For decades, medicine cabinets have been viewed with the same pragmatic eye as a can opener or toilet seat. Is it clean? Does the door work? Will it hold a grab bag of toiletries like aspirin, deodorant and toothbrushes?
A growing number of retailers and designers are now offering medicine cabinets that are not only practical but offer some bathroom pizazz. Vintage-look medicine cabinets are popping up in home stores and catalogs, including Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs, giving remodelers more choices to spruce up the bathroom. Their emergence is part of a larger trend of cabinetry as furniture.
"There is a big demand for things that look like furniture," says Tamera Lynn Isaacs, a Los Angeles-based bathroom designer.
Pottery Barn offers several wood cabinets for less than $200.
The "hotel bath cabinet" has a large, framed mirrored door with a magnetic latch and three shelves inside. Another option is the "classic bath cabinet" with paned-glass doors and a towel rack. The hand-built pine cabinet has a removable shelf. Both cabinets are mounted on the wall, rather than recessed into it, and both are offered in white.
The cabinets offer more style per inch than traditional mirror/door configurations and can be matched with other bathroom storage units like shelves and towel racks.
"Up to now, the bathroom has been kind of a forgotten place," says Celia Tejada, vice president of product development for San Francisco-based Pottery Barn. "There is a huge need to put things in the bathroom to make them a little hip and creative."
The wave of new medicine cabinets also allows designers to help restore an older home's original charm. But Tejada said the cabinets also give people a chance to add their own look to a newer bathroom outfitted with less-than-distinctive hardware.
People whose homes have small bathrooms may opt to hang the cabinets over the toilet because they jut out from the wall, Isaacs said. Others have redesigned an old, recessed space for a more furnished look with a custom backdrop of bead board (pine board with tongue-and-groove edge) and shelving. A mirrored front can be added to close off the space and add privacy. This option comes with a custom price tag depending on the materials used, she says.
Ballard Designs, an Atlanta-based catalog company,offers several options for bathroom storage. A mirrored medicine cabinet with three shelves comes in white or walnut finish ($135). A Victorian-inspired pine storage cabinet has one fixed shelf and a towel bar and is decorated with a scrolling design on the doors ($190). Another option is the "wheat sheaves cabinet" with three fixed shelves, bead-board backing and a glass-paneled door ($135).
Don't limit your options to traditional cabinets, Isaacs says. Look at kitchen cabinets and office-style cabinets for ideas before settling on what suits you best.