A bathroom vanity is often the centerpiece of a bathroom’s design. Traditional bathroom vanities are timeless classics that bring elegance and sophistication to any bathroom. With their ornate detailing, high-quality materials, and craftsmanship, traditional vanities make a statement. Let’s explore what makes traditional vanities so special.
What Defines a Traditional Bathroom Vanity?
Traditional bathroom vanities are characterized by these key features:
- Wood – Cherry, oak, mahogany, and maple are common traditional vanity woods. Walnut and hickory are also used for darker tones.
- Marble – Carrara, Calacatta, and Statuario marbles are popular traditional vanity top materials. They bring an elegant, timeless look.
- Granite – Granites like absolute black, Kashmir white, and Uba Tuba work well in traditional baths.
- Natural stone – Travertine, limestone, and onyx make bold traditional statements.
- Victorian – Intricate carvings, turned legs, ornamental hardware, and decadent details.
- Old World – Inspired by French, Tuscan, and Mediterranean aesthetics with carved accents.
- Shaker – Clean, simple lines focused on quality woodwork and functional storage.
- Mission – Stickley-style furnishings with strong horizontal and vertical lines. Period-authentic hardware.
- Antique – True antique vanities or authentic recreations of 18th/19th century styles.
- Ornate molding – Intricate crown moldings, base moldings, fluting, and trim details.
- Elaborate hardware – Cast metal handles and knobs with an aged, burnished patina.
- Turned legs – Lathed spindle legs in gracefully tapered forms.
- Handcrafted joinery – Dovetails, tongue and groove, breadboard ends, mortise and tenon joints.
- Custom cabinets – Built out of solid wood by skilled craftspeople to match the vanity.
Traditional Vanity Materials
Let’s look closer at some wonderful traditional vanity materials:
Cherry – A popular traditional choice with a rich red-brown hue and elegant grain patterns. Ages beautifully over time.
Maple – Hard and durable while also lightweight. Often stained darker for traditional looks.
Oak – A strong wood with nice grain patterns. Quartersawn white oak has a straight, uniform grain.
Mahogany – Valued for its luxurious look and varying grain types (ribbon, plainsawn, quilted).
Walnut – Prized for its chocolate brown color and bold, irregular grain markings.
Hickory – A very hard wood with a warm brown tone and dramatic flowing grain.
Pine – Affordable softwood that can be stained and faux-painted for traditional charm.
Natural Stone Surfaces
Marble – Elegant and timeless. Can be polished to a glossy finish or honed matte. Stain resistant.
Granite – A very hard, durable surface. Traditionally used in black, white, or green varieties.
Limestone – Softer stone with earthy, organic aesthetic. Gains patina over time.
Travertine – Has a rustic, Old World look with natural holes and texture. Roman origin.
Onyx – Dramatic translucent striations and bands of color make each piece unique.
Slate – A foliated stone perfect for wet areas. Hues range from gray to purple to green.
Soapstone – Heat-resistant with a soft, smooth feel. Requires mineral oil sealing for protection.
Traditional Vanity Styles
Traditional vanities encompass a range of ornate design styles:
Victorian vanities are the epitome of 19th century opulence with their lavish details. Features include:
- Dark ornate woods like mahogany and walnut
- Elaborate carved wood accents
- Marble or granite tops with decorative edging
- Cabriole legs, often cabriole-carved
- Distinctively Victorian hardware like drop pulls
- Inset mirrored medicine cabinets
- Cultured marble sinks or porcelain vessels
A variety of sub-styles exist under the Victorian umbrella, like Modern Gothic and Neoclassical.
Also called Continental, Old World vanities take inspiration from classic European aesthetics.
- Rich wood tones from stains and glazes
- Ornately turned legs
- Carved medallions, corbels, and appliqués
- Arched, framed mirrors with metal trim
- Aged patina on hardware
- Marble/limestone tops, often with decorative edges
- Vessel sinks mounted on stone countertops
French Provençal, Tuscan, and Spanish style vanities all fall in this category.
Mission vanities focus on simplicity and quality construction in the Arts and Crafts spirit. They showcase:
- Quarter sawn white oak with minimal ornamentation
- Smooth, unadorned cabinet doors and drawers
- Straight lines and right angles throughout
- Occasional small curved accents
- Blackened iron hardware in rectilinear forms
- Leather handles with burned-in designs
- Stone vessel sinks on wood countertops
Named for the Spanish missions of the Southwest, but popularized by Stickley furniture.
Another hallmark of Arts and Crafts, Shaker vanities prioritize function through streamlined forms. You’ll see:
- Simple flat panel doors with recessed centers
- Quality joinery – dovetail joints and tongue and groove
- Unembellished surfaces and hardware
- Light maple, cherry, or quarter sawn oak
- Porcelain, ceramic, or concrete vessel sinks
- butcher block, soapstone, or marble countertops
The emphasis is on showcasing the beauty of the wood and hardware itself.
