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Vintage Medicine Cabinets: History, Styles, and Restoration

CEO Khai Intela
If you're yearning for a touch of vintage charm in your home, a vintage medicine cabinet may be just the thing you need. These timeless pieces not only serve as functional storage solutions but also...

If you're yearning for a touch of vintage charm in your home, a vintage medicine cabinet may be just the thing you need. These timeless pieces not only serve as functional storage solutions but also add a unique aesthetic to any space. Whether you're looking for true vintage items or high-quality reproductions, there's a wide range of options to suit your needs. In this article, we'll explore the history of medicine cabinets, the different styles available, and the art of restoring these beloved pieces.

Medicine Cabinet History

Miami Carey Medicine Cabinet In the past, people used to store their medicine and cosmetics in chests to protect them from pests and curious children. These chests would be kept in the kitchen, pantry, or bedroom. It wasn't until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the rise of indoor bathrooms, that medicine cabinets became popular. The convenience of hanging a cabinet on the bathroom wall revolutionized the way people stored their personal hygiene items.

Originally, medicine cabinets were simple in design, with hanging hardware that made it easy to place them anywhere on the wall. These cabinets housed essentials like hair tonic, salves, aspirin, and tooth powders. However, as the arts and crafts movement gained popularity, homes started featuring built-in medicine cabinets that incorporated various design elements and reflected the style of the era.

Vintage Medicine Cabinet Styles

Vintage Medicine Cabinet Styles Most vintage medicine cabinets were handcrafted and had a simplistic aesthetic. Local furniture or cabinetmakers, and sometimes even the homeowners themselves, would create these cabinets. Some were painted, while others showcased the natural beauty of varnished wood. Designs ranged from solid doors to those adorned with mirrors or glass. Collectors and decorators often choose vintage medicine cabinets that suit the style and age of their homes or align with their personal design preferences.


Eastlake medicine cabinets gained popularity during the late Victorian period. These cabinets were usually made of solid oak and featured intricate carvings. They often boasted elaborate designs at the top, ornate spirals or twisted columns on the sides, and sometimes even towel bars at the bottom. The doors typically had beveled mirrors and brass knobs, while the interiors offered multiple shelves for storage.

Chinese Medicine Cabinet

Vintage Chinese Medicine Cabinet The Chinese medicine chest, also known as a "hundred-eye chest," is a vintage-style apothecary cabinet that serves various modern storage and organization needs. These cabinets feature pull-out drawers and were traditionally used to store herbs, medicines, and other natural remedies.


Recessed medicine cabinets were popular due to their simplicity and ability to blend seamlessly into the room. This style was designed to be fitted into the wall, with the cabinet door flush against the wall surface. While not as ornate as Eastlake-style cabinets, recessed cabinets were available in wood or with a mirrored front.


Wooden medicine cabinets were among the most popular choices. They were mass-produced with simple designs, featuring either solid doors or mirrors. Some cabinets had decorative carvings, although not as intricate as Eastlake cabinets.


Painted medicine cabinets were predominantly constructed from wood and then painted in various colors. This was a common occurrence, as these cabinets were designed to complement the overall bathroom decor. Painted and plain wood styles lend themselves well to modern farmhouse aesthetics, especially when they have a rustic finish.


Metal medicine cabinets gained popularity for their durability and functionality. Although not particularly attractive, these cabinets offered an affordable and practical storage solution for bathroom items.

Recessed mirror

This style of medicine cabinet was a favorite among working-class citizens due to its simplicity, affordability, and widespread availability. These cabinets adorned the walls of bathrooms everywhere.

Uses Today

Vintage medicine cabinets continue to be a staple in modern bathrooms, adding both functionality and aesthetic appeal. While styles have evolved, vintage medicine cabinets remain a popular choice for builders and renovators. If you're undertaking a renovation project or simply looking to add a touch of vintage flair to your space, keep an eye out for these charming pieces. They are relatively easy to find and restore, and the rustic look of a vintage medicine cabinet can bring character to any bathroom.

Restoring Vintage Medicine Cabinets

Restore Vintage Medicine Cabinets Many collectors prefer vintage medicine cabinets to have a slightly worn and aged appearance since their rustic charm is part of their appeal. However, if you wish to restore a cabinet to its former glory, the process is relatively straightforward. Here are some simple steps to restore your vintage medicine cabinet:

  1. Remove all hardware, including hinges and knobs.
  2. Clean the cabinet using appropriate methods depending on the materials. Glass cleaner can be used for plastic, glass, or mirrored surfaces, while a mixture of water and vinegar can eliminate odors and moisture from wood.
  3. Sand down any rough areas. For wooden cabinets, use a hand sander to remove old paint and smooth out rough patches.
  4. Decorate the cabinet according to your preferences. You can leave it plain or paint it with your color of choice. For a distressed look, sand the cabinet lightly after the paint dries to reveal some unfinished wood underneath.
  5. Refresh the hardware by cleaning and polishing the existing pieces or replacing them with new ones.
  6. Reassemble the cabinet.

Where to Find Vintage Medicine Cabinets

There are various places where you can find vintage medicine cabinets for sale. Local antique malls, thrift shops, and architectural salvage stores are excellent options for finding unique pieces. If you prefer online shopping, platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay offer a wide range of vintage finds. For high-quality items and authentic vintage pieces, Historic House Parts is a reliable resource, although premium prices and shipping costs may apply. They offer a vast selection of vintage items and reproductions, and their retail location in New York provides restoration services as well.

Final Thoughts

Vintage medicine cabinets are not only functional but also add a touch of charm and personality to any bathroom. Whether you're seeking a vintage-inspired aesthetic or restoring an original piece, these cabinets are a delightful addition to any space. If you're embarking on a renovation project or simply looking to spruce up your bathroom, consider the timeless appeal of a vintage medicine cabinet. It's a fun and rewarding way to infuse your space with character and nostalgia.