Recessed bathroom cabinets are a popular storage solution for modern bathrooms. Installed flush with the wall, these cabinets provide discreet and efficient storage while maintaining a sleek, minimalist aesthetic. This comprehensive guide will explore everything you need to know about recessed bathroom cabinets, from styles and sizes to installation and organizational tips.
What are Recessed Bathroom Cabinets?
Recessed bathroom cabinets, also sometimes called medicine cabinets, are storage units that are installed into a niche or opening within a bathroom wall so that the front face of the cabinet is flush or recessed from the wall surface. This creates a streamlined, built-in look and allows more floor space than traditional protruding cabinets.
Unlike surface-mounted cabinets that attach directly to the wall, recessed cabinets are set back into the wall itself, creating a seamless, sculpted appearance. The cabinet doors can be designed to blend with the wall surface or stand out as a decorative focal point.
Recessed cabinets are available in a wide range of styles and sizes to suit any bathroom’s storage needs and aesthetic. Units typically feature adjustable shelves, mirrors, and options like electrical outlets and lighting inside.
Benefits of Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Installing recessed bathroom cabinets offers many advantages over traditional wall-mounted cabinets:
- Space Saving: Recessed cabinets maximize floor and wall space in small bathrooms since they don’t protrude out from the wall. This allows more room for moving around.
- Streamlined Look: The flush fit creates a clean, integrated appearance as opposed to bulky surface-mounted cabinets.
- Customized Storage: Cabinet interiors can be customized with features like pull-out trays, adjustable shelves, and interior lighting.
- Improved Ergonomics: Items are stored at eye level so they are easy to see and access. This is more ergonomic than reaching up or bending down to wall shelves.
- Flexible Sizing: Recessed cabinets come in a range of standardized or custom sizes to make the most of available wall space. Extra large units can replace entire sections of drywall.
- Versatile Styles: Frameless, framed, or overlay cabinet door styles allow coordinating with any bathroom’s decor. Mirrored doors double as functional mirrors.
- Discreet Appearance: Recessed cabinet fronts align with the wall to “hide” the storage area and reduce visual clutter in the bathroom.
- Increased Property Value: Built-in recessed cabinets add value and a higher-end look versus surface mounted options.
Popular Locations for Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Recessed cabinets can be installed in virtually any wall space in the bathroom that has adequate structural support. Here are some of the most popular placements:
Above the Toilet
Wall area above the toilet tank is prime real estate for a recessed cabinet in many bathrooms. Units here are easily accessible and make use of dead space. Side access cabinets or hinged flip-down designs are best for avoiding hitting your head on an open cabinet door.
Above or Alongside Vanities
Matching medicine cabinets installed above bathroom vanities create visual symmetry. Narrow recessed cabinets can also be positioned along the side of vanities. Coordinate cabinet finishes and hardware with vanity style.
In the Shower Enclosure
Watertight recessed niches built into shower walls offer convenient access to bathing essentials. These moisture-resistant cabinets keep items dry and avoid water dripping onto the floor from a shower caddy.
Near Entry Doors
Recessed cabinets next to the bathroom’s entryway provide storage for extra towels and toiletries for guests. They also allow quick access to essentials when entering or exiting the bath.
Standard recessed cabinets can fit neatly between 16-inch on-center studs in any wall. However, metal studs require specialized narrow cabinets.
Types of Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Recessed bathroom cabinets fall into several main categories based on cabinet shape and configuration:
Standard Square or Rectangular
The most common style, these economical recessed cabinets come in set dimensions like 16”x20” or 18”x24”, with plumb sides and horizontal top and bottom lines. They easily fit between studs or in custom wall openings.
With gently curved corners, these soften boxy cabinet lines for a more integrated look when installed near other round elements like sinks. The curved front matches curved curtain rods or bullnose tile corners.
The top of the cabinet front features an arched cutout shape. This style makes a dramatic impact against flat wall surfaces. Arched units work well over vanities or toilets.
With angled side walls, these create a perspective illusion of added depth. The slightly tapered shape fits well in corners or above angled features.
These recessed medicine cabinets have fronts that angle out from the wall. When placed above eye level, the slanted cabinet is easier to see and access contents in.
