Vintage and antique bathroom sinks are making a major comeback in home decor, thanks to their timeless styles, high-quality craftsmanship, and eco-friendly nature. These sinks bring a sense of nostalgia and character to modern bathrooms, adding unique charm that can’t be found with mass-produced fixtures. From ornate porcelain pedestal sinks to sleek glass vessel basins, vintage bathroom sinks run the gamut of eras and aesthetics.
A Brief History of Vintage Bathroom Sinks
Bathing and personal hygiene were revolutionized by indoor plumbing, which started becoming commonplace in the mid to late 1800s. Early sinks were made of materials like cast iron, tin, and porcelain. Victorian era sinks often had decorative elements like claws feet, embellished faucets, and artistic basins. Some sinks were freestanding on a pedestal, while others were installed into wooden vanities.
The early 1900s brought innovative materials like enameled steel, along with simpler, streamlined shapes inspired by emerging minimalist design movements. Colors expanded beyond basic white to include jade green, soft pink, light blue and sunny yellow hues. The classic porcelain pedestal sink design also became popular during this era.
Mid-century modern sinks from the 1940s-1960s featured funky retro designs in vibrant colors. Materials expanded to include glass, acrylic, fiberglass and lucite. Fun pastel colors were trendy for bathrooms, and sinks might be curved, angular or amoeba-shaped.
Today, vintage sinks from any era lend historic charm and timeless sophistication to modern bathrooms. Popular vintage styles include:
- Porcelain pedestal sinks – These elegant free-standing sinks first emerged in the early 1900s and remain iconic today. The basin is mounted on a tall, narrow pedestal base crafted from porcelain, ceramic or cast iron.
- Wall-mounted sinks – Wall mounts allow for more flexibility in sink placement and come in a diverse array of materials like porcelain, enameled steel, glass and more. Styles range from ornate to minimalist.
- Vessel sinks – Vessel basins sit on top of the vanity surface, rather than being recessed within it. Glass, ceramic, and hammered metal are common vessel sink materials, as their decorative nature is shown off.
- Clawfoot tub sinks – For a truly standout look, sinks can be incorporated into a clawfoot bathtub design. The sink may sit on an attached pedestal or be wall-mounted nearby.
Benefits of Installing a Vintage Bathroom Sink
Vintage and antique bathroom sinks offer numerous advantages that make them a smart choice for many homes:
No two vintage sinks are exactly alike, each one exhibiting unique colors, materials, shapes and detailing based on its era of origin. This handcrafted uniqueness results in a one-of-a-kind look that feels special. A vintage sink displays your distinct sense of style.
Rather than consuming new materials and resources for construction, a vintage sink repurposes what already exists. This gives it an inherently smaller carbon footprint. Many vintage sinks are also extremely durable and long-lasting, saving the energy and costs of frequent replacements.
An eye-catching vintage sink naturally sparks curiosity and comments from guests in your home. The sink can launch lively conversations about interior design as well as the story of the fixture itself. Vintage sinks add personality and character to a bathroom space.
The early plumbing fixtures that comprise vintage sinks were painstakingly handmade, exhibiting meticulous attention to detail. This high level of old-world craftsmanship is difficult to find in today’s mass-produced bathroom sinks. The quality is evident at a glance.
Despite their uniqueness and workmanship, genuine vintage sinks can often be found at very reasonable prices. Particularly if sourcing from salvage shops, yard sales or auctions, the cost is typically notably less than a new sink. Installation may also be simpler, saving on labor fees.
Popular Styles of Vintage Bathroom Sinks to Consider
Porcelain Pedestal Sinks
The porcelain pedestal sink is a bathroom classic, featuring a basin atop a slim pedestal in a matching porcelain material. This style emerged in the early 1900s and quickly became popular due to its elegance and practicality. The streamlined pedestal base provides display space without taking up excessive bathroom floor space.
Pedestal sinks have a timeless, clean-lined look that works in bathrooms of any era. The versatile porcelain material comes in matte and glossy finishes to suit traditional and modern aesthetics. Neutral white and black are common pedestal sink colors, but soft pastels like pink and green are also available for a pop of retro style.
When sourcing a vintage porcelain pedestal sink, examine the condition carefully. Small stains, chips or cracks may be present, but should not impact durability with proper cleaning and care. Test water flow and drainage prior to purchase.
