Like most cultural and political debates in our country, that of choosing whether to have a medicine cabinet or not reigns both controversial and contentious amongst designers and homeowners alike. It was more modern (which I think works better for something streamlined and inset) so it could have handled it whereas our 100-year-old Tudor might have looked a bit, well, clunky in a design sense. So today, I’m going to dive into the internal (and external) debate to have or not have the ultimate convenience of a medicine cabinet. If you just fell asleep, I suggest you stand up, walk to your medicine cabinet (or not), slap yourself in the face to stay awake. Perhaps drink a 5-Hour Energy because you don’t get to nap while the rest of us are trying to change the minds and world on this subject. The good ones are really expensive (see some below) and typically even custom, so then you are spending a ton of money on something you don’t really love anyway, and it’s permanent.
Wall-mounted medicine cabinets are great for the right small bathroom but it does project into the room and therefore eats up real estate (but I like a lot of them far more than the inset options). Mirrors are the artwork of the bathroom so, of course, I’m going to opt for that over something that provides boring “storage solutions.”
Typically, in a master bathroom, vanity space will have be sufficient that you don’t NEED the dinky shelves on a medicine cabinet, but I couldn’t help but think…Was I alone? Nate Berkus: “I’ve always avoided them but now the trade-off for storage has me slowly converting…I wish someone would invent one that universally works with a vintage mirror.” Now, Nate just recently moved back to New York to an apartment that I’m sure is big and beautiful but with two kids in New York City living, I get why he might be converting.
I know they can be a bummer for some designers who would rather have a pretty decorative mirror above a sink, but there’s just stuff you can store in one that doesn’t make sense anywhere else. And they provide storage at the most convenient height to access while you are standing getting ready in the morning.
“I like replacing crappy mirrors that are just glued to the wall with medicine cabinets. In an ideal world, you’d build the medicine cabinet flush with the wall and put a decorative mirror on top.”
Sherry Petersik of Young House Love: “Personally, we’ve never added a medicine cabinet during a bathroom reno, and always find the storage in the vanity to be just fine, and then we can use a pretty mirror over the sink. I especially love a round one to break up the squareness of most vanities (which isn’t exactly readily available in medicine-cabinet-form).
But for the record, that one is custom (I think you push the glass to pop it out) and was likely thousands of dollars. Everything here (including their choice of medicine cabinet) is so pretty so that bathroom is still stunning even though the mirror itself isn’t a “work of art.”
I long to reach out my arm and easily pull a hidden toothbrush out of a medicine cabinet, and yet I have never opted for this joy. I thought that surely there could be an in-between, a happy medium: storage without the contemporary facade.
This is certainly a cute opportunity for, say, displaying your most beautiful product and as a stylist I know I can make this look pretty, but is this an actual storage solution? While it does provide more surface area, you can’t really display your necessities unless you are president of the lifestyle mafia and have like $250 face cream decanted into blown glass vessels. There’s also the “shelf ON the mirror” situation, but it’s the same issue in terms of where to put the ugly necessary stuff? The vanity surely, but I guess pretty glass lidded jars for cotton balls and whatnot would go here…
Next up is one that I felt could be an option: you get the massive pretty mirror that you want and then on the sides of the vanity, you add easily accessible storage. I think this is a good solution, but unless there is a door it’s not hidden and your gross vitamins and crest strips will junk it up pretty fast. But if you need to display your Aunt Jonie’s studio pottery from the ’90s like those people did, then stop reading right here! It’s a hotel without any almost-empty bottles of mouthwash or toothpaste overflowing because someone doesn’t like to put lids on things (me, it’s a thing/problem). The side cubbies could work to provide more storage, but it’s not the kind of everyday stuff that your medicine cabinet should hold. No one wants to have to dig through a huge bin to find the eye cream you promised yourself you would start using every night.
It’s hard not to get behind this but it’s clearly custom and likely more expensive (I’d bet around $1,200, not including construction). In the master, we wanted a huge mirror to reflect light and trees from the opposite windows.
I did, however, want to show you guys a genius storage solution for editorial reasons so we came up with this plan for the kids bathroom. I figured of all bathrooms, the kids could use somewhere to put their disgusting toothbrushes that they chew on like Jolly Ranchers daily.
Now, our plan wasn’t communicated well enough to our contractor (we were moving fast and two hours away so not on site as often as we wanted) and then all of a sudden the whole wall was tiled with no shelves (isn’t it funny how some things take forever and you are like “what’s the holdup?” and other things happen faster than they were supposed to before you could give proper direction? Having them rip out the tile and find the space between the studs to build shallow shelves seemed totally unnecessary so we didn’t, but that was our plan.
Dabito from Old Brand New took a pretty readymade mirror and dug out shelves behind it and put it on piano hinges. While it does require some research and I’m sure there are some restrictions (frame size and width)—and yes, it also requires skills by you or your contractor—it is the best solution in my eyes if you need the storage space, want a pretty mirror AND don’t want to spend thousands on a custom-built solution. My medicine cabinet fantasy (which is also shared by Nate Berkus and is a million-dollar idea): We need to have a universal hinge system that works with most new or vintage mirrors. It could come in different sizes to ensure that it can be hidden, but then you or your contractor hook it up to a beautiful vintage mirror that you can yes, open and close where it previously didn’t.
Signature Hardware Teak Framed Double Door Medicine Cabinet | 17. #2, #16 and #24 were all top contenders for the master bathroom before I strayed, and #1, #15, #17 and #21 I don’t think we’re on the market when I was shopping but I think they are stylistically GREAT.