Vanities are perhaps one of the most important fixtures in a bathroom, and can be one of those important aspects of a home that can impact the overall success and happiness of a marriage. Having lived with just one sink in our master bathroom for seven long years, I can attest to the bickering and elbowing that can result from an insufficient vanity. 

Here's a look back at the hideous unique vanity that was in our home when we purchased it. This failed 1980s DIY effort from a previous owner was oddly tall, partially obstructed the view out of the window, and had an uneven tile surface that made cleaning difficult but growing mold cultures in the deep grout lines super easy. 

Let's face it. The harsh lighting and unframed mirror certainly didn't do anything to enhance the experience either. Our best guess is that the previous owner had retrofitted particle board kitchen cabinets to make this bad boy, and then slapped a thin coat of cheap paint on it. 

After wrapping up the vestibule project, we've now turned our attention to renovating our master bathroom. While Alex works through the less sexy tasks of duct work, insulation, and vent fans, my attention has been focused on the search for a new vanity. My wish list for this extremely important bathroom fixture is as follows:

  1. Must have enough room to house two sinks.
  2. Should be made of solid wood, not particle board like the beauty pictured above.
  3. Should be something somewhat unique -- not your everyday run of the mill vanity found in new construction.
  4. Must look appropriate with the rest of our house, stylistically speaking. This means it shouldn't look modern and should work well with the salvaged claw foot tub. 
  5. Must look good painted white.
  6. Must come with or must be able to retrofit a Carrara marble surface. 
  7. Must be reasonably priced. 

Keeping this somewhat specific set of criteria in mind, I began scouring local home improvement stores for options. I quickly ruled out anything from a home improvement store as it didn't meet criteria number three. In person, I also wasn't particularly impressed with the look of the white vanities. Despite price tags in the range of $2,000 (like the one below), they just looked a little cheap, almost like the wood was plastic, if that makes sense. 

So next up I turned my attention to the Internet and started looking at online retailers. I considered some of the national chains like Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Although I really liked the look of some of these vanities, these options, like the home improvement stores, violated #3 and I just couldn't stomach the $3,000+ price tag. Ugh.

I started to realize that buying a true vanity might not be the way to go. Alex graciously offered to build a custom vanity for the space, but I felt like I hadn't exhausted all of my options yet. So I decided to try to find a piece of furniture -- maybe an old dresser or buffet -- that we could convert into a vanity. I know everyone and their brother has designs on getting an older piece of furniture and turning it into a vanity or sink, but I really felt like we could do it. As such, I began a several month long browsing session on eBay and Craig's List. Despite my best efforts, I came up empty handed here as well. The pieces were either not the right style, not the right size, or not the right price. Bummer.

It began to feel like we were going to have to resort to having Alex custom build a vanity (which also meant adding potentially months to the project given his not-so-speedy pace on things like this), and this really made me feel discouraged. Just when I was about to throw up my arms in defeat and tell Alex to look into getting the wood we'd need to build the whole thing, I suggested we stop in an antique/second hand store in the nearby neighborhood of Del Ray. The shopping gods must have been smiling on us that day, because we found something that just might work. There, nestled among the various other random items in the store, sat a solid walnut dining room buffet. This piece, originally $650, had been marked down to a mere $400!

Before you do a little Happy Happy, Joy Joy dance with me, know that the piece isn't perfect. At only 48" wide it may be one of the narrowest double vanities on record, and it's also going to require a lot of elbow grease/alterations and some cash to get it looking the way we want it to. In spite of these shortcomings, Alex conceded that he couldn't build a new piece with this quality of wood for this price, so we decided to give it a try. 

In order to turn this buffet into the vanity we've long dreamed of, we'll need to:

  • Cut down the legs to reduce the height of the piece by about 1-1.5 inches.
  • Prime and paint the piece in a high gloss white (and might just need to buy a sprayer to do this).
  • Add a custom cut Carrara marble top.
  • Alter the drawer configuration to make room for sinks and plumbing.
  • Replace the hardware with something a little closer to the style of the bathroom. I think the pulls, which are carved wood, are very unique and interesting, but I'm not so sure it'll look right in the bathroom. I might see how we like them painted, and if they don't work, we'll replace them with polished nickel hardware.

So after months of searching, the purchase of our "vanity" put us one critical step closer to completing our master bathroom renovation. 

What do you think? Can the new vanity function as a double despite its shortcomings? With some effort, do you think it will work? Have you tackled a furniture makeover of your own? Let us know, we love to hear what you think.