Hinged at the bottom, the entire cabinet front flips down and out from the wall for easy, ergonomic access then flips up into the recess when closed.
Standard Sizes of Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Typical recessed medicine cabinets come in certain standard width and height dimensions to fit common wall stud spacings and bathroom scales. Standard sizes include:
- Compact: 9” W x 11.5” H (fits between studs)
- Mini: 11.5” W x 14.5” H
- Petite: 15.75” W x 23.5” H
- Standard: 16”-18” W x 20”-24” H (fits between 16” studs)
- Oversized: 20”-28” W x 26”-40” H (replaces large wall section)
Depths range from 3.5” – 8” based on the cabinet style. Custom sizing is also available. Measure your available installation space carefully to determine the maximum cabinet size possible.
Features to Look for in Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Today’s recessed cabinets offer much more than just a box on the wall. Look for features that increase functionality, convenience, and aesthetic appeal:
- Adjustable glass or solid shelves
- Interior electrical outlet plugs
- Integrated LED lighting
- Magnifying mirrors
- Defoggers for mirrors
- Charging stations or Bluetooth speakers
- Glass or solid doors in styles like slab, framed, overlay, arched, etc.
- Soft-close hinges and door catches
- Pull-out storage trays or drawers
- Tempered glass construction
- Moisture-resistant finishes
- Matching cabinets, mirrors, and lighting for a coordinated look
- Medicine organizers
- Custom wood veneer finishes
- Interior jewelry storage options
- Inset spaces for shavers or toothbrush holders
- ventilation fans
How to Choose the Right Recessed Medicine Cabinet
With the wide variety available, keep these tips in mind when selecting a recessed bathroom cabinet:
- Measure the target installation area carefully, including height, width, depth, and corners.
- Consider who will use the cabinet – adults, children, or persons with disabilities? Mount at a height they can easily reach.
- Determine what you need to store and look for adequate interior capacity and shelf configurations.
- Match the style to your bathroom – framed, frameless, beveled, mirrored, etc.
- Look for weatherproofing features if installing in a shower enclosure.
- Make sure electrical and plumbing lines don’t interfere with the planned location.
- Choose durable, moisture-resistant materials and finishes that complement other finishes in the room.
- Decide on special features like interior lighting, outlets, or defoggers.
- Choose a reputable brand known for quality and durability.
Design Tips for Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Recessed cabinets should enhance your bath decor, not detract from it. Keep these design tips in mind:
Select Strategic Locations
Look for empty wall spaces with proper clearance. Avoid interfering with windows, doors, or fixtures. Place commonly used items within easy reach.
Complement Other Finishes
Match cabinet frame, door, and hardware finishes to faucets, mirrors, and other details. Accent with towels or decor in similar tones.
Add task lighting above or inside cabinets. Defoggers also improve visibility. Make sure lighting is accessible when cabinet doors are open.
Maintain Visual Balance
Place recessed cabinets symmetrically to avoid looking lopsided. For example, keep equal space on each side of a mirror.
Highlight Architectural Details
Arched or uniquely shaped recessed cabinets add flair against flat wall surfaces and angular tile patterns. They complement round sinks or bullnose corners.
Include Functional Storage
Use adjustable shelves and interior fittings to store all sizes of frequent-use items neatly. Have everyday essentials readily accessible.
Meet Accessibility Needs
Account for users of all ages and abilities. Position cabinets for comfortable access by children, seniors, or wheelchair users.
Allow Sufficient Clearance
Hinged cabinet doors need adequate clearance to fully open without obstruction. Prevent collisions with other bathroom elements.
Select Durable Materials
Look for tempered glass doors, moisture-resistant finishes, and quality hardware. Avoid damage-prone materials like particleboard.
Installing Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Installing recessed medicine cabinets takes careful pre-planning but creates a flawless built-in look. Here is an overview of the process:
Select an Appropriate Location
Consider traffic patterns, clearances, stud spacing, and avoiding pipes and wires. Closer to eye level is ideal for accessibility.
Cut a Wall Opening
Remove drywall to create a correctly sized opening. Maintain at least 1/2″ clearance on all sides for adjustments during installation. Cut neatly between studs.
