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Absolute Beginner’s Guide To Buying Your First Bathroom Vanity

Buying a new bathroom vanity can be a daunting task – not the least because it’s a home improvement project you can get pretty far in life without having to think about at all. Most rentals won’t allow you to change out the vanity, and short of a major fixer-upper, most homes you could buy wouldn’t need a vanity update for at least a few years. So, if you’ve found yourself at the point that you need to replace your vanity (or add one to a brand new bathroom) and are feeling a little out of your depth, don’t worry – that’s actually pretty normal. Hopefully this guide will answer a few of the most pressing questions you have…and maybe a few you didn’t know to ask.

So What Is A Bathroom Vanity?

De Soto 30" Single B athroom Vanity 8250V30-BNM from James Martin Furniture
De Soto 30″ Single Bathroom Vanity 8250V30-BNM from James Martin Furniture

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As someone who’s worked in the design world for years now, I can tell you honestly: this is a question that it’s very easy for a designer to forget to answer, but it certainly isn’t a dumb one to ask. In fact, it’s one I get all the time, again largely because most people don’t really think about the fixtures in their bathroom until it’s time to do a major renovation. So what is a bathroom vanity? It’s the cabinet in your bathroom with the sink and faucet on top. They can range anywhere from one to about nine feet in length, come in all colors and styles, and can sometimes be replaced by a pedestal sink or wall mounted sink, depending on the size and style of your bathroom. Bathroom vanities have at least some built-in storage, and are usually but not always made of solid or processed wood.

How Much Is This Going To Cost Me?

Brookfield 72" Antique Black Double Bathroom Vanity 147-114-5731-2DSC from James Martin Furniture
Brookfield 72″ Antique Black Double Bathroom Vanity 147-114-5731-2DSC from James Martin Furniture

Shop Bathroom Vanities with Optional Countertops and Optional Mirror Selection:

The short but honest answer is: it depends. In addition to baseline price variations between brands, styles, and sizes, bathroom vanities are also sold in a variety of ways. Ignoring the possibility of having cabinets custom manufactured (which is a little outside the scope of this post), there are three main ways you can buy a new vanity:

  1. Just the Cabinet: Like buying kitchen cabinets, this means you buy the cabinet box only. On paper, this is the least expensive option, and if you’re a dedicated thrifty shopper, it will probably get your project done on the lowest budget. The main drawback here is that while the cabinet is potentially very inexpensive (as little as a few hundred dollars), you still need to source and purchase everything else you need to build a functioning vanity: the counter, sink, and faucet at least.
  2. Cabinet And Countertop: These days, it’s much more common to find vanities sold already paired either with a pre-cut stone vanity top or with ceramic vanity top that has an integrated sink. This will raise the total cost of the vanity, but is often less expensive than sourcing the stone yourself and having it custom cut (because the manufacturer can offset some of the cost by buying in bulk), but it does mean having a slightly more limited set of color options.
  3. All The Bells And Whistles: Last but not least, you can also find complete vanity sets – ones that include not only the cabinet and vanity top, but also the sink, faucet, mirror, and/or supplemental storage cabinets. These vanities will have the highest upfront price tag (often in the multiple thousands of dollars), but if you aren’t the type to go hunting for the best deal on all the individual components, the bundle discount is likely to land you the best price at the end of your project, and save you some time as well.

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How Do I Know I’m Getting A Good Bathroom Vanity?

Brittany 46" Single Bathroom Vanity in Burnished Mahogany 650-V46-BNM from James Martin Furniture
Brittany 46″ Single Bathroom Vanity in Burnished Mahogany 650-V46-BNM from James Martin Furniture

Quality and longevity are probably the biggest concerns I hear from people looking to buy a new bathroom vanity. After all, a new vanity is a once-a-decade, big ticket purchase item, and you don’t want it falling apart after just a few months or years of use. Unfortunately, quality is also one of the harder things to pin down. Vanities made of solid wood are arguably more durable, but there are brands that produce well-made vanities out of particleboard or MDF that are also often more eco-friendly, which is another concern for many homeowners. My best advice? When you find a vanity you like, look for what the manufacturer brags about. In my experience, the more specific a company is about the parts and processes used to create the vanity, generally the sturdier and better quality the vanity will be. Keep an eye out particularly for in-depth finishing/waterproofing processes, because regardless of what the underlying material is, a good finish will help keep it intact long-term.

What Size Bathroom Vanity Do I Need?

