Guide to Selecting Bathroom Cabinets

What to consider when installing new bathroom cabinets, including price, styles and if you should - or shouldn't - follow the latest bathroom design trends.

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Maple bathroom cabinets in chestnut finish by Kraftmaid

Bathroom cabinets are widely considered to have the most impact in a bathroom redo, but choosing from the milelong list of options can be overwhelming. You'll find yourself pondering unassembled versus finished cabinets, stock versus custom, contemporary versus country and maple versus cherry, to name a few.

"Cabinets affect the look and feel of the entire room," says Meriam Reed, co-owner of a DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen franchise in Naples, Fla. "They pretty much set the tone for your bathroom makeover." The days of simply picking out a medicine cabinet and being done with it are long over. So, how and where do you start?

Do your homework
"The first step is to understand how you use your space," advises Lenia Pilkonis, a certified designer with Home Depot in Atlanta. "It's a very individual thing." So take a minute to think about how you use the room and use that information to help you decide on the best configuration, materials, style, etc. for your new cabinetry. For instance, if you like long, leisurely soaks in the tub, you may want to incorporate a linen tower with a shelf for a TV into your plans.

Another good place to start is at the local bookstore or newsstand. "Flip through design books and magazines for ideas," Meriam says. "Find out what you like then narrow down your choices based on what you want to accomplish." Visiting a designer showroom, particularly an interactive one where you can pull out drawers and peek behind doors, is another excellent strategy when you're first getting started.

"In reality, it's more complicated to design a bathroom than it is a kitchen," says Lenia, "because you're not only working with a smaller space, but because almost everything you touch has either water, electrical and/or drainage issues." To that end, you may want to consider hiring an interior designer or kitchen and bath specialist to help guide your makeover.

Drawers with compartments offer handy storage.

Don't break the bank
"Unlike in a kitchen remodel, cabinets aren't necessarily the most expensive thing involved in a bathroom remodel," Meriam says. Still, new bathroom vanities and cabinets can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars well into the thousands. Like with most things, you get what you pay for, but there are some things you can do to help offset the outflow. For instance, this is another place where having a certified bathroom designer can come in handy, because their connections can garner special deals and rates with even the swankiest dealers and showrooms.

Buying unfinished cabinets and installing and finishing them yourself will save you some money, but it can be painstaking and backbreaking work. Shopping online for the best deals can help make your renovation dollar stretch a little further as well. "It's like buying a car or anything else over the Internet, though," warns Lenia. "If you can't touch it and, in this case, inspect the box and door construction of the cabinets, you can't always be sure what you're going to get." In her opinion, the best advice for getting the most bang for your buck is to simply understand how you use the space so you don't overbuy what you don't need.

Get your style on
There are as many styles of cabinets to fill your remodeled bathroom as there are colors to paint it. Lenia classifies them into three categories.

The first is the stand-alone vanity (containing the sink and usually a countertop). The second group consists of all other bathroom cabinetry, which may include over-the-toilet units, linen storage and built-in hampers. Last are the sets of cabinets, called suites, which are designed to match your fixtures and other design features.

No matter the category, you can go sleek or shabby chic with your cabinets, classic or contemporary, modern or mission, eclectic or European, glass or glazed. "The possibilities are endless," acknowledges Lenia. "For every style, there is an equal but opposite style."

You have to be careful, though, not to let the looks distract you from the ultimate goal of your bathroom's cabinetry: to store your stuff. Luckily, today's cabinets are masters of organization, with more and more amenities like built-in drawer dividers, cosmetic trays, appliance garages (that hide but keep handy things you use every day, like hair dryers and electronic toothbrushes), linen towers and even closetlike spaces for hanging clothes and laying out ties.

Following the trends
Fun features for keeping order aren't the only trend in bathroom cabinetry. Lighting is also in the spotlight, and so we're seeing an increase in cabinets with light rails and other forms of built-in illumination.

"Another trend is for your cabinetry to take on more of a furniture look," notes Meriam. "This translates into more and smaller pieces with features like bun feet and raised panels and a preference for materials like dark cherry and walnut." Part of the reason for this particular development may stem from the fact that more and more people are opting to transform their ordinary bathroom into a relaxing retreat.

Bob Giese, a human factors specialist at plumbing products giant Kohler, says of the trend: "A home spa is about getting a break from the fast pace of our lives. With cell phones, voice mail and e-mail, we're always multitasking, we can always be reached. But a home spa allows you to close the door on the world and turn off the ringer."

Another new practice popular with homeowners is matching the cabinetry in the bathroom with the rest of the house. "They're going for a consistency on the main floor, if you will," Lenia says. "The cabinets in the bathroom match the cabinets in the kitchen, the built-ins in the living room, the wet bar and so on." You may find yourself needing a drink from that wet bar once your bathroom remodel gets under way, but the more you know and the more you plan for ahead of time, the smoother the transformation will be.

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