When it comes to choosing an overarching decor for your next bathroom remodel, you have to strike a fine balance between designs that are currently trendy and pieces that will continue to look good as styles change. The lifespan of your bathroom should be much longer than the typical design cycle, so while you should take some inspiration from current fads, especially if you’re planning on selling your home within the next five years, it’s often wiser to opt for something a little more time-tested. Traditional vanities are a great place to start. The combination of some small, vintage-inspired detailing and sleek, simple, contemporary lines gives a hint of vintage charm and value without an old fashioned look, and the simplicity of modern design without any of the coldness. Maybe most importantly, beautiful, finished wood is always a safe bet because it never, ever goes out of style.
When shopping for a traditional vanity, you want to look for one that has some detailing on the wood work, but not a lot. Intricate, hand-carved and immaculate details have their places in vintage or period style bathrooms, but without the right matching, lavish decor, they can seem ostentatious or out of place. Look for pieces like this Wide Single Vanity that have unique feet and eye-catching but not elaborate carvings on the upper edge or sides. Just that little bit of finishing work will give the vanity a polished, sophisticated air, while the rest of the simple, contemporary lines keep it casual enough that you won’t need a full luxury bath to match.
This Antique Cherry Vanity from Legion is about as heavy as you want to go on the wood work. Really, this errs on the side of being a vintage rather than a traditional vanity, but mostly because of the curved front doors and period hardware. The design itself is elegant in its simplicity, with plain, repeating, column-style vertical lines, a subtle molding on the bottom edge, and tall but dainty wood feet. Add scallop shell or floral carvings, and this setup becomes a period dream, but the fresh, clean faces of the doors and drawers make this piece much more timeless, and better suited to a traditional bathroom style.
Subtle changes make all the difference when it comes to traditional vanities. For example, this Double Vanity from Silkroad Exclusive is rather similar to the one from Legion in size, design, and coloration. However, the doors and drawers aren’t bowed, and the lines on the columns that edge the vanity doors are much thinner and more subtle. It’s also about five inches wider, giving the vanity doors a more contemporary square shape rather than Legion’s old-world cylindrical halves. Though they’re made of the same wood, with nearly the same finish and very similar designs, Silkroad’s vanity is strangely much more casual.
But while subtle intricate woodwork gives your vanity a traditional flair, it’s the contemporary elements that make it look truly timeless. Look for simple geometric shapes, doors and drawers with simple, matching and repeating rectangles rather than older style vanities with scalloped bottoms or sides. Both drawers and doors should typically have some kind of wainscotting or simple concentric indentations to emphasize the repeating horizontal and vertical lines. This St. Bart’s vanity from Sagehill is a lovely example – the dark wood has beautiful paneling that works its way all the way around the vanity, and subtle but beautiful square edging on the faces of the drawers – lots of nice squares and rectangles, but just enough of the molding to give it a little traditional flair.
Now, when I say you should look for squares and rectangles, I don’t mean that your vanity has to be boxy. Far from it. This Medium Mahogany Vanity has some beautiful, classical curves to it. Paired with the slightly rounded feet, and this sensual traditional vanity is anything but square. However, the bare-faced drawers and the simple, square inlay on the cabinet doors tones the whole vanity down a notch, keeping it from becoming too elaborate and preserving that slightly casual look that’s the trademark of traditional vanities. It’s the simple, straight lines that make a vanity blend in, because they allow your eye to skate right over them.
Picking a relatively simple vanity with the right hardware can go a long way toward creating the timeless, traditional style you want. This Traditional Double Vanity is actually relatively quite contemporary, with all simple lines and bare-bones wainscotting style door and drawer panels. The dark chocolatey finish is even rather modern. But the antique brass vintage style drawer pulls do the same aesthetic duty as the intricate wood carvings on other vanities: they give just that extra little sense of old world style to an otherwise simple, sleekly designed vanity.
Finally, no matter how big or small, how ornate or how plain, if you want a traditional vanity, it’s got to be wood. Vanities with paint, heavy lacquers, or other artificial finishes should be out of the running from the get-go. Natural wood grain immediately adds a huge degree of sophistication that plywood or MDF vanities simply don’t have. Of course, the type of wood and the stain are up for grabs depending on your taste. This Dark Walnut Vanity is very, well, traditional, but transitional, traditional vanities come in a whole spectrum of wood types and stains.
Ultimately, choosing the right traditional vanity to create a truly timeless bathroom is a matter of balancing elements. A good rule of thumb to get a sense of whether or not a vanity fits the bill is to look for otherwise contemporary vanities that have one or two outstanding, eye-catching vintage elements. Even that little bit will provide just enough old world charm to give the vanity staying power, while the contemporary elements will keep it casual enough for use in your average home. What has you on the lookout for traditional vanities? Are you stuck between vintage and contemporary design, or are you just looking to tone down or fancy up one or the other? What are you looking for in a bathroom vanity?