Fasten Supports Securely
Attach wood blocking between studs to reinforce the back and sides. This provides a sturdy base for securing the cabinet.
Level the Cabinet
Insert the cabinet and shim if necessary to level and plumb the unit. The face frame should sit flush with the wall surface.
Anchor Firmly In Place
Attach through the cabinet back or side walls into the blocking using screws. Anchoring to studs alone is not sufficient.
Complete Finish Trims
Install side and top/bottom trim molding to conceal edges of the cabinet and opening for a built-in look. Caulk all seams.
Install Door and Shelves
Attach hinges and doors, adjust fit and alignment, then add any moveable shelves and interior fittings as needed.
Make Electrical Connections
If equipped with electrical outlets, lights, or defoggers, connect them according to local code regulations before closing up the wall.
Maintaining and Cleaning Recessed Cabinets
Recessed medicine cabinets are built to withstand moisture in bathrooms. Follow these tips to keep them looking like new:
- Wipe spills promptly using a soft, damp cloth. Avoid harsh cleaners.
- Use bath fans and anti-fog features to minimize condensation buildup in cabinets.
- Open doors fully to allow circulation and drying after use.
- Tighten door hinges and catches as needed if doors sag or don’t align.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with equivalent LED lights for greater longevity.
- Spot clean mirrored doors using ammonia-free glass cleaner and a lint-free cloth.
- Remove humidity-absorbing products like unused medication from cabinets.
- Check under shelves for water leaks around plumbing. Have leaks repaired promptly.
- Adjust, tighten, or replace aging shelf clips and supports as needed.
- Use touch-up finish on nicks and scratches to prevent corrosion and rust.
Recessed Cabinet Safety Tips
Recessed medicine cabinets present some unique safety considerations:
- Choose cabinets with rounded corners and edges for child safety.
- Ensure plumbing and electrical connections are performed by qualified pros.
- Anchor cabinets very securely to avoid accidents if pulled on.
- Install cabinet locks if storing any potentially hazardous items.
- Use only shatterproof tempered glass doors; avoid breakables falling.
- Check for asbestos in existing walls before cutting into them.
- Follow all local building codes and regulations.
- Turn power off at the breaker before installing electrical features.
- Keep flammable liquids and sprays separated from bath heat sources.
- Have old lighting electrical retrofitted to current standards.
Frequently Asked Questions About Recessed Bathroom Cabinets
Q: Do recessed medicine cabinets need to be vented?
A: Most standard recessed cabinets do not require ventilation. However, for wet locations like showers, moisture-resistant and properly vented units are recommended.
Q: How much weight can recessed bathroom cabinets hold?
A: It depends on cabinet construction, but typically 30-50 lbs total weight capacity, with 10-15 lbs per shelf. Heavier glass shelves can bear more weight.
Q: How deep are recessed medicine cabinets?
A: Standard depths are between 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 inches. Deeper units of 6-8 inches are also available. Measure your wall depth when choosing.
Q: Should bathroom cabinets be installed above or below a light fixture?
A: Above is better so light shines down when doors are open. Just make sure a tall person won’t hit their head on the light.
Q: How do you remove old recessed medicine cabinets?
A: Cut around the perimeter of the cabinet using a drywall or multi-tool saw to cut through caulking and separating from studs. Remove screws then pry off trim.
Q: What kind of backing do recessed cabinets need?
A: Solid backing like plywood between studs provides strong secure attachment. Drywall alone lacks adequate strength and support.
Q: Should anything be stored on top of recessed bathroom cabinets?
A: No, the top surface isn’t meant to bear weight. Attach accessories like mirrors on the wall above the cabinet instead.
Recessed Bathroom Cabinets: The Space-Saving Storage Solution
With their clean, integrated look and versatile storage options, it’s easy to see why recessed bathroom cabinets are a popular choice for both remodeling projects and new construction. Taking the time to carefully determine your location, storage needs, and style preferences will ensure you select the ideal recessed medicine cabinet. With proper installation, these flush-fit cabinets can provide many years of reliable, unobtrusive storage and handsome built-in style. Consider incorporating recessed cabinets in your next bath project for both aesthetic appeal and organization.