Wall-Mounted Glass Sinks
Glass vessel sinks are a popular vintage-inspired choice today. The glass basin sits on top of the vanity or attaches to the wall, allowing it to take center stage. Vintage glass sinks have delicate designs that may include decorative etchings or accents. Materials like colored glass or marble add visual intrigue.
The wall-mounted configuration is common for glass vessel sinks. Attaching directly to the wall creates a floating effect, while also keeping the countertop free of obstructions. This allows for easier cleaning and provides flexibility in placing bath accessories.
When installing a vintage glass sink, take care to securely attach it to wall studs for proper support. Use clear silicone caulking around the perimeter to prevent leakage and make sure the glass basin remains safely in place.
Hammered Copper Sinks
For a more rugged, earthy look in the bathroom, hammered copper sinks are an excellent vintage choice. Copper’s warm, reddish-orange patina and handcrafted hammered texture give these sinks bold character. The material is naturally anti-microbial, providing hygienic benefits as well.
Hammered copper sinks work beautifully in styles ranging from Farmhouse to Industrial. They pair nicely with natural wood, black metal, or white subway tile. Vintage copper sinks may exhibit a pleasant darkened patina or be freshly polished to a brilliant shine.
Over time, copper will gradually age and darken. To maintain the original bright finish, gently polish the sink with a copper cleaner and protect with a coating of wax. Allowing natural patina to develop results in a deeper, richer coloration.
Cast Iron Clawfoot Tub Sinks
For a supremely traditional aesthetic, consider a bathroom sink incorporated into a clawfoot tub design. The sink may be wall-mounted nearby or affixed to the tub itself on a central pedestal. This setup merges two bathroom necessities into one unified decorative statement.
Antique clawfoot tubs with original attached sinks are rare, coveted finds. But some companies today produce new clawfoot tubs and sinks in classic styles, finished in glossy white or matte black. The ornate cast iron construction and detailed claw feet on the tub echo back to the Victorian era.
When installing a clawfoot tub sink, take careful measurements to ensure it fits the existing space. All weight will be floor-supported, so check that the floor structure is sturdy enough to handle the extremely heavy combined tub and sink.
Make the most of an unused bathroom corner by tucking a petite sink neatly inside. Corner sinks allow for efficient use of awkward small spaces. Their triangular basin shape fits snugly into corners.
Vintage corner sinks may be crafted from materials like porcelain, enameled steel, or glass. Styles can be more basic and utilitarian or have elegant Art Deco detailing, like rounded edges or stepped pyramid shapes.
When installing a corner sink, take measurements to ensure the sink can sit far enough into the corner for the doors or drawers of adjacent vanities or walls to open without obstruction. Corner sinks work best with open underneath cabinetry.
What to Look for When Shopping for a Vintage Sink
While the variability of vintage sinks is part of their allure, you’ll want to keep some key factors in mind while shopping to find the right fixture:
- Condition – Carefully inspect sinks for chips, cracks, leaks, or stains. Damage may often be repaired, but this can add expense. The drain area should allow water to flow freely without pooling.
- Size – Measure your existing sink and available space. Vessel and pedestal sinks take up more floor space. Wall mounts allow for more flexibility. Make sure any sink will fit your plumbing.
- Material – Consider the sink material that best suits your home’s aesthetic – porcelain, glass, copper, cast iron, enameled steel and more. Each has unique properties to factor in.
- Style – Older styles from the Victorian or Art Deco eras add bold vintage flair. Midcentury sinks have retro charm. Even early plastic sinks can feel modern. Choose a style befitting your goals.
- Fixture Holes – Sinks may have pre-drilled holes, allowing you to simply swap in existing faucets. Alternatively, you can drill new holes to accommodate fixtures. Check measurements.
- Genuine Vintage – When possible, opt for legitimately vintage over “vintage-style” sinks to reap the benefits of true historic craftsmanship and patina.
- Budget – Vintage sinks can be found at widely varying price points. Set a budget to narrow options, but remain flexible for a great find. Consider costs of repair.
Tips for Installing and Caring for a Vintage Sink
Once you’ve found the perfect vintage sink for your home, proper installation and ongoing care will keep it looking beautiful. Follow these tips:
- Hire a plumber experienced in working with vintage fixtures for installation. Their expertise prevents mistakes.
- Make sure walls or floors are reinforced if needed to support a heavy pedestal or clawfoot tub sink.
- Use clear caulking around the sink perimeter to prevent leaks and gaps for wall-mounted sinks.
