very basic question: best material for vanity?

walkin_yesindeedSeptember 6, 2012

Hello all: delurking after a long hiatus to ask what is probably a very basic question: what do I want my new bathroom vanities to be made of?

I was thinking I could save some money, and get all the drawer storage I was hoping for, by buying a solid-wood chest of drawers off Craigslist. I know I'd lose some of the usable drawer space, but I figured a solid-wood piece would withstand leaks etc better than pressboard or plywood.

I've had a few contractors come in to give me bids. All of them have been dubious about this, and want me to buy bathroom vanities from local big-box stores or cabinet makers. But most of what I've seen there is MDF and pressboard. Even plywood is an upgrade, let alone solid wood.

(one of them also said that most bureaus wouldn't be deep enough for useful storage, either, and I'd welcome commentary on that as well.)

Are my instincts correct here, or are the contractors? What has your experience been? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

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There's no reason not to make a vanity from a chest of drawers if you like the look, but as for this part:

>I figured a solid-wood piece would withstand leaks etc better than pressboard or plywood.

My current vanity is horrible site-built particleboard and it's still structurally fine after 33 years.

Staceyneil is one person here who has made a lovely vanity from an old dresser. One of my neighbors also did this. The only thing she didn't like was that she got tired of the vessel sink after a while. (Staceyneil's has an undermount.)

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 9:31AM
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It is true that most dressers would not be deep enough FOR THE SINK. I'd not be worried about your drawer depth... you store clothes in them afterall. But, usually, you'd need to modify the countertop (if you are putting a different countertop on, then you can set the dresser away from the wall to make extra depth for your sink).

Also, many are too short to be comfortable in height, unless you do a vessel sink (which I am not a fan of).

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 10:55AM
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Sophie Wheeler

While you can use a dresser as a vanity, it's better left to a lightly used powder room than a kids bath heavy with steam and slopovers from a sink. Solid wood actually expands and contracts more in the presence of moisture than either plywood or furniture board. That expansion and contraction will create cracks in the finish if the boards used are not finished on all 6 sides, which most are not. That seasonal expansion is one of the reason that even fine furniture pieces are usually not constructed of solid wood. The sides and backs are usually veneered plywood or furniture board. Neither is an inferior material when the proper construction techniques for that type of material are used. And what makes a cabinet or furniture piece "resistant" to leaks has more to do with the protective coating on top of the substrate than the actual substrate itself. A lot of the older furniture out there has a shellac finish, which is completely unsuited to a damp environment.

That is not to say that you can't find a great dresser or buffet and refinish it with modern finishes (inside and out) and successfully use it in a light use environment. That IS a completely doable project. It's just more work and expense than perhaps you are envisioning and less successful in a full bath than a powder room.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:03PM
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Here's a link to staceyneil's thread about hers. She managed to get in an undermount sink (usually a vessel is easier to do with a dresser), and it's her daughter's bathroom, so I would presume it gets plenty of use:

Here is a link that might be useful: elegant DIY bath

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:50PM
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I think they can look wonderful, and I did some hunting for one while shopping for my vanity (inspired by stacyneil's project). But my big hangup was that the drawers in vintage pieces often have really basic slides - just a piece of wood that holds up the drawer. I guess I'm kind of obsessed with drawers, but I would much prefer to have cabinet grade drawer slides/glides. I ended up buying old kitchen cabinets at a salvage shop; they are particle board but have hardwood everything else, and Blum soft close drawer glides. I think they'll work out really well, and I get to maximize usable space in my vanity.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I would check out recycling places like green demolitions. We got a nice bathroom vanity for cheap. And you are supporting a good charity. Re Store with Habitat is another place you might check, though in our area, their quality is definitely less than that of green demolitions.

Here is a link that might be useful: Green demolitions vanities

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 10:08AM
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Thank you all for the helpful replies! This is the clearest set of explanations I've found on this issue.

Writersblock, thanks for the thoughts, and the link to staceyneil's DIY project.

Kirkhall, Hollysprings, I appreciate your bringing up those issues. I hadn't thought about sink depth or shellac -- and no, I have no interest whatsoever in revarnishing a dresser.

Kmcg, it's my hope that I'll be able to find some good kitchen cabinets as well. I'd prefer that height. I priced some semi-custom cabs at Lowe's today, and am still reeling from sticker shock, so it's time to check our local Restore! (AnnieDeighnaugh, very jealous at that amazing green demolitions place -- we are in a small town with nothing comparable nearby...)

Thanks again, everyone!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 1:15AM
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