Comments 22

Comments

6/18/2012 at 12:22 PM
I love the piece! I think it's going to be perfect. If the width issue is bothering you, perhaps you could gain a couple of inches on each side with some narrow "dummy panels" which would not be visible after you painted and put the wider top on. Just a thought but I think you'll be fine leaving it as is.
Wendy
6/19/2012
Thanks Melissa! Dummy panels are a great idea! We're also talking about having Alex build tall storage shelves on either side, that would expand both storage and counter space. I'm hopeful we can make it work. :-)
ahhh
6/18/2012 at 12:47 PM
I am voting no on using the walnut buffet for a bathroom piece. Its dimensions will bother you (its narrowness, odd drawer layout, etc.) and if you don't ultimately loss patience with it, the next owner will and it'll be back to a ripout. In this case, price and great wood will not trump the need for space.
Wendy
6/19/2012
Thanks for weighing in on this...but next owner? We're not selling this house after all the hard work we've put into it! ;-) LOL
max1023
6/18/2012 at 3:56 PM
I think its a pretty awesome find. We had an idea similar to yours and picked ours up at a restore with a matching mirror for $110. Ours is big enough and not quite as many alterations are needed. Height/ length are perfect we just need to change some of the drawers into cabinets and drill the necessary holes for plumbing. Ours is a serpentine dresser that we plan on painting black. While the size isn't ideal, people that buy old houses appreciate these original and unique like aspects more than your average new home buyer so if you are happy with it I say you made a wise choice. Since it will be tastefully done I'm sure future homeowners will love their unique vanity.
Wendy
6/19/2012
Ooh, sounds like you scored a major deal, and that your new vanity will be gorgeous!

Not that we have plans to ever sell this house, but if we did, we could only hope that the new owners would be people that would appreciate old homes and "character". :-)
6/18/2012 at 6:58 PM
Love it! Hands down best way to do a vanity that looks like it "belongs" in an historic home. You can customize it as much or as little as you want and you will come out way ahead of the R.H.-esque price range for a marble topped wood vanity. It's a bit of a time investment, but it's not the most difficult thing to do if you have the skills / tools / are not afraid of plumbing / want something awesome. We managed to keep all the drawers of ours operable, despite having two sinks. Check out the vanity tags on our blog for lots of progress and maybe even some ideas for how to customize the plumbing around the drawers which is of course the trickiest part. Good luck- I cant wait to see the progress! madisonsquare.wordpress.com/tag/vanity/
Wendy
6/19/2012
Wow! Great job on your vanity project Kelly! How is the marble top holding up? (Any stains, cracks or chips?) Do you recall what the dimensions of your piece are?
6/19/2012 at 3:25 PM
Marble is holding up well one year in. Occasionally get some water spots that disappear the next day (maybe we need to reseal?) and we microfiber it every few days. The dims are 2'-10" H (including new top), 3'-10" w (top adds another 1.5" or so, just shy of your 4'), and 1'-5" deep (rounds out to a whopping 1'-7.5" in the center). The tiny counter top SF is one of the reasons we chose the semi-recessed vessel sinks and wall mounted faucets. 2'-0" w per person is tight but do-able - if you have the space, leave a few extra inches between the vanity and the end wall to give a little bit more elbow room.
Alex
6/19/2012
Thanks for all of the tips and advice, it's much appreciated. And by the way, I love you're blog. I've been a largely lurking reader since mid 2010 and have enjoyed following your projects. I'm going to go ahead and add you to our blog roll too. :-)
bfish
6/18/2012 at 10:25 PM
I think the wood drawer pulls add to the uniqueness of the piece so I would at least try keeping them. If you have to replace, go with faceted glass/crystal. OTOH, the doodads atop the side pediments look fussy and the piece would benefit from removing them, if possible (IMO of course). It looks like it will turn out to be a nice vanity; to my thinking going too small is better than going too big. Melissa's suggestion about adding on small side pieces is worth considering though.

Since rule #4 says it must be period-appropriate, I'm crossing my fingers that you won't use those raised bowl/vessel sinks. My aversion to them may just be a personal quirk; however they just don't look like a style that will stand the test of time (in anyone's house, let alone a historic dwelling).
Wendy
6/19/2012
I totally agree with you that the doodads are fussy looking. I think we're going to try to remove them.

No plans for raised vessel sinks for us. I'm a purist at heart.
6/19/2012 at 8:53 AM
This looks like an original 1860s-1870s sideboard. It can be modified to use as a vanity, but I wouldn't do anything that can't be "un-done" down the road if you get my drift.

