Canadian Woodworking

HomeInOn – vanities and sinks

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Photo Lead by Adobe Stock
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: February March 2023
Vanities and sinks
Vanities and sinks

Installing a new vanity, sink and faucet can transform your dated bathroom without breaking the bank

Bathroom Makeover Made Easy

You don’t need to undertake a full, costly renovation to transform your bathroom from banal to beauti­ful. Replacing an outdated or defective vanity and sink along with the faucet will do visual wonders. Depending on your budget, skill level and the time you can allo­cate to the job, you can make the transition even more compelling by selectively adding a new toilet, medicine cabinet, light fixture and mirror, replacing the floor covering, or repainting the walls and ceiling.

And best of all, most of these jobs are well within the capability of a hobbyist woodworker or avid DIYer. The key here is careful planning, deciding on what tasks you can do yourself, and taking the time to do the work properly so you only have to do it once. Order all the materials you’ll need before you begin the job and make sure to inspect everything to ensure it’s what you ordered and in good condition.

If you decide to replace the floor covering or repaint the entire bathroom I recommend doing it before you install the new van­ity. Repainting can be done before you remove the old vanity, though you may have to do a bit of touch-up work after the new vanity is installed. To protect the new flooring you can cover it with a fabric tarp or pieces of cardboard taped together. Remember that you can install glue-down planks under a vanity but not click-lock vinyl flooring (it needs to expand and con­tract with temperature changes). Unless you have a fair amount of experience, replacing a bathtub or tub surround, installing a new window, and any upgrades to wiring might be best left to the pros.

Contemporary
A contemporary vanity has somewhat simple lines and a practical approach to drawers and door compartments. It has a similar construction and aesthetic to kitchen cabinets.

Contemporary

Modern
Modern vanities, like modern furniture, have sleek lines and, generally speaking, fewer design details.

Modern

Furniture
Often looking a bit more like a sideboard, a vanity of this style also likely has legs.

Furniture

Farmhouse
Inspired by more rustic décor, farmhouse vanities may have a combination of reclaimed wood or hardware and have details reminiscent of farm gates.

Farmhouse

Corner
Often used in a small bathroom in order to save space, a corner vanity can have any style.

Corner

Floating
The main thing separating a floating vanity from other types is the fact that it doesn’t have a base of any kind and is attached securely to the wall. They’re often small, but they don’t have to be.

Floating

Solid Surface
A solid surface sink is made from a synthetic material, and both the sink and countertop are formed from one piece of material.

Solid Surface

Drop-In
Likely the most common type of sink, a drop-in sink is inserted from above into a cavity cut into the countertop.

Drop-in

Undermount
Once a cavity is cut into the countertop, an undermount sink can be secured to the underside of the countertop. The countertop opening is slightly smaller than the sink opening, so the countertop overhangs the sink.

Undermount

Vessel
Very similar to a floating sink, a vessel sink resembles a large bowl that sits on the vanity top.

Vessel

Pedestal
A pedestal sink has no cabinet and, as the name implies, sits on top of an integral pedestal.

Pedestal

Wall Mount
More common in the past, a wall mount sink forgoes all potential storage below it and is attached directly to the wall.

Wall Mount

Vanity styles are endless

In many bathrooms it’s the cabinet that serves as the focal point for the room. Whether you decide to make or buy your vanity cabinet, there is a range of styles to choose from, including con­temporary, modern, furniture and farmhouse. A corner vanity is often smaller due to the small bathroom it’s in. Designs within these broad styles are almost limitless – which, depending on your outlook, can make it either an arduous or enjoyable experience to choose the design that’s right for you. Regardless of what design­ers may say, the best design isn’t what is currently trendy, but what appeals to you aesthetically and emotionally.

If the cabinet box is in good condition, and you’re content with its size, you can save money by simply replacing the doors and any drawer faces along with the cabinet top.

Vanity cabinets that extend to the floor will provide the most storage; vanities with legs will have somewhat less storage; while wall mounted (a.k.a. floating) vanities provide the least (and in some designs no) storage.

Floating vanities can have a cabinet underneath or a simple base that serves to cover the plumbing. Before installing a float­ing vanity or one with legs, check that the flooring under your existing vanity extends to the wall as most of the flooring will be visible. If not, you’ll likely need to replace the floor covering. A floating vanity will also need to be braced to the wall, which involves more work and cost.

The size of your bathroom will obviously determine the overall size of your vanity and whether you have room enough for a single or double sink. If there’s no floor covering under the existing vanity you’ll want to ensure the new vanity is the same size, or larger, than the one it’s replacing – otherwise replace the floor covering.

Sinks have changed

The three most popular styles of bathroom sinks are drop-in, undermount and solid surface (the cabinet top and sink bowl are seamlessly moulded from a polyester and/or acrylic resin compound – think Corian). Vessel or bowl sinks are becoming increasingly popular because of their sleek look. Essentially, they consist of a bowl that sits atop a cabinet. The bowls can be had in a range of shapes, colours and materials. If you choose a vessel sink you’ll likely have to add a longer drain tailpiece.
In small bathrooms, or when you prefer to have a vanity with­out a cabinet, pedestal or wall mount sinks are viable options. Pedestal sinks are usually made of porcelain, and they can con­sist of a single moulded unit or a porcelain sink top-mounted on a single porcelain leg. Wall mount sinks can be made of a variety of materials, including porcelain, solid surface, ceramic, glass and copper.

What to watch out for

Here are a few tips to help your installation go smoothly.

You’d be surprised at how often people forget the obvious. Before you start any work make sure you close the shutoff valves to the faucet and disconnect the plumbing under the sink. You can then remove the faucet, countertop, sink and vanity without any unpleasant surprises.

It’s a good idea to replace old supply lines and the PVC piping, especially if the drain trap is cemented together. The coupling nut that secures the tailpiece to the trap can develop hairline cracks if it’s been overtightened. Besides, a new kit isn’t very expensive.

If there’s caulking where the vanity top meets the wall use a sharp knife to cut through the caulk before removing the top, oth­erwise you run the risk of damaging the drywall.

Dry-fit everything to make sure it all goes together properly. This is especially important when replacing any of the plumbing pipes and fixtures.

It’s a lot easier to attach the faucet to the vanity top before you install the top onto the cabinet. I always connect the supply lines to the faucet at this time. Then connect the supply lines to the shutoff valves after the cabinet is installed.

Before you get your drill/driver out, check to ensure that the top of the cabinet is level to the floor. Some cabinets have adjustable risers, otherwise you can shim the cabinet.

Make sure you attach the new vanity to studs in the back wall (not simply to the drywall) and to the sidewall (if there is one).

Make it your own

Building a vanity cabinet can be a great learning project for a novice woodworker. The box and doors can be made of cabinet-grade plywood with a solid wood face frame and door trim, and assembled with dowel or pocket-hole joinery. The plywood can be painted or stained and fin­ished with a clear topcoat. Any finish you use should stand up against water. A solid surface countertop and your choice of faucet and door handles seal the deal. If you plan to make your own vanity, we have a few project plans in our online back catalogue of projects to help get you started.


Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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