For a truly traditional look, using antique vanities from the 19th century or early 20th century offers unmatched authenticity and craftsmanship. Popular period styles include:
Georgian – Mahogany serpentine fronts, dovetailed joinery, brass swan-neck hardware. Circa 1720-1830s.
Victorian – The most extravagant styles. 1860s-1900s.
Art Nouveau – Flowing asymmetrical forms, colored glass, stylized carvings. 1890-1910.
Arts & Crafts – Mission and Shaker styles. Emphasis on handcraftsmanship. 1890s-1920s.
Finding a well-preserved antique vanity gives you a true piece of history as the focal point of a traditional bath design.
Traditional Bathroom Vanity Design Elements
Beyond the overall style, traditional vanities incorporate other ornate design details for enhanced visual interest and charm:
- Crown molding – Decorative projecting molding where the wall meets the ceiling. Provides elegant detailing.
- Dentil molding – Series of small tooth-like blocks in a repeating ornamentation. Part of classical orders.
- Rope and bead molding – Alternating succession of rounded beads and half-cylinder grooves. Timeless accent.
- Ogee curved molding – Elegant S-shaped molding that adds contour. Often found framing mirrors and cabinets.
- Fluted columns – Vertical concave grooves that give elegance. Popular on leg columns and small pilasters.
- Picture frame molding – Wide, flat trim that frames out vanity bodies like a picture frame.
The right hardware lends an air of sophisticated charm with the look and feel of true handcraftsmanship.
- Cast brass/bronze – Solid metal cast into decorative traditional pulls and knobs with a rusted, burnished finish.
- Crystal knobs – Matching pulls and knobs made from cut crystal with dressed edges and detailing. Timeless sparkle.
- Ceramic / porcelain – Matching sets of traditional floral, scrollwork, or fruit decorated knobs and pulls.
- Aged iron handles/hinges – Wrought iron hardware with an aged patina like blackening or rust tones.
- Ornate backplates – Decorative plates behind knobs and pulls that enhance detailing. Often carved, cast, or embossed.
Legs shaped on a wood lathe add interest along the vanity’s base. Classic examples:
- Cabriole – Shaped in double curves with an outward bow at the top and inward curve at the bottom.
- Spade – Tapered turned leg flaring at the bottom like an inverted U shape. Graceful look.
- Trumpet – Flared outward at the bottom and then tapering in again above before meeting the apron.
- Ball-and-claw – Cabriole leg with a carved claw-foot holding a ball at the base. Historically Chinese.
- Bun – Baluster turning that swells outward at the bottom. Also called ball-shaped turning.
- Beaded – Cylindrical column with rounded bead details and curved molding transitions.
The hallmarks of quality traditional woodworking are all in the joinery execution:
- Dovetail joints – Intertlocking wedge shaped joints used in drawer boxes. Mark of meticulous craftsmanship.
- Mortise and tenon joinery – One piece fits into a hole/slot in the other for sturdy right-angle joints.
- Breadboard ends – Boards attached at tabletop ends using a tongue and groove joint. Keeps surfaces flat and prevents warping.
- Tongue and groove – Boards precisely fitted together by tongue (ridge) and groove (channel) cuts. Great for paneling.
- Doweled joinery – wooden pins fit into drilled holes, aligning adjoining pieces for assembly. Offers hidden internal stabilization.
Common Traditional Bathroom Vanity Configurations
There are a few prevalent setups and arrangements for traditional vanities that maximize their functionality and visual appeal:
The most common basic option is a standalone vanity with an attached countertop and vessel sink. It’s a great choice for smaller spaces. Design variations include:
- Center, side, or dual sink placement
- Towering hutch-style top cabinetry
- Floor-to-counter fluted columns adding drama
- Curved or rectangular vanity shapes
- Corner placement with diagonal sides
Providing his and hers sinks, double vanities make a gracious shared statement. Pairing options:
- Identical his/hers symmetrical vanities
- Complimentary designs fitted together
- Custom wood bridge unit spanning two bases
- Two vanities flanking a center window
- Angled placement in corner
A roomy central floor space is easier with separated vanities.
For a coordinated look, vanities are also sold with matching medicine cabinets, mirrors, and linen cabinets:
- Swing-out or trifold medicine cabinet above vanity
- Beveled edge mirrors attached to vanity backsplash
- Floor standing cheval mirror complementing vanity
- Matching wood linen cabinet alongside vanity
Buying together ensures consistent finishes and design aesthetics throughout.
The ultimate integrated look utilizes custom cabinetry and vanities built right into the architecture for seamless flow. This may include:
- Vanity blended intocustom sink alcove
- Curved shower benches flowing from vanity
- Upper cabinets extending to ceiling
- Vanity integrated with bath shelving and storage
- Mirrored backs making small rooms feel more expansive
With endless design flexibility, custom built-ins maxmize both aesthetics and practical storage.
