels or casters to create a rolling drink cart. Use the open shelves for barware and the counter for mixing drinks.
Bring a small vanity outside for an outdoor sink or mini prep station. Use marine varnish to protect the wood from weathering.
With a little imagination, an antique vanity no longer being used in the bathroom can take on new life as functional furniture in any room of the house. Get creative repurposing vintage finds!
Decorating a Bathroom with an Antique Vanity
An antique vanity can transform the look and feel of your bathroom. Decorating the rest of the space calls for complementing the vanity’s vintage style. Follow these tips:
Update with new knobs and pulls that coordinate with the vanity’s era. Brass or bronze nod to Victorian style while glass and chrome have an Art Deco vibe.
Install wall sconces, pendants, or vintage bulb vanity lighting. Go for elaborate metal finishes or sleek midcentury shapes. Add ambience with candles.
Hexagon marble, black and white tile, or wide-plank wood floors suit traditional baths. Go for terrazzo, cement tiles, or checkerboard with vintage flair.
Select sink faucets and bath fixtures in matching finishes to the hardware. Add interest with ceiling-mount adjustable showerheads.
Use the vanity drawers and cabinets for neatly stowing toiletries and medicines. Add freestanding cabinets or open shelving for pretty display.
Include framed art and prints, sculptural soap dishes, antique medicine bottles, porcelain vessels, and vintage looking bath linens.
An antique vanity can lend gorgeous vintage appeal to any bathroom. Embrace that old-fashioned charm in your decor and finishing touches.
FAQs About Antique Bathroom Vanities
What are the most desirable antique bathroom vanity styles?
The most valuable antique vanities date from the late 19th century to the 1930s-1950s. Popular styles include Victorian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Midcentury Modern. Signs of fine craftsmanship include dovetail drawers, carved accents, and high-end materials.
How much does an antique bathroom vanity cost?
Costs range widely from $200 for a small vintage vanity from the 1950s to over $5,000 for a 19th century antique in pristine condition. Evaluate the materials, age, condition, and rarity when negotiating cost.
Where can I find an antique bathroom vanity for sale?
Check antique stores and architectural salvage companies, estate sales, and online listings like eBay and Etsy. ReStores may also have vintage vanities donated by the public.
What is the best way to clean an antique bathroom vanity?
Use mild soap and water for wood vanities, taking care not to soak the wood. For marble and porcelain, clean gently with diluted vinegar and water. Avoid harsh chemicals that could damage the finish.
How do I refinish or paint an antique bathroom vanity?
Start by removing existing finish, repairing any damage, and sanding smooth. For stain, apply pre-stain followed by multiple layers of gel stain and polyurethane. For paint, use oil-based primer and high-gloss enamel.
Can I change the layout of the sink and plumbing on an antique vanity?
It is possible to reconfigure the sink placement and plumbing by carefully making new cutouts in the countertop. Be sure to turn off water lines first. Some modifications may require help from a plumber.
How do I add new hardware to an antique bathroom vanity?
After removing the old hardware, fill any holes with wood putty and sand smooth. Mark and drill holes carefully for the new