Medicine Cabinets: Recessed or Wall-Mounted?

Guest Post courtesy of Kerrie Kelly, ASID.

Medicine cabinets are the hidden utilitarian of the bathroom. While they greet us with our reflections in the morning and store everything from toothpaste to vitamins, they tend to be the hidden workhorses that are overshadowed by large cabinetry and shiny showers. Medicine cabinets are a go-to for everyday items and can bring additional concealed storage into any sized bathroom. When selecting a cabinet, your choice might not be as simple as you think. Wall-mounted cabinets are easy to install, but may take up valuable space. Recessed cabinets offer sleek, secret storage, but do require more work than most people think. Let’s take a look at both medicine cabinet options to see which one will work best for you and your space.

Blue and white bathroom with wall-mounted cabinet over sink

Recessed cabinet

Recessed cabinets save space and are considered by many to be more aesthetically pleasing. By pushing the storage back into the wall, the mirror or decorative surface is flush to the wall, creating a seamless transition and a hidden space for various toiletries. This cabinet also works well within all styles, from traditional to contemporary and everything in between.

However, be aware that recessed cabinets take some effort to install. Installation typically requires a carpenter as well as other tradesmen if wires or pipes need to be rerouted. A recessed cabinet needs a frame built inside the wall that fits its dimensions and must be free of any obstructions behind it. Studs, load-bearing framing, and other piping can get in the way, so make sure to check with a professional if you are considering installing one yourself.

Ideal for: Small spaces, traditional bathrooms that won’t bode well with a non-flushed cabinet, and bathrooms that will be remodeled or are already being remodeled.

Bathroom with recessed cabinet over sink and floating vanity

Wall-mounted cabinet

Wall-mounted cabinets are much easier to install than recessed cabinets. They don’t require framing or demolition and can be put up in a matter of minutes. Many are ready-made and available at most home improvement stores, so these cabinets are great choices for tight budgets and weekend DIY projects. Cabinet design is limited — full mirror integration and other custom installations are typically not doable unless you’re very handy with DIY. It’s best to choose a thinner wall-mounted cabinet if your bathroom is tight on space, as the protrusion of the cabinet can make the room feel smaller.

Ideal for: Existing bathrooms, tight budgets, or DIY projects.

Bathroom with thin wall-mounted cabinet over sink

Styles and features

After selecting the type of cabinet for your bathroom, next comes the fun part — choosing the style of your medicine cabinet. From sleek and contemporary to ornate and traditional, there’s a style for everyone.

Traditional-style medicine cabinets typically fall into the category of Craftsman or Victorian. Both are usually categorized by mirrors with wooden frames. Craftsman are simple, while Victorian are more elaborate and reference architectural elements with molding and elaborate hardware.

Traditional style bathroom

Contemporary medicine cabinets come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with unique features — round, square, you name it. Typically categorized by frameless edges, contemporary cabinets also tend to have push-to-open touch latches instead of hardware to keep their sleek and minimal look. The latest technology in contemporary cabinets offers everything from external LED lighting to USB charging ports.

Contemporary style bathroom cabinet

Metal-framed medicine cabinets are great for transitional bathrooms, as they sit between traditional and contemporary styles. Depending on the space, these cabinets can even take on an industrial or retro feel. They also work well at adding a metallic accent without the heaviness or starkness of contemporary cabinets.

Transitional style medicine cabinet with metal frame

Whether you lean towards traditional or contemporary, there’s a cabinet for everyone.

About the Author
Bathroom decor is a cornerstone of the interior design work that Kerrie Kelly and her team at Kerrie Kelly Design Lab present for homeowners. Kerrie is the author of “Home Décor: A Sunset Design Guide.” If you are beginning research on bathroom mirrors to go along with bathroom storage options, you can start your search at Home Depot’s website here.

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