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Vanities of the Bath

Of sink cabinets plain and fancy. By Patricia Poore

    Marble, fir, and reproduction hardware make a new cabinet by Kennebec look like an original.

    Marble, fir, and reproduction hardware make a new cabinet by Kennebec look like an original.

    The pedestal sink has become a symbol of the period bathroom. Historically, though, wall-hung sinks and bowls set into cabinets were more common, and popular for many more decades, than pedestals. But just try to buy a period-style sink cabinet! Most ready-made “vanities,” kitschy in particleboard and laminate, have no place in a restored house.

    I faced this challenge in my own house. I wanted to suggest its 1904 date, and I wanted cabinets to hide the usual unattractive stuff. On both counts, pedestal sinks wouldn’t do. The necessarily limited range in reproductions did not suit my transitional house, once a summer home. Time for some creativity!

    In my case, no original bathrooms existed in the house (or, from what I could gather, anywhere in the neighborhood). Therefore I did what I wanted—within the bounds of budget and good taste, and with the constriction inherent in knowing way too much about old bathrooms. In the powder room, budget (I admit) suffered on account of my insistence on historical fidelity. Since my days in brownstone Brooklyn, where built-in Victorian vanities grace the little dressing rooms between bedchambers, I had coveted a wood cabinet with a marble top. Dave Leonard at The Kennebec Company helped me design one appropriate to this house (above); it’s plain and made of fir rather than mahogany or oak. ( It was the white marble, which I had a local stoneyard dress and install, that broke the budget. It was worth it.)

    We added a bathroom, too, when we moved into part of the attic. Its beaded boards glossy with orange shellac and low-ceilinged dormer nooks made these odd rooms look like a ship’s cabin. Only half-consciously remembering a sink we’d seen on the historic schooner moored in Gloucester’s inner harbor, we came up with a porcelain bowl over a mahogany top on a bow-fronted fir cabinet.

    So, I’ve found, inspiration can be personal; it can come from a book or museum house (or museum boat!). Traditional, high quality materials are timeless; wood and marble, porcelain, brass, and tile give a period feel even when used in a highly individual way.

    Having trouble fitting your sink into a small space? Check out our tips on how to design a small bathroom.

    Published in: Old-House Interiors Summer 1999


    AnitaG April 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I have a period home that has the medicine cabinet place oddly beginning in the corner how can I upgrade without moving the medicine cabinet

    LT February 24, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    The cabinet, marble, hardware, and bowl are just superb! Great job! I would have gone for a nickel-finished faucet set but brass works, too. I hope I will remember this solution when it’s finally my turn. (Pinterest, here we go….)

    Stacey April 14, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Trying to find out the name of the color that was used for the blue bathroom

    Alissa July 6, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Hello! Looks awesome! Was wondering where you got the vanity??? Love it!!

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