Timber Vanities You'll Adore: This Is How To Design Them (Including Free CAD Drawings)
I get it. You’re scrolling through pictures of bathrooms looking for ideas.
Finding the perfect vanity unit is hard. In fact, planning a new bathroom is hard.
You’ve got to make some good choices before construction starts and you’ve got one chance to get them right.
There’s several details most people forget to include in their vanity design. Some of them are vital for functionality and some of them are purely aesthetic. I’ll explain these in detail.
When you’re making selections and designing your vanity, there’s certain things that might trip you up. I’m here to help you avoid the bumpy road of mishaps and mistakes that can happen along the way.
Remember, the choice of vanity can make or break a good bathroom, ensuite or powder room design. Some clever planning before construction begins, goes a long way.
Today I’ve got several timber vanity images to inspire you. Together with guidance on designing, specifying and selecting a vanity unit to suit your space. One that you’ll enjoy for years to come.
If you don’t have time to read the blog post today, pin this for later:
The genius of floating vanities
I love a good timber vanity, especially if it’s floating off the ground. Here’s a little design illusion trick:
the more floor area you can see in a room, the bigger the room feels.
Think about it... whether it’s conscious or not, the first thing we notice when we enter a space are the boundaries of a room, the junction between the wall and floor. If this is covered over with items and furniture, the illusion is that of a smaller room.
The beauty of timber vanities
Now let’s talk about choosing timber on a vanity for a second. I think we all agree that you can’t go wrong with it, because it’s warm and timeless.
Natural materials are very welcome in any interior design. There’s something very comfortable and familiar about living with these types of finishes. Maybe it has something to do with human evolution and instincts. Remember timber has been used in homes for many, many generations. It’s very homely and relaxing to live with.
Biophilic design is an interesting concept to learn about, if you’d like your interior spaces to connect more with the natural environment -
Defined by Edward O. Wilson as the “the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes”, the biophilia hypothesis is the idea that humans have an inherited need to connect to nature and other biotic forms due to our evolutionary dependence on it for survival and personal fulfillment. - Wikipedia
Another reason why designers incorporate timber (this is what they teach you in design school), is to create contrast and balance. The warmth of the timber finish contrasts and balances out all the other cold, hard, clinical surfaces in a bathroom.
And as trends go, walls and floors are typically white and grey at the moment. A very chilly colour palette, yet it’s also clean and fresh. Incidentally, that is exactly how you want to feel in your bathroom, after you’ve cleaned and preened yourself!
If you like the idea of designing a floating, timber vanity unit, you’re going to want this…
Free CAD drawings download
Are you a planner and appreciate attention to detail? This freebie is a “done for you” specification and drawings package for you to use on your project.
It includes all the details and measurements that you and your cabinetmaker needs to order the materials, finishes and hardware. It’s a set of documents that an interior designer or kitchen designer would create for a custom design.
Download the Cassatt Vanity Drawings Package:
The package includes a 3D rendering, layout plan, elevation view, joinery and sanitaryware schedule.
This is useful because it’s...
not just an inspiration picture, it’s specifications on exactly how to achieve the look & function of the vanity
very detailed and complete with Australian resources and standards
a PDF you could add to your scrapbook of ideas or mood board (physical or digital)
a reference you can come back to later (perhaps in several months time) when you’re ready for this part of the build process
used for quoting and shopping around to compare prices
a starting point / conversation starter with other people involved in the project: such as family and friends, designers, trades and suppliers
a document you can print out and use for meetings or to map things out on site
The Cassatt Vanity design is floating off the ground, it features a beautiful timber finish on ample size drawers and has a white concrete-look stone bench top. As well as twin sculptural basins and wall taps (more details on this in a minute).
Side note: I’ve named this vanity design after the artist who created the picture I’ve used at the heading of this blog post, Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926). It’s an Impressionist style painting of a woman bathing in a vanity. I adore the elegant and curious Victorian style of the 19th century, particularly in domestic settings. It’s fascinating to see how they decorated their homes because of how they used to live back then.