- Attach vessel sinks to wall studs securely using a vessel sink mounting bracket system.
- Test for leaks and drainage issues once installed. Make any needed adjustments.
- Use gentle cleansers like dish soap and warm water to keep porcelain, enameled steel or glass surfaces clean.
- For copper sinks, prevent water spots and tarnishing with beeswax-based copper polish.
- Re-seal sinks annually with caulking to maintain water-tightness and prevent damage.
- Use a sink drain strainer and clean regularly to prevent clogs, which are common in vintage sinks.
- For stubborn stains or mineral buildup, use a non-abrasive cleaner specifically formulated for the sink material.
- Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasive tools or excessive force when cleaning vintage fixtures to protect their delicate materials.
Where to Shop for Vintage Bathroom Sinks
The hunt for the perfect vintage sink is part of the fun. Here are some spots to search:
- Online auctions – eBay, Etsy and Ruby Lane often have broad selections of vintage bathroom sinks at varying price points.
- Salvage yards – Check architectural salvage stores and vintage resellers for pedestal sinks, wall mounts and clawfoot tub sinks at discounted prices.
- Antique shops/malls – Sift through antique shops or malls specializing in lighting and hardware to uncover vintage bathroom gem finds.
- Home renovation stores – Retailers like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores or mom and pop salvage shops may have vintage sinks for sale from building renovations.
- Garage, estate and yard sales – Search classified ads for home sales listing bathroom fixtures, and arrive early for the best selection.
- Plumbing supply retailers – Some classic plumbing supply stores sell new reproductions of antique bathroom sinks to replicate the vintage look.
- Flea markets/swap meets – Flea markets are festivals of vintage, where you may find incredible deals on old bathroom sinks with patience and an eye for style.
Vintage Bathroom Sinks FAQs
Get all your top questions answered about incorporating a vintage artisan sink into your home’s decor.
Are vintage sinks safe to use?
Yes, vintage sinks are generally safe to use when properly restored and installed. Inspect thoroughly for any cracks or damage and test water flow prior to installation to ensure no leaks are present.
How expensive are vintage bathroom sinks?
Costs vary widely, but vintage sinks are often cheaper than new designer options. Simple porcelain pedestal sinks may cost $200-500. Ornate cast iron or carved stone sinks are $800+. Unique pieces can be $2000 or more.
What about lead in old sinks?
Some vintage sinks may have lead solder or lead piping, which can contaminate water with lead exposure risk over time. When possible, test your vintage sink for lead. If found, replace any lead piping with modern copper materials.
How do I fix chips or stains in a vintage sink?
Minor chips in porcelain, enamel or fiberglass can often be repaired with filler epoxy designed for that material. Stains usually require cleaning with a gentle cleanser formulated for the sink surface. Avoid abrasives.
Should I get my vintage sink professionally restored?
For major restoration work, hiring a professional is best. They have the expertise to reglaze, resurface and seal vintage sinks while preserving their antique charm.
What color should I choose for my vintage sink?
It’s up to you! The most common vintage sink colors are white and black, but don’t be afraid to add a punch of color like seafoam green, robin’s egg blue or soft pink for a retro vibe.
Can I change the faucet on my vintage sink?
Often yes, provided the existing holes fit your desired faucet or you can drill new holes. Measure first. Go for vintage faucets as well, or modern faucets in classic styles for the perfect pairing.
Do vintage sinks hold up over time?
Yes, when well-cared for, the all-metal or porcelain construction of most vintage sinks allows them to last for many decades with minimal wear when used regularly. Their durability is well-proven.
How do I clean hard water stains in my vintage sink basin?
Use a non-abrasive bathroom cleaner formulated specifically for the sink material (enamel, porcelain, etc). Lime scale removers or white vinegar also works. Gently scrub with a soft cloth.
Bring Lasting Charm to Your Bathroom with a Vintage Sink
With their handcrafted, eco-friendly nature and timeless beauty, few bathroom fixtures can compete with the appeal of vintage and antique sinks. Installing a restored vintage basin will imbue your home with historic sophistication, whether you opt for an ornate wall-mounted glass sink or a streamlined porcelain pedestal version.
Take time to hunt down just the right focal-piece sink that speaks to your personal taste and complements your bathroom’s evolving style. With the proper care and maintenance, your vintage sink will become a beloved and reliable feature in your home for many years to come. Let everyone who enters your bathroom ooh and ahh over your one-of-a-kind find.