If I was converting this to a vanity, I would:

1.) Remove the original top and keep it. Replace it with a piece of marble, as you described above.

2.) Disassemble the drawers as needed to fit the plumbing. Make sure to keep everything you take off.

3.) I would keep the hardware on it as it's original to the piece. Looking at the style, I don't think it would look right with nickel or chrome plated hardware.

Also, make sure it's a solid wood piece and not veneered. If it's veneered, it will start cracking and de-laminating in no time in a moist environment like a bathroom.

I think you could probably find something that's a little more suitable for much less money. $400 is still kind of high for a piece you're going to have to put that much work into.

By the way, from the look of it, I think the same person who built your original rear gate entrance built the vanity that came with the house :)
Wendy
6/19/2012
So you think it's worth saving? Hmm...something to think about. Luckily it's solid wood, not veneer, which was one of the biggest reasons we decided to go for it.

LOL. Yes, the old vanity was definitely the fine craftsmanship and (ahem) taste of the person who built the porta potty gate! :-)
6/19/2012 at 11:51 AM
Oops - didn't realize you all had already brought it home. Sorry!
Wendy
6/19/2012
No worries! We appreciate your honesty. If only we could bring y'all along with us to shop and get live feedback, it would much more helpful. :-)
Tonya
6/21/2012 at 11:17 AM
What a gorgeous piece. It will look stunning with a marble top, but I would say keep the handles. They are so unique and mixed with the marble I think the bathroom would look so elegant.

I think changing them could make the piece look like a mix of old/modern that went wrong. Just my two cents.
Alex
6/22/2012
Thanks for your two cents Tonya. We're definitely going to give it a try with the original handles first to see how it looks. I can't wait until we get to that point in the project! :-)
Whitney
6/21/2012 at 10:18 PM
It pains my little heart to read the words "beautiful solid walnut" and "paint" in the same paragraph!! Why would you paint such a rich, beautiful and expensive wood!!!!!
I understand that there's a look you're going for... but... think of the wood!!!

also, have you seen the bathroom drawers in Ikea bathrooms? They've engineered the drawers so they're still usable around the plumbing. great for storage! Maybe another task to add to Alex's list? :)
It's really a beautiful piece, and I know that with the care that you guys put into your projects it will be PERFECT!!!!
Alex
6/22/2012
So sorry to pain your heart on this one! I know people usually fall squarely into the paint or not paint camp. In this case given the look we're going for, I just can't see keeping it natural wood. We'll see though...
JC
6/24/2012 at 4:26 PM
I'll be completely honest: the thought of this piece being painted makes my heart ache. Are you sure it wouldn't look great in it's current wood colour with a nice marble top on it? I've seen quite a few modern bathrooms with mostly all white, marble, shiny chrome, and a dark wood vanity. What if you stained it darker?

Examples:
Photo 1
Photo 2 (if it asks for a password: 1923fs)

I also agree that adding narrow shelves or panels on the side would be an easy way to accommodate some extra length on the piece. I also really like the carved handles and half turnings. I think the piece might look more "country" with plain handles. If anything, I'd suggest bail pulls (even if they are modern shiny chrome ones) for a piece like this one.

For the drawers, one thing you can do is get some flip-down tray hardware (often used in the front panel under a kitchen sink) for some extra storage. We install these OFTEN in our custom kitchens.

What do you plan to do for the base? Just a plain skirt board around it, or something like bun feet?

Generally, the standard height is anywhere between 32-36". My boss suggests 34", but it depends on your height. I've seen some people make them as high as 42" (which, to me, is WAY too high).
Alex
8/17/2012
Hey JC, just saw this comment because we got some spam and didn't realize we didn't respond.

The photo is a bit deceiving as to how good the current wood/finish looks. I do feel the same pain as you on painting wood, for the most part, but this one, I'm sort of OK with it. Not sure why.

Thanks for the info on the height, that's very helpful. I know our old one was too high, but this one should be just about right (in the high range of what you mentioned).

I have a plan for the drawers that will be similar to the flip down approach, but may offer a bit more usable storage. The drawers will essentially work around the sinks. The good part is that the middle drawers should be in good shape, but I may need to make one just a little bit shorter to accomodate some plumbing.

For the base, I'd like to keep it looking about like it does now, but maybe just shorten it a bit. It's got a good "furniture" look to it as it stands now, and we like that.

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