What if this vanity design isn’t exactly what you want? Perhaps you have a different basin or tapware in mind. Or it needs to be bigger, smaller, or just changed in some way. Don’t worry, I’ll be covering off how to alter the design by email. There will be several mini-training modules coming your way, once you download the drawings. This means, as a bonus, you will get instructions on how to redesign it for yourself!
Again, I'd like you to have this free blueprint that you can use with your tradesperson. Sure, you may have to tweak it a bit to make it work in the space, but this is an excellent launching point to start the conversation and get all the little details just right.
Download the Cassatt Vanity Drawings Package:
The problem with poorly designed vanities
I get so inspired when I see images like these below, the vanities look so beautiful.... But when I take a closer look, I can’t help but see all the opportunities lost and wonder if these high end units have truly been designed for the homeowners.
The first issue I see is when the cabinets stop short of the wall. There’s unused space between the cabinet and the wall. Obviously they’re losing precious bench and storage space that are usually at a premium in a bathroom. Please don’t tell me this is a design decision, because I’m not buying it!
The face height shaving cabinet is so close to the tap that you conk your head on it every time you lean over to wash your face.
The basin height is so low that it could be mistaken for a men’s urinal. Ew! It’s nearly impossible to find picture of this because photographers are very skilled at taking photos from the best angle.
There’s no where to put your hairspray or tall bottles of moisturiser, unless you lay them down flat in a drawer. I can just imagine them rolling about every time you open the drawer, and the gewy leakage going everywhere.
The top mount basin is so close to the wall that it’s extremely difficult to clean around it. Keep those old toothbrushes people, you’ll need them to do the scrubbing! This is another problem that you can’t really see from photos, unless it’s shot from above.
People have cried to me about water stains on their benchtop that they can’t get out. This is the case where they’ve selected the wrong type of material for a vanity top.
There’s something a bit odd about the position of the wall taps because they’re not centred to the basin. In this picture, the wall set is off centre but the round mirror saves it. Any other mirror wouldn’t do it justice. Notice the basin is round too, to align with the round theme that’s going on.
What would you do if one of these boo boos happened to you on installation day? Well, usually these things are too expensive to fix, so you’d probably just learn to live with it. Gosh, it would be a crying shame if you’d spent thousands of dollars on a new bathroom and it wasn’t perfect. :(
These are the reasons why vanities get designed badly:
Rushing the design process
I’ve seen so many instances where the cabinet design happens in a huge rush, towards the end of a bathroom project. The colours and finishes are chosen first, because it’s important to get the look right. I get that. But then as an after-thought, waaaay too far down the track they say, “Oh yeah, shouldn’t we put some drawers in it??” Then it’s a mad rush to make something work.
I think it’s such a shame that the functionality often gets overlooked or not given much weight when deciding on a bathroom vanity. Bathroom design should always start with function first, then colour and finishes selections second.
Bathrooms are primarily functional spaces. It’s obvious. You’re not going to go in there just to hang out or sit and read a book. Mind you, I’ve noticed that blokes like to read or even watch Youtube while they’re on the loo (I’ve never understood why they do that).
Anyhow, in the bathroom we definitely need a nice atmosphere (a spa like experience would be ideal, IMO). But realistically, everyday we go in there to do what we need to do, then leave. Therefore a functional design is important. Design your vanity unit to be as useful as possible.
Not seeing the big picture
Often people forget to think about the big picture by gathering together all the things they’ve selected. This way they can see if it’s a cohesive design. Both in colour and finishes, style, shape and function.
They may have spent so many weeks or months selecting things, and gathering information needed for installation, that they’ve lost track of their overall vision. Perhaps they’ve had to re-select things and some of it doesn’t actually work together anymore. For instance, you need to make sure that the basin and tapware works with the vanity unit design.
Drawing it all out, to scale, is a great way to see the big picture and find out if all the pieces fit together.
That’s why I’ve created this free download. It shows you how I do it and you also get bonus training via email on how to adjust it to fit your own requirements.
