Bathroom Cabinet Buying Tips

Consider room size, layout and style when picking cabinetry for your remodel

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Photo courtesy of Drury Design

Buying cabinetry or a vanity for your bathroom is a similar process to buying kitchen cabinets. Before you start shopping, make sure you have a well-thought-out plan for your bathroom renovation. You should identify goals and priorities, with the help of your completed Day in the Life of Your Bathroom Questionnaire and Bathroom Goals Worksheet. You also should have a clear vision of what your new bathroom will look like, after exploring various bathroom designs and layouts and planning out space and storage. Finally, you should have a budget to work with.

Cabinet Quality Grades

Similar to kitchen cabinetry, bath cabinetry is available in four basic grades (RTA, stock, semi-custom and custom) and two general construction approaches (face framed and frameless). Bath cabinetry may also be purchased in the form of a freestanding vanity. Cabinetry is sold through a network of retailers including, building supply stores, kitchen and bath retailers and home improvement centers, such as Lowes and Home Depot. A number of mass home catalogue companies sell freestanding vanities.

Ready-to-assemble (RTA) is the cheapest cabinetry grade but you'll sacrifice on quality of materials and construction. RTA comes boxed, requiring assembly. Stock cabinetry is generally affordable but offers little variety in door style, size and materials. Semi-custom cabinets offer a wide range of door and drawer styles, materials and finishes but like stock cabinetry, semi-custom is measured in 3-inch increments and doesn't provide a fully tailored fit. Custom cabinetry is completely adapted to suit any given space. With custom-built cabinetry, there's no limit in terms of style, material, finishes or decorative elements but the trade-off can be extremely pricey. Lead-time on cabinetry can be anywhere from same day delivery with stock cabinetry to eight weeks or more on custom orders.

Cabinet Drawers

Regardless which grade you opt for, make sure to choose a well-constructed cabinet with drawers at least 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch thick, especially on the bottom. Avoid stapled construction. Check to ensure drawers are snug in their box, open quietly and glide smoothly. They should not sag when extended fully. Wood sides and dovetail joinery marks quality construction practices but substrates, such as plywood, particleboard and medium density fiberboard (MDF) with doweled joinery is a suitable and affordable alternative.

Cabinet Materials and Finishes

Bathrooms receive considerable wear and tear and it's important to choose materials and finishes that can withstand heat, water and excessive moisture. Typically, cabinetry is constructed of a plywood, particleboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF) box with solid wood door and drawer faces. The number of available material and finish options increase with price point. Most manufacturers offer a breadth of painted, stained, glazed, antiqued and distressed finishes and an expansive selection of woods and laminates. Be wary of using veneers in baths, as they tend to peel over time.

Cabinet Doors, Accessories and Hardware

Door style and decorative enhancements drive the look of bath cabinetry. Doors may be flush or have an elevated or inset central panel that can be squared, arched or rounded. From craftsman to modern, a number of door styles are available at every price point.

An assortment of decorative accessories such as posts, pilasters and wainscoting further customize the look. Drawers and doors typically look best when coordinated or identical. The same applies to their hardware, including hinges, knobs and pulls. It's important to thoroughly consider each of these items as an entity before committing. But bath cabinetry isn't all about looks. Consider accessories for ease of use. Mid and high-end cabinetry offer an abundance of features, such as pull-out hair dryer drawers with electrical outlets installed inside doors and wire clothing hamper drawers.

Cabinet and Vanity Styles

Consider first what you'll be storing in cabinetry before deciding on a design. A double sink vanity offers more storage while a narrower vanity allows more floor space. Another trend is custom designed vanities suspended above the floor. "We're suggesting and designing a number of wall-hung vanities, says American Institute of Architects (AIA) architect Mark Hutker. "They show more floor beneath, lending bathrooms a larger sense of space." Freestanding vanities and cabinetry detached from walls on either side are especially popular in powder rooms or half baths.

Cabinets sold specifically as bathroom cabinets are generally 32 inches tall and 18 to 21 inches deep. However, kitchen cabinetry suits bathroom applications, differing only slightly in height and depth. Whether you select bathroom or kitchen cabinetry, select cabinetry made from environmentally responsible materials. Look for cabinetry that is approved by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) with an Environmental Stewardship Program (EPS) seal. If you're going the custom route, select wood cut from a certified managed forest and opt for low or no VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints. Of course, there is nothing easier on the environment than transforming an antique or salvaged piece into a bath vanity in lieu of purchasing new cabinetry.

Re-purposed hutches and vintage dressers make one-of-a-kind statements when used as a vanity. "Bath vanities don't have to be something from a cabinet shop," says designer Jane Coslick. "Some of the best vanities are salvaged curbside or scored from local flea markets."

In addition, a number of catalogues have knocked off the vintage look, creating freestanding vanities with a furniture-like feel. "A powder room is an excellent place to really show off a cool vanity," Coslick says. Other companies specialize in custom-built freestanding vanities, which are intended to look every bit as authentic as original antiques.

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