Mirrors vs. Medicine Cabinets

Oh, that old stalwart, the medicine cabinet. Big, bulky, easily chipped and often builder grade, it’s not anyone’s favorite. It’s convenient and good for storage. But that’s about all it’s good for. Right? But while many of the generic medicine cabinets out there are cold, clunky and lack any style, there are actually some beautiful options today that can look elegant in a variety of bathrooms. And though decorative mirrors are still a favorite amongst many interior designers (myself included), there are some medicine cabinets on the market that give those tried-and-true mirrors a run for their money. (Or, you can always build  your own!) So, with that said, which route should you choose? Let’s break it down.

     If you absolutely have to have a medicine cabinet, you can either easily build one with your contractor, or find one ready made. These days, there are several medicine cabinets out there that function well, look great and don’t remind you of your first basement apartment bathroom in who can remember where.

      The first thing you want to consider in a primary bathroom is space. This bathroom, which I love, is fairly large and therefore has the sufficient cabinet space needed in order to forego a medicine cabinet. This means that you can do a gorgeous gilded mirror on the wall because chances are you have enough room for your medicines and so on. In this pink bathroom, however, you can see that there is virtually no counter space and therefore a medicine cabinet is a must.

Here, would be a good time to consider your routine. If you have a ten-step skincare routine like I do, you’re going to want a medicine cabinet because otherwise, with all the cosmetics you use daily, everything will just become cluttered and one big mess. If you’re more of a minimalist, such as those who hardly wear makeup because they’re naturally fabulous, then you can store the few things you need in a drawer and use a drawer organizer so you can find them easily.

Because medicine cabinets often serve as the only mirror in a bathroom, they are inextricably linked with mirrors, which themselves play a huge decorative role in bathrooms. If you have a smaller bathroom, you often have to choose between the two. A mirror like the one you see here in this bathroom by The Pink Pagoda, is ornate and unconventional, a shape you can have when you don’t need a medicine cabinet. It lends a bit of glamour and really dresses up your space.

This is an example of when design supersedes (it shouldn’t, but it does) basic use, so if you have a bathroom that you really want to have an impact, mounting a bold, asymmetrical modern mirror that stands out from the rest of the bathroom can have a really wonderful effect.

In this marble bathroom with its marble drawer fronts and oblong oval mirrors, even the mirror surrounds are made of marble so it’s going to be very hard to turn them into a medicine cabinet. In these instances, you can’t place a medicine cabinet in that space.

For an ultra-modern bathroom where you want to use modern shapes, whether it’s hexagonal or round or highly asymmetrical, if you have a mirror that is clean and minimal with very little profile, definitely use that. It will give you that elevated look you’re looking for in your bathroom.

Building your own medicine cabinet is another option and surprisingly easy.  Try to think outside the box, and plan for it in advance when you have the ability to use CAD files, or have a good carpenter and contractor. This way you’re able to do a recessed custom cabinet. All you need to do is create a niche in your drywall prior to finishing your walls. You’ll probably have to do double framing, which isn’t difficult to do, it’s just a little more labor. Once you have a double frame, you have depth and can cut out a niche by making the inset first and then adding a mirror with hinges. It’s a great way to get a custom look.

Here’s an example of an  attractive recessed cabinet. It’s by Arent & Pyke. It’s vertical, looks very stylish and gives you that clean line from the cabinet being set into the wall.

This design from Habitus Living incorporates a floating marble vanity and recessed cabinets that are essentially backsplash to ceiling, wall to wall, very clean and easy to do because all you really need are hinges. This is an A+ solution for those of you who don’t have drawers or other cabinets to store cosmetics. You literally cannot go wrong with this look.

If you can’t build a custom cabinet, there are some very chic, wall-mounted ones you can consider. If you look at this one used by Mim Design, you can see what I mean. This cabinet has both a right and left hinge and an attractive knob. It’s very elegant and looks extremely designer.

Or you can do something like Decus Interiors did: find a symmetrical, rectangular medicine cabinet and do cutouts of different mirrors and different shapes, and have  your mirror guy create it for you. This medicine cabinet features both a rose gold mirror and a classic mirror. It is a very elevated look and quite unique.

Wall-mounted cabinets can also have a beautiful profile, such as these used by Clare Kennedy. The sides are a gorgeous black matte, and what she has done is matched the black matte profile back to the faucet. This is a great way to introduce a particular metal that you can then echo in your medicine cabinet.

       Another option in wall-mounted medicine cabinets are the ones in this bohemian bathroom which is very on trend and very fun. These cabinets have a lip/shelf. Now, I know some people find this stressful because they’re not sure how to decorate a shelf that sits under the cabinet, but, if you have a decorative touch, this is a really good way to make your cabinet chic and impactful.

       I am not a barn door fan, but if you look at the cabinet in this bathroom by Catherine Kwong, there’s a certain something, a je ne sais quoi about it that actually works. So if you have a penchant for barn doors, chances are you might like this cabinet, which is Nina-approved.

        For the Virgo in you, (and me!) who loves to decorate and keep things highly organized and lined up perfectly like a supermarket, this medicine cabinet is for you. It features a sliding glass door across the cabinet and even though that means the cabinet needs to be meticulously organized at all times, there’s something cute about it. If you’re not a Marie Kondo type, you always have the option to slide the door to the right and keep the junk hidden behind it while displaying some of your more attractive cosmetic items, like perfume bottles, for instance, on the side that’s visible.

As you can see, there are so many beautiful options for both medicine cabinets and decorative mirrors. Check out some of my picks below to give your bathroom that special designer look!

Mirror with Marble Shelf
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Seamless Medicine Cabinet
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Medicine Cabinet with Teak Shelf
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Arched Metal Frame Medicine Cabinet
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Frameless Seamless Medicine Cabinet
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