Download the Cassatt Vanity Drawings Package:
“Off the shelf” culture
When it gets to the part of the project where a vanity needs to be ordered, most people will go to the store and buy a ready made unit. Let’s call this an “off-the-shelf” vanity. It’s the way we’re used to buying things, it’s a normal part of our lives and culture. We want something = we go out and buy it, off the shelf (or order it online).
They go to plumbing stores like Reece, Bunnings or even Ikea to buy their vanity. They search for something that will fit their space and their needs as best they can, with what’s available in the shop or online. The speed of buying something ready made and arriving on site quickly is a good thing, especially if they’re running out of time.
Some off-the-shelf units will have to be put together, flat pack style. Some units will be beautifully crafted pieces of furniture that come already assembled. Of course the price points for these will be very different.
That’s all great, but there’s a problem because there’s no “one size fits all”. You might have to compromise on something, which would be a shame. Wouldn’t it be better to have perfectly built-in furniture, maximising every little bit of space?
Hey, I’m not judging. There are some fantastic vanity units out there, and there’s a chance you’ll find something that fits what you need. But just so you know, there is another option...
This is what I do instead (and you can too)
Plan for it and have it custom made.
Why waste so much time searching for the perfect vanity when you can have one made exactly to your specifications?
I’m sure everyone knows about custom made vanity units. I’m not so sure everyone realises that it’s a viable option though. You’ll get something better quality, more personalised AND at a reasonable price, if you use a local tradie to make it for you. In fact they can make it exactly how you want and you’re also supporting your local industry and community.
Think about it... it can be made to fit your space exactly, wall to wall (maximising space). It can be made to fit the items you want to store in it, perfectly. For example: measure your tallest bottle and have the drawer made deep enough.
If you’re already working with a builder or designer, they usually recommend this option and even direct you to the trades they prefer to work with. Be it cabinet maker, joiner, or possibly a furniture maker.
The differences between cabinet maker, joiner, and furniture maker
“What’s the difference between these trades? They all make things out of wood, don’t they?”
They all work with wood, making things, but there’s different areas that they specialise in. Let me explain...
Cabinet makers: mainly work with manufactured board (MDF, HMR, melamine, laminate, timber veneered board, etc) and plywood. Mostly they’re building white melamine, box like carcasses and then cladding them in the finished board colour. They make (you guessed it) cabinets, including shelves and benches.
It’s very detailed work and they need to be very precise. They often work with expensive machinery and computer systems. These are the trades I work with most. They use my drawings to create custom cabinetry. If you access my drawings, you could use them to work with your own cabby.
Joiner: The term joiner and cabinetmaker are used interchangeably. Most cabbies are joiners too, so they kind of get lumped together. There is actually a difference between the two: a joiner specifically makes joins without using nails. Such as for cabinets, shelving, windows, and stairs.
Furniture makers: specialise in making furniture - usually a particular style of furniture and they work with a particular type of timber. They stay in their niche and usually the pieces are unique, like a work of art. They make tables, chairs, cabinets, and so forth. Typically loose furniture, rather than built-in.
If you’re interested in sourcing a solid timber vanity (perhaps using recycled wood), I would start by looking for local furniture makers. They usually offer ready made units as well as custom. Alternately if you want to shop online, these companies keep popping up everywhere: Loughlin Furniture and Ingrain
Carpenter: in case you’re wondering what a carpenter (chippy) does, since they work with wood too, they usually work on a building site putting together the structure - house frames, decks, pergolas, that sort of thing. Often the general builder is also a chippy (or started off as one). The other trades I’ve mentioned will work in their workshop and later install their items on site. A chippy is on site all the time.
Things to talk to your cabinetmaker about
Let me tell you the best way to work with a cabinetmaker (since this is most likely the trade you’ll be in contact with). First, use your own initiative to put together some drawings and selections. Then take them with you to your first meeting and discuss them.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely creative people and are more than capable of coming up with a design. It’s just that they’re equally concerned with producing a good quality product the fastest way possible. They don’t muck around.
