Turning an old dresser into a vanity for your bathroom is a doable DIY project that saves money and creates a unique design statement. Complete photo tutorial including ideas for adapting drawers.
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I’ve loved the idea of making a dresser into a vanity for a bathroom after seeing them in DIY magazines many years ago. Not only is it a really distinctive look that isn’t a cookie-cutter home store look, if you find an old dresser for a good price, it’s a huge money saver over similar furniture-style bathroom vanities.
In our first home (a city bungalow) there wasn’t enough room in either bathrooms for a dresser-vanity, so when it came time to remodel the bathrooms in our ranch-turned-cottage I was happy to see there would be enough room in the master bath – but just barely.
When I started looking around and realized there were some vanities you could buy now that look like dressers (seems like others like the look, too!), I thought maybe we should look into that route. Except that the price tags on these start around $300 and climb up from there.
Um, back to the original idea.
Turn a Dresser into a Vanity
The first step you’ll need to take to turn a dresser into a vanity is to find the dresser. Search thrift stores, Craigslist, and consignment shops. Measure the area you have for your vanity and look for something to fit those measurements. If you would like to have two sinks look for longer dressers with two sets of drawers or sideboards with two cupboards.
The dresser we ended up with was a $79 find from the Salvation Army that I had originally bought to be a nightstand (I thought I needed the storage, but really didn’t, so it sat empty). You may be able to score something cheaper, but when looking for specific measurements, price isn’t always the most important (although $79 for a bathroom vanity is pretty good!).
Our dresser wasn’t a fine antique – the slats separating the drawers had been replaced with a lighter color wood and both of the side panels had big cracks in them that needed to be filled. The top also had a major scratch (top left in the bottom picture) that went all the way to the wood. It needed to be painted and the top refinished. So it was a perfect candidate – in addition to being the exact size we needed to fit between the clawfoot tub and wall.
Once you have your dresser (sideboard, even a table…) follow the steps below to create your own unique dresser-to-bathroom-vanity!
Steps to Make a Dresser into a Vanity
1. Purchase the sink first, fit to the dresser top measurements. Make sure to measure the true cabinet and not just the top piece of wood – this dresser had an overhang of more than 1 inch, so I measured inside of the dresser top by removing the top drawer to get the measurement for the sink.
We bought the smallest, basic self-rimming sink that we could find for this dresser, similar to the one pictured above. Most of the models were too big. We seriously considered a vessel sink like this one, but with the new faucet needed, it would’ve cost more than double (we’d already added a new faucet).
2. Trace the sink hole. Remove the top drawer, lay the template that came with the sink on the dresser top and trace around it with a Sharpie-like marker.
3. Cut. Take a deep breath and cut it out with a jigsaw. It’s OK, you can do it…
4. Lay the sink in the opening and breath a sigh of relief when the sink fits in the hole.
(Sorry about the lack of photos for these next steps…poor planning):
5. Finish the dresser top. Remove the sink and sand and refinish the top (if needed- alternately, the top can be painted). Paint dresser body and drawers, if needed too.
6. Coat & protect the dresser top. Using a water-based polyurethane (I like satin finish and have good results with both this brand and this one), apply 4 to 5 coats. Since this top had a short back piece, I made sure the joint between them was covered well so that no water from the sink would get between them.
7. Attach the sink to top. When dry, run a bead of clear caulking (it works much better with wood counters than white) around the rim of the opening (here’s what we used). Carefully place the sink right on top, pressing down lightly (you do not need to add caulk around the rim of the bowl after it’s in place- that’s a sure sign of a do-it-yourself job).
8. Cut opening for plumbing in back. Set the vanity close to its eventual spot in order to measure where the plumbing hits on the back of the cabinet (after many DIY slip-ups, we don’t trust only measurements anymore – we use our eyes plus measurements – but this is just us, you don’t actually have to have it near its spot). Use a jigsaw to cut a square out of the back piece of wood large enough for all the plumbing to set in. Set the vanity in it’s permanent spot.
9. Attach the faucet and plumbing. Hook up all the plumbing with no drawers in place.
10. Customize drawers. Each drawer will need to be treated differently:
Top drawer cutout options:
- It can be taken out entirely and made into a false drawer by cutting the front off and gluing it back in place.
- Or you can get one of those kits that turn sink drawers in kitchen cabinets into a flip-out with a narrow plastic holder attached.
- The drawer can be customized to fit around the sink and still have storage.
I wanted more storage, so we went with #3, cutting out what was needed to fit around the sink, and then adding 2×4 wood scraps for new sides to make small sections on each side of the drawer. These are perfect for toothbrushes, deodorant, and lotions (if you find a dresser with three drawers on top, it’s easiest to lose the center drawer and still have two functional drawers on each side – that would be ideal).
Middle drawer cutout:
This took the most finagling, but basically we (of course you’ve probably guessed that this part doesn’t really involve me…I’m using “we” merely to show my support) made a box to fit around the plumbing. This leaves plenty of space for toiletries.
Bottom drawer cutout:
We just cut a square cut out of the back of the drawer to fit around the drain pipe. This drawer lost no space at all.
11. Secure to the wall. For this last step, we found the studs and put a couple screws in so that the vanity is secure and not attached only by the plumbing. Because this dresser had an overhang in the back, we had to add a piece of wood to the back to allow it to touch the wall before screwing in, but not all dressers would need this.
And there you have it – how to turn a dresser into a vanity to add a pretty and unique look to your bathroom. Sorry about the lack of plumbing info – that’s way beyond my skills. Brian does that with a little help from his friends (thanks, Dan!) and I stay far, far, away.
Especially because it was my idea.
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