Copper Cove Encore 86" Double Bathroom Vanity Set 301-V86-SL-DU-3SNW from James Martin Furniture
Copper Cove Encore 86″ Double Bathroom Vanity Set 301-V86-SL-DU-3SNW from James Martin Furniture
Shop Bathroom Vanities of the most popular width range from 50 to 70″ wide:
Shop Large Bathroom Vanities over 70″ wide for a Large Master Bathroom:

Figuring out what size vanity you need can also be tricky. It can be tempting to answer “the biggest one that can fit in my bathroom,” but often that will end up being more vanity than you need, and take up space that could be better used for something else – like a side storage cabinet, a hamper, or even just a bit of empty space to make your bathroom feel less crowded. So how do you narrow it down? Ask yourself this:

  1. How Much Space Do I Have?: While it shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all question when picking a bathroom vanity, taking a few preliminary measurements will help you lop off some of your option and give you a guideline to work with. If you’re replacing a vanity, measure that and use it as a starting ballpark.
  2. How Many People Will Use This Vanity?: How big a vanity you’ll need will also depend on how much traffic the bathroom sees. You can get away with a smaller, more decorative vanity in a guest bathroom than you can in a master or kid’s bath. As a rule of thumb, bigger vanities mean more storage, more counter space, and more sinks, but it is possible to find smaller vanities with multiple sinks (or one large, trough-style sink) if multiple people will be using a smaller bathroom at the same time.
  3. What Do I Hate About My Current Vanity?: This might seem like an oddball question, but storage features tend to be similar in the same size range, so if there’s something you really hate about your current vanity, it could be worth looking for something six or so inches bigger or smaller. Bonus: Always always make sure that drawer plates are actual functioning drawers, especially if you’re sizing up or down for that extra drawer storage.
  4. Do I Need More Than One Vanity?: It’s easy to assume that a small space means a small vanity and a big space means a big one, but pairing two smaller vanities instead is an option that can add a lot of flexibility to the layout of a large bathroom, without significantly increasing the total cost of your project.

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What About Storage Options?

Bristol 36" Single Bathroom Vanity 157-V36-VV from James Martin Furniture
Bristol 36″ Single Bathroom Vanity 157-V36-VV from James Martin Furniture

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You don’t have to dig too deep on this blog to find a ton of advice about finding a vanity with the best storage for your bathroom, and if you want a more in-depth look at your options, I’d recommend heading over here. But for now I’ll give you the most condensed version of my advice: Gather together all the stuff you’ll be storing in, on, or around your vanity, and sort it. How often do you use each thing, and where would it be most convenient to access or store? The answer will be different for everyone, but it provides a good baseline for features to look for. Your main storage cabinets don’t need to be any bigger than the tallest item you plan to put in them, which means you can reduce the size of the cabinet and supplement with drawers, shelves, or cubbies that are better for storing smaller items. Only need a few drawers at waist-height? You might want to consider a wall-mounted vanity. Have tons of small items? You want to look for a vanity in your size range that has as many drawers as possible. Lots of hair care products? You might want to consider a vanity with deep, full-extension drawers that will allow you to see and access everything you have without shuffling around inside a cabinet. The items you have to store should shape the vanity you choose, rather than the other way around.

Okay, So I Found My Dream Vanity: Now What?

Providence 72" Double Bathroom Vanity Cabinet in Cottage White 238-105-V72-CWH from James Martin Furniture
Providence 72″ Double Bathroom Vanity Cabinet in Cottage White 238-105-V72-CWH from James Martin Furniture

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Before you do anything else, you want to make absolutely sure that you know what it is you’re getting. That means reading a lot of fine print. Especially if you buy online (and even if you’re buying from a major hardware store), you want to know what your vanity is made of, what kind of hardware it has, how many working drawers/cabinets/shelves, and everything that is and isn’t included in your purchase. Promotional images often include more items than are included in your purchase by default, and that isn’t something you want to find out after the fact. You also want to make absolutely sure you know what the shipping and return policies are for the company you’re purchasing from. Many have complex rules about returns (especially if an item is damaged), and you really want to be confident that you know what to do and who to contact if you change your mind, or on the off chance that something happens in transit.

Buying a new bathroom vanity can be incredibly stressful. There are a ton of options out there, with a huge range of styles, shapes, sizes, prices, and features. But taking the time to think about what you need and how you’ll use the vanity can help you weed through the vanities that won’t work for you and find the one that will.