You don’t want to be in a situation when they ask, “what do you want?” and your mind goes blank - you look like a deer in headlights. Then the meeting proceeds with them making suggestions, you agreeing to them because time is of the essence. A quick decision’s a good decision, right? Wrong.
A few weeks later, when you’re talking to your neighbour about your exciting renovation, you’ve completely forgotten what colours you’d picked, let alone how many drawers there were. You might even say, “Oh well, it’ll be a nice surprise when it’s all installed” (this is mental by the way).
have your design drawn up
A badly designed vanity can be fixed so easily, as long as you make a good plan from the beginning. To start with, I always recommend getting designs drawn up properly, into layout plans, elevation views and 3D views of the room.
In fact, this is the service I provide for interior designers, builders, and cabinetmakers. I turn their hand sketches and notes into construction documents and presentation drawings that can be referred to by everyone on the project.
A drawing that’s done to scale, with all the measurements of the space available, really helps you to visualise how it would look and get your brain thinking of all the possibilities. Develop the design on paper, it’s so much easier than trying to do it in your head.
Doing it this way, you won’t only minimise mistakes but you can even take your design to the next level.
Basin Types: undermount, top mount or semi-recessed.
Which is best? The jury is out.
Some people will say top mounts will give you more room inside your vanity for storage because the basin isn’t sitting inside it. I beg to differ. With top mounts, the benchtop is lowered to allow for the finished height of the basin and taps, therefore the whole cabinet height and capacity is less.
I would say you get more storage space with under mounts, on custom vanity units. This setup also makes life easier for cleaning. The join where the top mount basins meets the benchtop acts like a dust and grime trap.
On the other hand, I really like the look of a nice sculptural basin sitting on the vanity top. There’s some superb statement basins available that can bring something special to the overall design. You could create a feature or add something interesting with an unusual colour, material or shape.
This is the top mount basin I’ve selected for the Cassatt Vanity. Here’s the link for more details: Caroma Artisan Above Counter Basin, Rectangle 490
Another reason why top mount basins are so popular is because of their ease of installation onto the cabinet. In fact you could mount them onto just about any piece of furniture or surface. It just needs a small cutout in the benchtop for the waste (and perhaps some fiddling around inside the cabinet to allow for the waste pipe). When the waste is plugged in, the basin is simply secured in place with silicone.
I think a semi-recessed basin should only be considered if you have a very small space to work with. These cabinet depths (at about 300 mm) are tiny - almost not worth it to use a cabinet at all. A wall hung basin with perhaps a nice little bench is much better. Then try to fit a small shaving cabinet above, recessed into the wall.
Wall taps & top mounted taps
You know, every time you reach for a wall tap with wet hands, you’re going to splash water on the wall and benchtop. But hey, they look great and I want one!
Please be aware that there’s a possibility you’ll need to open up the wall, in order to repair them. And another thing to consider is, if you have kids in the house they’re a bit harder for them to reach. However, they give you lots of space behind the basin, for a nice clean look.
This is the wall tap I’ve selected for the Cassatt Vanity. Here’s the link for more details: Phoenix Vivid Slimline wall basin mixer set 180mm curved
Top mounted taps have their issues too (there’s good and bad in everything). They’ll accumulate water and grime around their base, for starters.
They’re most problematic if they’re installed straight into the benchtop because water that pools around their base can’t easily drain into the basin . Also they tend to wobble a bit after a few years, if the fixing becomes loose. And if the silicone join wears out, water can end up inside your cabinet, causing awful water damage.
Whatever tapware you choose, obviously it has to be compatible with your basin for functionality and have the right look and feel for the space. Don’t forget that you’ll use them everyday, so choose quality. If you’re looking for ways to save money, skimping on your tapware should be your last option. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, pick something from a reputable brand with a good warranty. Remember, fixing plumbing problems down the track is expensive!
Good luck with choosing and designing your new vanity unit. I wish you well on your journey towards first-class bathroom bliss!
Oh and remember!
If you want access to my free CAD drawings (which you can print and talk to your trades about) then you can grab them right here