Bathroom Vanity – which is for you?
Planning on remodeling your bathroom? You’ll find out very quickly that one of your major decisions is the selection of a new bathroom vanity base and bathroom vanity top. Let’s see what the choices are and which one is right for you.
There are two basic types of bathroom vanity, built-in and freestanding. Built-in is exactly what the name implies, a vanity base and solid countertop that installs against the wall and is designed to look like part of the structure.
For those who lean toward modern décor, or are remodeling the bathroom in a contemporary home, loft, high-rise condominium or upscale townhouse, a free-standing bathroom vanity will definitely appeal to your creativity due to a more unique range of available designs. A bathroom vanity also enhance the visual space of smaller bathrooms and powder rooms found in today’s new construction.
Built-In Bathroom Vanity – The Traditional Experience
The built-in bathroom vanity is a two stage process. First you choose the vanity base. Walk into any home remodeling center and you will find rows of stock vanity bases ready to take home, bolt against the wall, drop a vanity top in place and you’re done. There are variations in style, including length, height, number and placement of doors and drawers, but that’s about it. If you have an older, traditional home, this style is most likely your best choice.
Now that you have your bathroom vanity base selected, there’s still something missing the vanity top. Most of the time the bathroom vanity top will be made from cultured marble, ceramic or granite, and usually the sink (or basin or vessel, depending on the manufacturers description) will be an integral part of the top, forming a one-piece unit that will not leak. In some cases, a bathroom vanity top will have a cut-out (or cut-outs in the case of a double vanity) to allow the basin (or basins) to drop in.
Whatever type of bathroom vanity top you choose from one of the big box suppliers, the tops that you can take with you are fairly limited and conventional in appearance and configuration. However, those retailers always have a wide selection of vanity tops from various manufacturers that can be custom ordered. Prices are reasonable and you can choose from a wide variety of sink shapes and placement in the top. If you’re re-doing an older house or simply prefer a traditional built-in vanity, this is an excellent way to add a little pop to your bathroom while maintaining a traditional appearance.
Another thing to consider, if you’re planning on doing it yourself, is the relative difficulty of connecting the supply lines and drain. When it comes to modern sink and faucet installation, it has gotten simpler for do it yourselves to make the necessary connections. The problem lies in access to the connecting points. With built-in vanity bases, as well as some of the fine furniture versions and the occasional free-standing ones, you’re going to wind up with your head stuck in a cabinet, trying to thread a nut in a hard to reach area.
Much of the problem with access to these built-ins comes from their name. You cannot move the base or countertop to get to the water lines. Depending on the exact set-up of your bathroom lines, it may not be that much of a problem but other times a complete re-reroute of the water supply line will be necessary to avoid a structural element of the cabinet. In a worst-case scenario, you could end up adding a number of very colorful epithets to your vocabulary as you pull the entire unit out for a mid-project supply line revision. As they say in the army, however, proper planning prevents poor performance.
Freestanding Bathroom Vanity – From Contemporary to Eclectic
Free-standing bathroom vanity bases allow you to be a little more adventurous in design. Unlike built-in bathroom vanity bases, they typically come complete with the vanity top. Because of this you get to evaluate the whole look before making a commitment to a particular style. Some free-standing bases look like fine furniture and use tops similar to the built-ins like granite or glass. The holes for the vessel and faucet are pre-drilled and ready for installation.
These vessel bowls are contemporary, artistic and sometimes exotic. They range all the way from tempered glass to antique hammered copper, cultured stone, real stone, and stainless steel. Some of them are designed to mount on top of the flat counter while others sit inside the bathroom vanity top with only a few inches of the vessel above the counter surface. In either case many leave exposed the supply lines and drain. If you enjoy being on the cutting edge, these types of vessels or sinks are made to order for you.
Also available are tops integrated with sinks as one piece, usually in interesting ceramic shapes or glass. Other vanities are a flat surface where you can use some of the avant-garde sinks (vessels) by mounting them on top of the solid stone or glass vanity top.
You can find everything from chrome pedestals that stand on the floor to cantilevered wall mounts that support the basin in mid-air. Prefer fine cabinetry? Common wood choices range from wenge (usually painted ultra dark brown, almost black) to oak. Exotic hardwoods become available from time to time such as sapele or zelkova. These rich grains are highly prized by custom furniture makers. It’s even possible to find a free-standing vanity that looks and functions exactly like an antique chest of drawers.
Freestanding vanities eliminate the installation problems mentioned above because the open designs are easily accessible. The drain hardware is also designed to stay out in the open. P-trap drains, in particular, are very modern in design so you don’t mind them being in plain view.
Odds and Ends – Build it Yourself
There is a third bathroom vanity alternative that deserves a brief mention. Namely, custom building a bathroom vanity base from scratch. This option provides the ultimate in flexibility (and is sometimes your only choice if you have an oddly shaped space) by allowing you to build from any kind of exotic hardwood. Think long and hard before taking this route, however, because it often takes an experienced woodworker with an ability to visualize in three-dimensions to make such a project successful.
An old adage in woodworking says to measure twice and cut once. When choosing a new vanity, take the time to browse the home remodeling stores to see the common offerings and search the internet if you are looking for something more expressive In other words, research much, choose once. Do that and you will wind up with a new bathroom vanity to be proud of.