10 bathroom vanity designs from Formica — “Vanitory” ideas from 1951

retro bathroom vanity designsI recently added a 1951 Formica “Vanitory” brochure to my collection. A Vanitory is a lavatory (to wash your hands) and a vanity (to powder your nose) — all in one.  I love this brochure, because it not only shows 10 Vanitory designs, but also it clarifies that Formica Vanitories were not actually sold by Formica — they were an idea… a concept… the goal was to design your own. In fact, this snapshot of 10 Formica bathroom vanity designs also includes a “Vanitory Imagination Stimulator.”  You gotta love the marketeer who came up with that one. Let’s take a look — and I’ve included a slide show of each Vanitory design 1000 pixels wide. 

vintage bathroom vanities

 Questions and answers about the Vanitory:

retro bathroom vanity formica

What is a Vanitory? The term Vanitory is the name for a combination lavatory bowl and vanity counter surfaced with Beauty Bonded Formica.

retro bathroom vanity

What is the Practical Advantage of a Vanitory? It means room to be comfortable — a place to put things down — handy storage space — convenience of toilet accessories — and of course added beauty and color.

retro bathroom vanity

How many kinds of Vanitories are there? There is no limit on the number of sizes and designs of Vanitory units. A Vanitory is not a specific product but a basic idea for better living.

bathroom vanity

Why Formica in the Bathroom? No other material can match Formica for beauty and down right practicality. Its dozens of cheerful color patterns are super smooth and pleasant to touch. Formica is unharmed by boiling water, alcohol or cosmetics. It wipes clean with only a damp cloth — never needs refinishing or painting.

retro bathroom vanity

Does the Formica Company make Vanitory units? No, Formica makes only surfacing materials which are fabricated by a skilled craftsman in your town into a finished Vanitory to fit your own bathroom.

retro bathroom vanity

If you’re thinking about designing a retro style bathroom vanity for your bathroom, there are a lot of great ideas… err, imagination stimulators… here!

Slide show of vintage Formica Vanitory designs:

To view gallery, click on any image, it will enlarge, use the arrows below the image to move forward or back:

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Comments

  1. Kkmk says

    Thanks for sharing this! The examples show a huge range of styles. A couple are fairly traditional, a couple look Eames-ish and the avocado beauty with a central storage area would fit on a Star Trek set. I also love the color combinations – orangey peach with forest green, royal blue and rust red, and yellow/light blue/gray.

    • Mike S says

      “Vanitory” may have caught on if Igor had said it in some spooky movie. “Yes, master. If you want me, I’ll be in the vanitory.”

  2. JKM says

    When I was little in the 1960s, the bathrooms in our 1964 house had extended Formica countertops that swooped back and extended over the toilet tank tops for a long, linear look. The mirrors above extended the entire length, which made average sized bathrooms seem twice as big. One had to lift off a portion of the countertop to remove the toilet tank lid. The builder’s imagination must have been stimulated. I think we must have had Vanitories and didn’t know it!

  3. tailfin says

    What a fun brochure and concept! I absolutely love the “Imagination Stimulator” too! I can’t tell from the brochure, but did Formica register the term “Vanitory” as a trademark?

  4. Mary Elizabeth says

    Lovely addition to your catalogue collection, and hence your readers’ electronic collection.

    The picture in the brochure with the little girls at the two sinks remind me of a family story. My cousin Carol, who married and started a family early (age 19 and 20), designed and built her first and only house with her husband in the late sixties when she had two girls and a baby on the way. They did everything on their own, with family members helping in the construction (and offering unsolicited advice in the meantime). She must have seen the double sink “vanitory” in a magazine or brochure for Formica, because that’s what she designed for their main bath. I had never seen anything like it before, and several members of the family couldn’t understand why she needed two sinks in an oversized vanity counter and a large mirror over them. (“Why spend the money on two sinks in the same bathroom?”) She had the last laugh when she had three daughters in their teens! Two could be brushing their teeth while the third put on makeup. It was very practical. Even for a married couple without children, two sinks in the master bath is a great idea. Wish I could put them in one of my bathrooms, but I never have had room for them in any of my homes.

  5. Lynne says

    Okay, my imagination has been stimulated. But, I’m just not sure I’m going to be able to find “the skilled craftsman in your town” to build it!

    I have to wonder where you can even find anyone who knows how to apply the Formica if you can get the base built. I’d love a custom vanity, or two, or even three. One with a slanted front!

