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Get the Vintage Vibe: Unveiling the History, Styles, and Restoration of Medicine Cabinets

If you're longing for a touch of vintage charm in your home, a vintage medicine cabinet might just be the perfect addition. Whether you're in search of an authentic piece or a high-quality reproduction, there...

If you're longing for a touch of vintage charm in your home, a vintage medicine cabinet might just be the perfect addition. Whether you're in search of an authentic piece or a high-quality reproduction, there are plenty of options to suit your needs. Furthermore, these cabinets can be easily restored or you can take on the restoration project yourself. Let's take a journey back in time to explore the fascinating history of medicine cabinets and discover the various styles that have emerged over the years.

A Glimpse into the Past: Medicine Cabinet History

Medicine cabinets weren't always a bathroom staple. In the past, people relied on chests to protect their precious remedies from pests and prying fingers. It wasn't until the late 1800s and early 1900s, when indoor bathrooms became more common, that medicine cabinets gained popularity. The convenience of hanging a cabinet on the bathroom wall was realized, offering a designated space to store medicine, cosmetics, and other personal items. Initially, these cabinets had a simple design with hanging hardware, devoid of elaborate decorations.

Miami Carey Medicine Cabinet Picture: Miami Carey Medicine Cabinet

Vintage Medicine Cabinet Styles

Most vintage medicine cabinets were handmade and had a plain appearance. Local furniture or cabinetmakers, and even homeowners themselves, crafted these cabinets. Some were painted or varnished, while others featured mirrors or glass doors. The choice of a vintage medicine cabinet style depends on your home's architectural style or personal design preferences.


During the late Victorian period, Eastlake medicine cabinets gained popularity. Made from solid oak, these cabinets showcased ornate carvings. You might find large decorative designs at the top, ornate spirals or twisted columns on the sides, or even towel bars at the bottom. The door featured a beveled mirror and a brass knob, with multiple shelves inside for storage.

Chinese Medicine Cabinet

Vintage Chinese Medicine Cabinet Picture: Vintage Chinese Medicine Cabinet

The Chinese medicine chest, also known as the "hundred-eye chest", is a vintage apothecary cabinet that can serve as an excellent storage and organization solution. It consists of several square pull-out drawers, traditionally used to store herbs, medicines, and other natural remedies.


Recessed medicine cabinets were favored for their simplicity and their ability to blend seamlessly within the room. These cabinets were designed to be flush with the wall, creating a sleek appearance. Although not as ornate as Eastlake cabinets, they could be made of wood or feature a mirror on the front.


Wood medicine cabinets were incredibly popular and commonly found in large quantities. They boasted simple designs, with some featuring solid doors and others incorporating mirrors. While some may have had designs or carvings, they were typically less elaborate than Eastlake cabinets.


Painted medicine cabinets were made of wood but came in a variety of colors. This was a common occurrence. They featured simple lines and were often painted in neutral colors to match the bathroom decor. Both plain wood and painted styles can make excellent additions to modern farmhouse decor, with rustic finishes especially sought after.


Metal medicine cabinets gained popularity due to their durability and functionality. Although not particularly attractive, they provided an affordable and convenient storage space for bathroom essentials.

Recessed Mirror

The recessed mirror style became one of the most popular choices for medicine cabinets. Its simplicity, affordability, and wide availability made it a favorite among working-class citizens everywhere.

Uses Today: Vintage Charm Meets Modern Bathrooms

Medicine cabinets continue to be an essential fixture in most bathrooms today. While the styles have evolved, vintage medicine cabinets still hold their appeal for builders and renovators. Adding a vintage medicine cabinet to your space can infuse it with a touch of nostalgia and unique character. Whether you're embarking on a complete bathroom renovation or simply looking to add a vintage flair, keep an eye out for these charming cabinets.

Restoring Vintage Medicine Cabinets: A Flashback in Time

Restore Vintage Medicine Cabinets Picture: Restore Vintage Medicine Cabinets

For many collectors, the allure of vintage medicine cabinets lies in their rustic and weathered appearance. However, if you prefer a cleaner look, restoration is possible. Restoring a vintage medicine cabinet is a relatively straightforward process. It involves disassembling the cabinet, cleaning it thoroughly, and applying the desired finish. Here are some simple steps to breathe new life into your vintage treasure:

  1. Remove all hardware, including hinges and knobs.
  2. Clean the cabinet based on its materials. For plastic, glass, or mirrors, a gentle glass cleaner should suffice. For wood, a water and vinegar solution can eliminate odors and moisture.
  3. Sand down any rough areas or old paint, using a hand sander to smooth out imperfections.
  4. Choose your desired decorative style. You can opt for a clean, painted look or a distressed finish. If you choose the latter, sand down lightly after the paint dries to reveal some unfinished wood underneath.
  5. Refresh the hardware by cleaning and polishing the existing knobs or purchasing new ones.
  6. Reassemble the cabinet.

Where to Find Vintage Medicine Cabinets

There are numerous places where you can find vintage medicine cabinets for sale. If you prefer an in-person shopping experience, explore local antique malls, thrift shops, or architectural salvage stores. For online shopping, start by checking out Craigslist, where you can find local listings without worrying about shipping costs, although the selection may be limited. Alternatively, the Facebook Marketplace offers a wide variety of old items listed by individuals in your vicinity. If you crave exciting deals and the thrill of bidding, eBay is an excellent resource for buying and selling vintage collectibles. Lastly, Historic House Parts is a trusted online retailer that offers authentic vintage items and reproductions. They also provide restoration services if you find a treasure that needs a little touch-up.

Final Thoughts: Vintage Charm Revived

Vintage medicine cabinets offer both functionality and aesthetic appeal. They serve as delightful finds and can even be a rewarding restoration project for beginners. Whether you're looking to add a vintage touch to your bathroom or embarking on a complete renovation, consider the timeless elegance of a vintage medicine cabinet. Don't hesitate to explore the market for unique pieces that fit your style and budget. Give your space a hint of nostalgia and let the vintage vibe enhance your everyday routine.