In earlier days, "bathroom storage" meant a clunky medicine cabinet mounted above the pedestal or wall-hung lavatory sink. Then along came boxy vanities, and the bathroom acquired a bank of drawers to one side of the plumbing compartment.
As changing life-styles demand expression and bathrooms become grooming centers, exercise gyms, and spas, storage needs and configurations are also changing. One or more base cabinets may still form the backbone of the contemporary storage scheme, but bath storage areas have become more stylish, their design integrated with that of mirrors, sink, lighting, and backsplash treatments. Perhaps you’ll wish to curve a custom unit around a corner, let built-ins form knee walls between use areas, or plan a floor-to-ceiling storage column.
Traditional or European-style?
First, you’ll need to choose between two basic cabinet styles, frame and frameless.
Traditional American cabinets mask the raw front edges of each box with a 1-by-2 "faceframe." Doors and drawers then fit in one of three ways: flush; partially offset, with a lip; or completely overlaying the frame. The outer edges of the faceframe can be planed and shaped (called "scribing") to fit the contours of an adjacent wall or ceiling. But the frame takes up space and reduces the size of the openings, so drawers or slide-out accessories must be significantly smaller than the full width of the cabinet.
Europeans, when faced with postwar lumber shortages, came up with "frameless" cabinets. A simple trim strip covers raw edges, which butt directly against one another. Doors and drawers often fit to within 1?8 inch of each other, revealing a thin sliver of the trim. Interior components -- such as drawers -- can be sized larger, practically to the full dimensions of the box.
The terms "system 32" and "32-millimeter" refer to precise columns of holes drilled on the inside faces of many frameless cabinets. These holes are generally in the same place no matter what cabinets you buy, and interchangeable components such as shelf pins and pullout bins just fit right into them.
Stock, custom, or modular?
Cabinets are manufactured and sold in three different ways. The type you choose may affect the cost, appearance, and workability of your bathroom.
Stock cabinets. Mass-produced, standard-size cabinets are the least expensive option, and they can be an excellent choice if you clearly understand what cabinetry you need. You may find stock lines heavily discounted at some home centers. A recent development, the so-called RTA ("ready-to-assemble") cabinet, costs even less but requires some basic tools and elbow grease to put together.
As the name implies, the range of stock sizes is limited. Even so, you can always specify door styles, direction of door swing, and finish of side panels.
Custom cabinets. Many people still have a cabinetmaker come to their house and measure, then return to the cabinet shop and build custom cabinet boxes, drawers, and doors.
Custom shops can match old cabinets, size oddball configurations, and accommodate complexities that can’t be handled with stock or modular units. But such work can cost considerably more than medium-line stock or modular cabinets.
Modular systems. Between stock and custom cabinetry are "custom modular cabinets" or "custom systems," which can sometimes offer the best of both worlds. They are manufactured, but they are of a higher grade and offer more design flexibility than stock cabinets. Not surprisingly, they cost more, too.
You can change virtually everything on these basic modules: add sliding shelves; replace doors with drawers; add wire bins, hampers, and pullouts. If necessary, heights, widths, and depths can be modified to fit almost any design. Be advised, though: these cabinets could take a long time to show up at your doorstep.