    I think I may start watching for those old 1950′s and 60′s woodworking DIY books at sales. They touted built in everything back then. There ought to be some cabinetry how-tos.

    • Robin, NV says

      I watched an episode of This Old House where they applied laminate to a custom made storage unit. It’s really not that hard, just a matter of getting the right glue and following the directions. You’d need to cut the laminate to match the pieces of the vanitory – probably as you built it. The only potential issue might be in weird edges or corners but I would think anyone familiar with laminate installation could handle that no problem.

      • Joe Felice says

        When I needed a “laminator” for my retro table top and breakfast bar with ribbed chrome edging, I just went online looking for people who work with laminated counter tops here in the Denver area. I sent them all e-mails, and only one responded that he would be able to get the materials and make my custom items, so, naturally, I chose him. He turned out to be very good, so I have since had him install all new kitchen counter tops with integral sink, shelves for below the end of the breakfast bar like they had back in the ’50s, and a new vanitory top for the master bath, also with integral sink. I love built-in sinks, because there are no edges or lips. Dirt doesn’t get stuck, and the entire top is able to be wiped down and everything just wisks into the sink. Of course, these types of custom fabrications are not inexpensive! My guy had me over to show me his workshop, which was really a converted garage in the back of his house, but he had more samples of metals and laminates than I ever knew existed. An added bonus was that he lives in a neighborhood of custom ’50s and ’60s homes, including a 1957 Alcoa showcase home. And I converted him to the appreciation of MCM designs.

    • Lisa Compo says

      Your comment reminded me of something I have seen a few times and maybe has been a feature here. I do so much retro research it’s starting to blend together in my mind. LOL
      Anyway, there is a guy in Florida who custom builds the vanity/vanitories with the slanted fronts. The bathroom pictured looks very nice. Thought maybe you’d want to check it out or at least it could give you a lead in the right direction. I really like the slanted front ones, too. Seems like it would give you a little more leg room.
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-1960s-style-vanity-cabinet-custom-made-for-your-retro-bathroom-/281170042443?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item41770a5e4b

      • Robin, NV says

        Ooh! I love this. The price really isn’t that bad either, considering that you’re getting a custom piece. Shipping is really the only kicker.

      • Lynne says

        Lisa! Wow! Thank you SO much for replying to my comment. I went to the link you supplied, and it is just exactly what I was talking about. I think I would have to contact the man about a custom size, but I thought his prices were really reasonable.

        I would like to have mine in a walnut Formica wood grain!

        Pam and Kate, I wish we had a forum for conversation. We could help each other out so much with ideas and information.

          • 52PostnBeam says

            Really? I recall being quite the content creator in the old forum of 2009-2011-ish. I think Facebook may have replaced that arena.

          • Lisa Compo says

            Is there any way to create a “Rolodex” (good retro thing) type of thing somewhere..or a tab that says “Members” and then those of us who are interested in being contacted by each other could sign up as members? We could sign in somehow for privacy, then it would have a little bio of us and our email address or something. I know we keep suggesting this…just trying to find a simple way of getting correspondence to each other. Thanks if you can think of something easy for us. :)

        • Lisa Compo says

          Hi Lynne, You are very welcome for the link. I like the vanities he makes, also. Like a few people suggested, you may be able to find someone local to make one very similar to it. Heck if you are a good DIY or have a crafty hubby, I think it could be easily done…well maybe not finding the Formica or applying it skillfully enough, but it might be worth a try. I hope you can get some ideas or someone to make one for you..that would be great.

    • Tom says

      Hi Lynne,

      Any custom cabinet maker worth his salt should be able to make something that would suit you, including the Formica. My wife’s dad did that kind of work out of his garage for years and had enough business that he never really had to advertise, so you might have to really ask around rather than looking in the newspaper or whatever. If you have a wholesale lumber outfit nearby, ask them who their customers are and that should get you some leads!

  6. Robin, NV says

    Personally, I love the yellow and lavender vanitory with the towel storage.

    As we so often comment on this blog, a lot of the vanitories pictured would only work in a relatively sizeable bathroom. Both my bathrooms are quite small – just enough room for a sink, toilet, and tub. There’s absolutely no room for a vanity. How the original owner raised 3 girls in those bathrooms is a mystery. But then again, my mom grew up in a household of 5 girls (and 2 boys) with one full bath.

  7. Lisa Compo says

    Am I the only one who thinks the little rhymes are cute? The brochure has that write up at the bottom and puts the idea into a rhyme.

