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Since the 1920s, medicine cabinets have been the go-to space-saving storage in bathrooms, but designer Emily Henderson doesn’t understand why. In her new book, The New Design Rules, Henderson goes in-depth on all things interior design—from choosing between a lever and single-handle faucet to the exact height for a mudroom bench. And in the bathroom chapter, she spends two pages making it clear that she has never been a fan of the obvious choice. In an excerpt, Henderson not only explains her reasoning but offers her favorite alternative (and one genius hack) for both those in need of organization solutions and short on square footage.

Choosing whether to have a medicine cabinet ranks among the most controversial bathroom decisions designers face, believe it or not. Let me explain why I’ve never been a fan.

  1. They can look generic. I’m not saying they always are, but most ready-made ones don’t make my heart sing. (Is there a hole in the market? Yes.)
  2. Their frames are often too big and chunky. This is likely due to the weight of the cabinet itself, but it’s often not the look I’m going for.
  3. Inset/recessed versions require wall construction, and that’s scary if you aren’t really into something for the long run.
  4. The good ones are really expensive, but can be worth it.
  5. Wall-mounted medicine cabinets can eat up real estate, which isn’t great in small spaces. That said, there’s still one very good reason to keep with tradition and install a medicine cabinet: extra storage. If wall construction isn’t for you, opt for a statement mirror—what I like to think of as the artwork of the bathroom. And install it so you have roughly 64 inches from the floor to the mirror’s center.

A vanity with a cabinet underneath or a freestanding armoire or linen closet is the most practical, multipurpose solution. A great DIY hack is to recess the cabinet (simple shallow shelves will do), find a vintage mirror the right size, and add hinges to one edge. With some careful measuring and handiwork, mount it as your medicine cabinet. You now have hidden storage in such a chic way.

Reprinted from The New Design Rules. Copyright © 2022 Emily Henderson with Jessica Cumberbatch-Anderson. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Sara Ligorria-Tramp. Produced and styled by Velinda Hellen. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

the new design rules book cover
The New Design Rules: How to Decorate and Renovate, from Start to Finish ($23 was $33)