Vintage Medicine Cabinet Styles and Charming Décor Ideas

Updated April 1, 2021
Medicine cabinet with various cosmetics and bath products

A super easy way to add a dash of the vintage aesthetic to your bathroom, bedrooms, or living room walls is to put up a vintage medicine cabinet. Whether you're looking for extra space to hold all of your beauty products or you're thinking about creating a succulent nursery, vintage medicine cabinets are perfect for those with a penchant for making something old into something new.

Medicine Cabinets Throughout History

For centuries people have stored their herbs and medicines, cosmetics, and other small personal items in containers to keep them safe from rodents, bugs, and small children. Eventually, these floor chests were transformed into mounted units on the walls of people's homes. While these storage cabinets were used during the early 20th century, the popular image of the medicine cabinet that most people think of was predominately included in homes during the pre-war and post-war years. With the expansion of large under-sink cabinetry in the later decades of the 20th century, mounted medicine cabinets were no longer needed and were phased out of contemporary design.

Types of Vintage Medicine Cabinets

Vintage medicine cabinets come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and finishes, though the most popular styles were simple and utilitarian, painted in white or cream. Here are some of the types of vintage medicine cabinets available.

  • Eastlake medicine cabinets - This Victorian style was decorated with ornate carvings and often came with window paneled doors to easily see the items within the cabinet.
  • Mounted medicine cabinets - This style includes all types of medicine cabinets that are fixed onto a space on the wall.
  • Recessed medicine cabinets - These cabinets are set into the wall so that the door remains flush with wall itself.
  • Primitive medicine cabinets - These cabinets can include both mounted and recessed medicine cabinets and have a very rustic, well-worn design.
A man looks through his medicine cabinet in the bathroom, circa 1955

Materials Used to Make Vintage Medicine Cabinets

Vintage medicine cabinets were mostly made out of metals like steel and aluminum, though late-19th century examples in the Eastlake model were crafted out of wood. Originally, these vintage medicine cabinets were painted white or cream to exude an understated design, but manufacturers began making them more colorful by the post-war period. You can find examples from the mid-century that come in bright colors like oranges, turquoises, and yellows. Due to these medicine cabinets being made out of metal, many of them have been affected by rusting, meaning that a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint are in order.

How Much Do Vintage Medicine Cabinets Cost?

Vintage medicine cabinet values vary depending on their age, condition, and where you're purchasing them from. The cheapest options can be found in antique stores or furniture retailers that focus on resale. Here you can buy vintage medicine cabinets which show a little bit of aging for under $50. However, if you're looking for the ease of online shopping, it's going to cost you. Online retailers generally price their vintage medicine cabinets at higher estimates, and the associated price of shipping can make you incur even greater costs. For example, a primitive oak medicine cabinet is listed for nearly $300 by one seller, and a vintage French medicine cabinet is listed for about $150 by another. So, if you're interested in getting the most for your money, you're going to need to spend some time visiting your local antique stores to see if they have any medicine cabinets available.

DIY Your Vintage Medicine Cabinet

One of the wonderful aspects of owning vintage medicine cabinets is the ability you have to use them for other purposes than the ones they were originally intended for. Once a vintage medicine cabinet has been cleaned and had a fresh coat of paint applied (if needed), you can put your DIY gloves on and try out one of these metamorphosizing ideas:

  • Plant paradise - Mount your vintage medicine cabinet on a wall facing a lot of sunlight and take the door off its hinges. Now, you've got a rack of shelves for your small plants, ivy, and succulents to call home.
  • Stained glass windows - If you have a vintage medicine cabinet which has a window-paneled door instead of a mirror, you can paint the inside of the panels to resemble stained glass patterns for a unique, medieval vibe.
  • Two-for-one - If your vintage medicine cabinet has a mirror door, you can unscrew it from the shelving and attach the mirror somewhere else. This way you can get two fixtures - a shelving unit and a mirror - for the price of one.
Plant paradise

The Only Medicine You Need Is a Vintage Medicine Cabinet

Old medicine cabinets are iconic fixtures that feature prominently in the popular culture's depiction of vintage domesticity. However, because they don't have to be used for just the purpose they were designed for, investing in one gives you a wellspring of opportunities to create a customized, DIY fixture to perfectly match your space.

Vintage Medicine Cabinet Styles and Charming Décor Ideas