Antique Medicine Cabinet

antique medicine cabinet
Antique wall cupboards add charm.

Whether you have a historic home or just like vintage style, you may like the idea of an antique medicine cabinet in your bathroom.

History of the Medicine Cabinet

For centuries people stored their medicines, cosmetics, and other personal items in a chest to keep them save from rodents, bugs, and small children. They were most often kept in a pantry or even a bedroom.

At some point someone decided that hanging the cabinet on the wall was an even better option than keeping it on a shelf. The simple chest had hanging hardware added to it and began to be kept on the wall. In the late 1800s and early 1900s inside bathrooms became more common in homes and people started keeping their medications and cosmetics in the bathroom.

The bathroom had never been more than a utilitarian room and medicine cabinets were not highly decorated. They were little more than the original, simple chests hung on the wall. They were designed to hold a minimum of objects.

  • Medicine like aspirin
  • Hair tonic
  • Salves
  • Tooth powders

With the advent of the Arts and Crafts style, homes were designed with built in cabinets, dressers, and nooks. Craftsmanship and style was important in everything. Medicine cabinets started to be as individual as their creators, coming in a variety of sizes and designs.

  • Shelves
  • Door styles
  • Hardware style
  • Trim

Finding the Perfect Antique Medicine Cabinet

There are many styles of antique and vintage medicine cabinets. Many of them were made by hand by local cabinet makers or the homeowner himself. Some are varnished while others have a painted finish. Some have mirrors and others have plain wood or glass doors.

Which type of cabinet you choose should be determined by the style and age of your home as well as what you like. If you are living in a new home and just want to add an old fashioned look, keep an eye out for a vintage medicine cabinet in a style you love. If you have a historic home try to get something that will compliment the style of your house.

Terms to Know

Some terms that you need to be familiar with are:

  • Eastlake - This is a Victorian style that has a lot of carving and detail.
  • Inset (or recessed) - The cabinet is fitted into a space in the wall so that the door is flush with the wall.
  • Mounted - The cabinet is mounted on the wall and hangs on special hardware.
  • Primitive - This means that the cabinet will be very worn and have a rustic look.

How to Restore a Medicine Cabinet

If you find a cabinet that you love but it is in poor condition, don't despair! You may be able to restore it to its former beauty without too much trouble. Just do what you want, though. Maybe you want to leave the original paint despite the fact that it is peeling, or remove damaged molding without replacing it.

  1. Check the joints and make sure they are secure and that the wood is not rotted
  2. Missing parts can often be found and replaced
  3. Mirrors and glass can be re-silvered and/or replaced
  4. Remove the old hardware and the door
  5. Remove molding if it is in bad shape
  6. Strip any paint that needs to be stripped
  7. Check the angles and bring the cabinet back to square with wood glue, nails, and clamps
  8. Sand until smooth
  9. Add new molding if you are replacing it
  10. Paint or stain
  11. Replace the hardware and doors
  12. Hang or fit the cabinet into the appropriate space

It is really a simple process that almost anyone can do.

Where to Find Vintage Medicine Cabinets

You can find medicine cabinets in many places. Locally check for architectural salvage stores, thrift shops, and antique dealers. On the Internet consider the following sources:


Finding exactly what you want to make your home fit your style may take some time but it is worth it. An antique medicine cabinet can add just the right touch to your vintage bathroom.

Antique Medicine Cabinet