It’s an Instagram staple: antique dressers, tables, sewing machines, and so on transformed into unique bathroom vanities. Even Joanna Gaines got in on the trend, transforming an antique table into an enviable sink for Fixer Upper. Home reno TV shows and YouTubers like Nifty Nester make the transformation seem easy. So easy, in fact, you might be tempted to breathe new life into your own vintage pieces or even look to a junkyard for inspiration.
Lucinda Loyas upcycled sink.
It’s not just do-it-yourselfers. Interior designers like Lucinda Loya also love upcycling. For one project, the Houston-based pro once took a Victorian-era cabinet and filled it with life and a sugary apple red hue. “The unique piece was an original part of the house, complemented by the integrated Corian sinks, which not only reinforce its functionality but also add to its overall appeal,” she says of the piece, which reflected the character of the house’s Italian architecture.
But before you start cutting holes in old dressers to convert them into sinks, seek advice from experts – in this case, not designers, but plumbers. We asked them: How easy is it to recycle furniture when it comes to plumbing?
The plumber’s point of view
Josh Mitchell, plumbing expert and owner of Plumbing Lab in Sydney, Australia, has certainly noticed an increase in requests to convert dressers into bathroom vanities. “While it’s not commonplace, it’s definitely more common, especially among those who want to add a unique or vintage feel to their bathrooms,” says Mitchell. “I work on projects like this a few times each year, often after clients get inspiration from design websites or home renovation shows.” US-based Rich Mullins, plumbing expert and owner of H2O Plumbing in Corydon, Indiana, agrees that the request “ is becoming increasingly popular as homeowners look for unique and bespoke solutions that add character to the bathroom.”
While converting a dresser into a sink may be popular, it’s not an entry-level project for new plumbers. “Commodes aren’t designed for plumbing, so you’ll need to modify the dresser to accommodate the sink, drain and water supply lines,” says James Lawrence, owner of Lawrence Remodeling Co. in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “This may require cutting holes in the dresser and ensuring proper connections, which can be complex and time-consuming.”
One of the most common issues Mullins faces on projects of this type is proper plumbing alignment. “This may require cutting holes in the back of the dresser to accommodate pipes and making sure the sink and faucet are securely attached,” he says.
Even though the projects aren’t too difficult for someone who knows what they’re doing, they still require precision and careful planning. Mitchell says one of the biggest challenges is accommodating the plumbing without weakening the dresser’s overall frame and internal structure. “This often means changing drawers or interior compartments,” he explains. “When it comes to installation time, these custom conversions tend to be more time consuming than installing standard vanities. While I can assemble a prefab vanity in a few hours, converting a dresser can sometimes take a full day or longer given the specific challenges that might arise.”
This means that if you pay a plumber, it can be an expensive job. Before you think about home improvement, however, Mitchell points out that this is a venture that requires a thorough knowledge of plumbing and carpentry—not only do you have to get the pipe connections right, but the new bathroom vanity can… It doesn’t just have to be a pretty one To be a piece of furniture, it also has to function and offer at least some storage space.
If you feel like you’re up to the task, here’s what you need to do to convert a dresser into a bathroom vanity with sink:
Consider the costs
Sure, you might have a free dresser and be able to find a cheap sink, but unless you’re particularly handy, hiring a professional to do the alterations can end up costing more than buying a pre-made vanity, Lawrence points out. A plumber can charge between $45 and $200 per hour, and for woodwork, you may need to find a carpenter who charges between $250 and $850 per project.
Look at the dimensions
The dimensions of the dresser may not match the standard dimensions of the vanity units that most sinks fit into or the space you have. “The standard height of a vanity is about three feet,” says Mike Grijavalva, a journeyman plumber and business owner of Sacramento Plumbing Solutions. You may need to adjust the height, width, or depth of the dresser to accommodate the sink and ensure comfortable use, notes Lawrence.
Rework the drawers
Even if your piece of furniture looks like it will fit in the bathroom space, you may still need to make adjustments to the plumbing, especially the drainage and water supply lines. “Sometimes it’s like navigating Narnia,” says John Melby, plumbing expert at Vancouver Plumbing Services. “The depth of the drawers tends to play a game of hide-and-seek with the plumbing. It’s a cheeky game of customization and compromise, but with a little creativity.” Mitchell adds that this configuration often requires a thorough understanding of plumbing systems to ensure there are no leaks and proper functionality.
Check whether the “vanity” is stable
Dressers are typically not sturdy enough to support the weight of the sink, countertops, and plumbing fixtures. Reinforcements may be needed to prevent sagging or collapse, Lawrence adds.
Make sure the sink drains properly
For Mullins, ensuring proper drainage is one of the main concerns when repurposing furniture for a vanity. “To effectively address this challenge, you need to create an opening for the drainpipe and ensure it is sloped correctly to prevent water from accumulating,” he says. “Poor drainage can lead to a variety of problems, including standing water and possible damage to furniture.”
Prepare your power tools
Converting a dresser into a vanity requires precise measurements and power tools to cut through the furniture. “The top of the dresser requires precise cuts for the sink and faucet,” says Mitchell. “Using the right tools, like a faucet hole saw and a sink jigsaw, is essential. Precision is key to avoid damage to the furniture or misalignment of the fittings.” Expect more work if you’re dealing with drawers rather than cabinet doors. “Drawers and storage space may have to be sacrificed,” adds Lawrence.
Waterproof the dresser
Most dressers and cabinets are not designed to handle moisture. “To protect the wood and extend the life of the vanity, a waterproof sealant should be applied,” says Mitchell.
4 More Design-Inspired Bathroom Projects That Can Be Challenging
Nina Calykh//Getty Images
For Mitchell and our other experts, plumbing isn’t just about functionality; There must be a balance between aesthetics and practicality. Here are four more design-focused bathroom installations that always keep him on his toes.
Wall-mounted toilets, washbasins and taps
They look incredibly elegant, but often require creative thinking from Mitchell to keep the pipes hidden while ensuring they remain accessible for future repairs.
This can be a conundrum, especially when it comes to drain and overflow systems, especially if someone wants these to be outside of standard plumbing fixtures.
Open shower concepts
While Mitchell likes the way they look, they always force him to double-check the placement of drains to make sure water isn’t spilling into unwanted areas of the bathroom.
Reclaimed industrial fittings
Reusing old industrial faucets or other faucets for home use presents a number of challenges because they were not originally designed for residential use.