Interior designers say that bathrooms are trending more modern than ever, moving away from traditional and especially antique design. But if you love the look of ornate, traditional bathrooms, never fear – there’s still plenty of room for a lavish style, and an antique bathroom vanity is a great place to start. But while there are plenty of Victorian and Edwardian antique replicas out there, I think it’s more important to distinguish your bathroom from more contemporary designs than it is to echo authentic historical ones. Here are a few of the most important features to look for.
Transitional bathroom vanities might maintain the basic form of more traditional designs, but they rarely have much, if any, carved wood detailing. If antique design is primarily “about” luxury and craftsmanship, this is one feature your bathroom vanity definitely shouldn’t be without. Minimalist modern design is meant to allow the eye to slide easily over simple, straight lines, but antique bathroom vanities like this Bradford Vanity from B&I Direct capture you in the fine details and encourage you to linger. The more detailing the better, and hand-finished is always preferable to machine finished.
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Woodwork (Patterned Veneers)
When we think of antiques, we don’t generally think of the hand-hewn furnishings of, say medieval peasants or American frontiersmen. We think of the furniture of aristocracy – things that aren’t merely old but decadent. Unfortunately, not all of us are kings or queens, and things like solid mahogany aren’t exactly readily available to the rest of us. But technological advances in woodcutting have given us the next best thing – high quality veneers made out of the exotic, expensive woods you used to only find in palaces. These are best when used not just to enhance a less expensive underlying material, but more artistically, as with the beautiful patterned inlay on the doors of this Multi-Cherry Wood Vanity from Legion Furniture.
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One of the simplest ways to make a traditional bathroom vanity look more contemporary is to change out the hardware, and the reverse is just as true. Ornate antique brass drawer pulls and door handles are one of the strongest visual markers of antique design, and can add a luxury quality to even a relatively simple vanity. With something as ornate as this Stockton Vanity, antique hardware does double duty, accentuating the beautiful wood detailing while adding their own certain charm. The brass faucets and sinks don’t hurt, either!
Another sure-fire mark of elegant, traditional antique bathroom vanities is the use of gilt detailing. This can range anywhere from a subtle gold sheen that brings out the depth of the wood work, to something really show stopping with a whole lot of gold accents. I personally really like the way the gold accentuates the floral detailing on the columns of this Canterbury Vanity, for example. This is especially effective because modern design eschews the use of gold in favor of more industrial steel or chrome. Even a little glint of gold can give a bathroom vanity a much more antique and luxurious look and feel.
In a world of machine-made, mass produced products, “artisan” has come to be a synonym for craftsmanship. Any hand finished detailing equates to quality and care, often palpably so. Hand painted bathroom vanities work especially well with an antique decor, both for this reason and because few contemporary bathroom vanities get this same treatment. A hand painted design like the one on this Juliet Vanity can help elevate your decor to a more authentic antique setting.
Finally, if you’re trying to build a bathroom that’s really set apart from the uniform simplicity of contemporary design, you really have to go big. That can mean everything from actual literal size (though there are plenty of fabulous small antique vanities as well) to combining any of the elements I’ve already mentioned, or even looking for other big, elaborate design choices that are reserved pretty exclusively for the lavish end of antique design. One of my favorites are antique bathroom vanities like this Ornate Vanity with elaborate, ornate enameled, metal, or leather panels that are instantly eye-catching for their sheer uniqueness.
Ultimately, differentiating antique from contemporary design is less about authenticity and more about luxury – about detail and material choice. A modern, minimalist approach appeals to some for its simplicity, but an antique bathroom design is inherently lavish, focusing on conspicuous quality and craftsmanship. Really, unless you’re opting for the real deal, “antique” is more about a gut feeling and emotional response than a specific shape or time period. So, feel free to go forth and build the bathroom that makes you feel like royalty… whether or not it corresponds with any actual king or queen. What are you looking for in an antique bathroom vanity?
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