Published on December 2, 2019

We assume a lot about furniture: Sofas belong in the living room, console tables in the entryway—you get the gist. Some of our favorite projects, however, are ones that throw out that rule book. Take a staple piece like a dresser. The bedroom is the most obvious place to put it, but ask pro renovators Claudia and Chris Beiler and they’ll point you in the direction of the bathroom. 

When the couple transformed an 1800s fixer-upper for a young couple living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they customized every detail down to the double-sink vanity, which, in a former life, was West Elm’s Modernist chest. Claudia scored the six-drawer storage unit on sale for $300, then the couple converted it into a bathroom fixture for another $700 (for one day’s worth of labor, the sinks, and plumbing fixtures). “The final cost is around the same as a ready-made vanity, but you’re left with this brilliant, one-of-a-kind piece,” says Chris. Below, six things to know before you decide to DIY:

Materials Matter

The best dressers for this are ones that are water resistant and have enough counter space for basins. You don’t even have to start with a brand-new piece of furniture—actress Sophia Bush used a vintage sideboard in her former Chicago bathroom. Just look for something with a veneer or laminate surface rather than real wood; it will hold up better to moisture and last longer. “Laminate can pull away from its backing if it gets cracked, so we look for laminated tops that don’t have splices around the edges,” Chris points out. 

The Deeper the Drawers, the Better

floral wallpaper with a large dresser-turned-vanityPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA WANNER

Chris suggests cutting the bottoms of the drawers partially and removing the backs so that when they’re fully closed, they end before the drain hole that you’ll cut in the top. “Usually, this means these top drawers are only a few inches deep,” he explains—so furniture with already-shallow drawers will make the reconfiguring process a lot more time-consuming.

If you’re installing a single vessel sink, choose a dresser with only one drawer in the front. For a double vanity, he suggests getting a piece with two: “This will ensure you don’t need to plumb the drain hole right where the sliders are.”

Elevate the Sink (But Not Too Much!)

A vessel basin (one that sits on top of the counter rather than flush with it) won’t interfere with the drawer hardware, making the install a lot easier. “We have found that it’s best to go with fairly shallow bowls,” says Chris. A good rule of thumb: The final measurement from the floor to the rim of the sink should be around 36 inches. 

Few Cuts Are Actually Required

If you’re slicing through a laminate surface, you can get away with using a standard wood hole saw. (If the top is marble or quartz, Chris says you may need a carbide bit.) To figure out where you’ll need to cut through the top, set your sinks down on the dresser exactly where you want them. Mark the drain hole location with a pencil and saw accordingly. 

Go for Wall-Mounted Faucets

For the West Elm vanity hack, the Beilers used a ceramic art basin from Amazon, but instead of installing the corresponding faucet on the counter, the pair opted for different brass fixtures and mounted them to the wall. There’s some extra patching required, but it will streamline the overall look and offer more room to spread out.

Keep a Protective Coating on Standby

If you do decide to go with a piece made head to toe from real wood, cover the surface with a standard wood sealer from your local hardware store to protect it from wear and tear. Consider your bases covered. 

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