Pairing Vanities with Traditional Sinks
Choosing the right sink is critical to complete a vanity’s look. Traditional sink options include:
Vessel sinks sit atop the countertop surface. Traditional materials include:
- Porcelain – Glossy white porcelain with intricate blue and white chinoiserie motifs or gilded accents.
- Copper – Hand-hammered copper vessel basins with an artisanal feel. Develops a patina over time.
- Stone – Marble, travertine, or limestone vessels that complement countertops.
- Ceramic – Glazed ceramic sinks shaped like seashells, flowers, or scrolling leaves.
- Glass – Elegant hand blown glass vessels in vibrant colors or frosted and etched looks.
Vessels showcase the countertop material itself as part of the design.
Sinks installed beneath the countertop offer a seamless look. Popular traditional styles include:
- Fireclay – Darkly glazed ceramic rectangular sinks evoking a Victorian vibe.
- Cast iron – Enameled cast iron sinks adding a pop of color against marble.
- Copper apron front – Distressed hammered copper sheet front creates bold farmhouse feel.
- Porcelain – Classic look of white porcelain updated with flared sides or inset shelves.
With undermounts, the sink itself takes a backseat to the countertop beauty.
Wall-Mount or Pedestal Sinks
No vanity needed for these self-contained alternatives:
- Wall-mounted ceramic – Directly hung porcelain fixtures with nostalgic forms.
- Pedestal sinks – Porcelain bowls on a floor-anchored single column stand. Streamlined look.
- Corner pedestal – Pedestal sink tucked into a corner to save space.
Especially handy in powder rooms or half-baths.
Best Places to Buy Traditional Bathroom Vanities
Quality craftsmanship and materials define traditional vanities. Here are some top sources:
One-of-a-kind works by artisanal craftspeople using time-honored techniques. Check sites like Etsy for custom makers near you.
Luxury brands like Kohler, Rohl, and Graff offer heirloom-quality options sure to last generations. Find at premium showrooms.
Vintage and Antique Shops
Search for treasures from past eras like Victorian apothecary chests retrofitted as vanities. Great budget way to secure an antique.
Architectural Salvage Warehouses
Discover dismantled antique vanities, clawfoot tubs, and period lighting fixtures waiting to be restored at vintage salvage yards.
Direct From Workshops
Custom handcrafted vanities from small-shop woodworkers, often using reclaimed lumber. Support local artisans.
Websites like Wayfair, Overstock, and Amazon offer traditional styles affordably shipped right to your door. More limited customization.
Home Improvement Stores
Big box retailers carry more mass-market vanities, but some exclusive designer lines offer great traditional options at lower price points.
Traditional Bathroom Vanity Design and Decor
Beyond the vanity itself, choosing complementary designs, fixtures, and decor is key for achieving a cohesive traditional bath aesthetic.
Traditional flooring sets the tone for ornate elegance underfoot. Options include:
Marble/stone tiles – Classic traditional materials like Carrara marble tiles or limestone slabs.
Patterned tile designs – Intricate motifs like fleur-de-lis or intricate mosaics.
Wide plank wood – Golden oak, rich Brazilian cherry, or ash floorboards.
Wood parquet – Geometric patterned parquet wood flooring with decorative bordering.
Heirloom rugs – Floral Persian rugs or Victorian-style carpet inlay binding edges.
Octagon tile floors – For a Victorian vibe, install black and white octagonal tiles in bath areas.
Tub and Shower
Traditional bath fixtures make relaxing escapes:
Clawfoot tubs – The quintessential soaking tub with decorative claw feet and high-end finishes. Freestanding style works with any plumbing setup.
Built-in tubs – Seamless results when tubs are paneled into cabinetry or set into architectural alcoves. Add complete integrated storage.
Subway tile walls – Running-bond white 3×6” glossy ceramic subway tiles make timeless shower surrounds.
Rainfall fixtures – Suspended large showerheads like 10 to 12 inch rain shower fixtures enhance spa-like relaxation.
Brass fixtures – Widespread faucets, tub fillers, and shower fixtures in unlacquered brass develop a rich patina over time.
Well-chosen accents lend personalized refinement. Consider:
- Vintage mirrors – Ornate gilded mirrors above vanities or decorative cheval floor mirrors.
- Sconces – Wall-mounted lighting in traditional designs provides mood illumination.
- Artwork – Curated pieces like architectural drawings, classical oil paintings, or botanic sketches.
- Fixtures – Sculptural vessel faucets, animal towel racks, and antique drawer pulls.
- Cabinet knobs – Crystal, ceramic, or aged metal hardware for vanities, cabinets, and doors.
- Textiles – Plush monogrammed towels, embroidered shower curtains, silk floral robe sets.