Antique, grayed, and unfinished wood bathroom vanities were a really popular option for a rustic cottage or seaside style a few years back, but the trend didn’t really have legs, in large part because weathered wood has a rough, unpolished look that can be a little difficult to pull off without it feeling a little old and dingy. But a new trend is rising from the ashes of this old one: whitewashed wood vanities offer a similar, lightly-distressed wood feel, but have a more finished look – fresh, clean, and only very slightly aged, which is perfect for a beachy spa style.
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The biggest difference between distressed wood vanities and whitewashed wood vanities is in the texture, both in the way it feels and in the way it looks like it feels. Reclaimed wood vanities in particular are prized for looking like they’ve been exposed to the elements, but that’s a hard look to pull off in a crisp, cottage style bathroom. Whitewashed wood vanities, on the other hand, are overlaid with a thin, translucent white that softens, smooths, and evens out a neutral wood tone, drawing attention to the grain without making it feel like you might catch a splinter if you walk too close.
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True whitewash is made of chalk or lime, an inexpensive (and not particularly durable) paint that runs the gamut from almost-solid white to a barely-there coat of pale white dust. “Whitewashed” finishes can fall anywhere on this spectrum, but the ones I really love are closer to the latter, and produce a look that’s quite a bit like driftwood: bleached but not ashen, and maybe just a tad bit salty, which is perfect for a seaside inspired look. While many “driftwood” finishes have prominent gray tones in them, whitewashed wood vanities tend to use a baseline light but warm neutral color, which will make the space feel both brighter and cleaner.
Many whitewashed bathroom vanities also come in Cape Cod-inspired designs, particularly with storm-shutter style cabinet doors. It’s a little outside the conventional white, red, and navy that define Cape Cod homes, but shuttered vanities are so iconic of the style that the look imparts a northeastern, beachside feel without the maritime color scheme. In fact, because the resulting finish is a pretty soft, neutral tan, this is a great option for a toned down palette, particularly if you want to opt for sandy neutrals and soft sky and sea blues.
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That said, not all whitewashed wood vanities are destined for a homey cottage style bathroom, beachy or otherwise. While many designs (especially smaller vanities) are ideal for adding an old fashioned touch to a compact bathroom, when used on larger, more modern vanities, a whitewashed finish is perfect for creating a relaxed, spa-like feel. A thin whitewash finish is generally a few shades lighter and more muted than the spruce, pine, or cedar used in a nordic-style wood sauna, but when paired with an open shelf design (with soft white towels and beautifully bottled bath products on display), it’s perfect for creating a soothing, warm, natural ambiance.
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Without the added shelving (or in this case, with the legs and stand removed entirely and the vanity wall mounted), whitewashed wood vanities are also a nice touch for an organic modern bathroom. While plenty of more urban contemporary styles rely on glossy lacquered finishes in stark grayscale colors, if you want something a little earthier and more natural feeling, a whitewashed finish is actually a great touch. Even with smooth, slab style cabinet doors and minimal hardware, that lightly washed finish draws attention to the wood grain, letting it act as the visual focal point of the vanity and giving it a more organic look and feel.
Another big drawback of the reclaimed/weathered wood trend was that the vast majority of the vanity designs were old fashioned, which didn’t help diminish the hand-me-down, flea-market feel that the distressed finishes imparted. But there’s a simple and smart way to counter this problem: by using distressed wood for more intricate, decorative modern designs. This not only lets you showcase the wood and wood grain, but means that despite having aged gray tones, you also have a distinctly clean, smooth surface, which makes the weathering feel decorative and intentional rather than negligent.
Whitewashed wood vanities are the natural air to reclaimed wood vanities, and a great way to get a fresher, cleaner spa style without having to try so hard to combat the grunge!
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