    Mom always called them “vanitories”. I always thought that’s what they were called until I got older and heard the term “vanity”. Then I thought vanitory was something she made up. LOL Now I actually know the meaning behind it. We always had vanitories in our houses because the first house I remember living in was brand new in 1973 so we had plenty of Formica around. And of course, shag carpeting and velvet flocked wallpaper—but that’s for another day. :)

    Thanks for sharing the brochure on here. It’s so much fun to look at these things–it does stimulate the imagination.

  8. Jay says

    Great illustrations! Just don’t have the room. I’m still going for the banjo top with an inset bowl and the hinged portion over the toilet tank. Can’t imagine what it’s like to have a huge bathroom to accomodate these vanitories – like the name!

    • Lisa Compo says

      I didn’t ever know that the portion over the toilet bowl had a hinge. I’ve never seen it close enough in photos. I always wondered how in the heck someone could work on their toilet if the counter top extended over the toilet lid. I thought it was poor design all this time. Yes, we learn something new every day—usually on here.

      • Joe Felice says

        Well, not all of them have hinges, and, if the toilet tank is tall enough, it is impossible to get inside to do any work, so you have to end up taking the tank off of the bowl. I lived in a home with that problem. Fortunately, my hand is skinny enough to squeeze in there, and I know my around the inside of a toilet tank “by feel,” so I was able to make adjustments, and replace the valve & the flapper. However, trying to attach the chain to the flush lever with only-only hand is next to impossible. My newest 1.28-gal. toilet has a tank that is actually higher than the counter top, so that type of counter is precluded. Honestly, there is no reason for tanks to be so high. They could very easily be lower and squattier, since there is so-much room between the tank & the seat. If I had a one-piece counter banjo top, I would replace the toilet with a one-piece, low-boy type and be done with it. A friend found a Kohler at ReStore that had a $75.00 price tag, She offered $50.00 and they took it. I installed it for her, and the only thing it needed was a new flapper that cost a couple of bucks.

  9. Roundhouse Sarah says

    My next project I hope to do is very similar to these vanitories. My master bath vanity was made from cheap plywood and has so many irregularities. I’d like to replace the doors and drawer fronts and have the whole thing covered in laminate. It would transform the look without ripping the whole thing out which would really mess up the tile work. Then it will resemble one of these lavatories and be so much easier to clean!

  10. pnutlaf says

    Laminate is relatively easy to work with, but to get the seams to look right takes some skill and practice. You can minimize the difficulty of installation by using a metal or wood banding on the edges so that you don’t have to make a perfect 90 where the horizontal and vertical surfaces meet.

    If you want to find a skilled laminate installer obviously your local supplier will not only have lots of samples, but you can usually get a recommendation of an installer who buys from them.

    Laminate is predominantly a commercial product. There is still a healthy residential market, but I bet the vast majority of sales are commercial. You won’t find a building with more laminate than a hospital. If you know anyone or just call the maintenance department at any hospital and they can connect you with a good installer.

    • pam kueber says

      I have really come to appreciate the beautiful brown seams of laminate edges! The seams are brown because the laminate sheet is built up on Kraft paper….

  11. Sam R says

    While none of these designs match the exact lavatory/vanity patterns in the 1954 house that I’m renovating, it’s easy to see where they got the inspiration. The two full-size and fully furnished baths in the house have long counters with a rounded notch (and matching rounded drawer!) cut out to fit a vanity chair.

  12. Scott says

    Wow, that’s a pretty effective brochure… 61 years later after it was published its still doing its job, stimulating our imaginations, and how!

    This is great timing too, I’ve been trying to think of an outside the box solution to using a drop in sink where my pedestal currently resides without resorting to a full-to-the-floor vanity due to HVAC and floor space constraints.

    The yellow-topped sweeping beauty is my favorite, I don’t have room for a longliner like that but it’s a great place to start thinking.

  13. Katie says

    I have to laugh at this. I have a 1966 ranch, and no vanitory (love the term!) I love my blue and pink baths and vintage inspired kitchen (it needed a little updating for modern living) but I think my husband and I are relocating to an area that finding a midcentury home that works with 2 small kids and modern life and I spent the last weekend looking at new construction (Boo…McMansions are so boring, but easy living with no needed maintenance or updates to make livable) Anyway, I swear a saw a few vanitories in brand new homes this weekend. Granted, they weren’t with formica, but I think the concept lives on!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Here’s what’s funny–while looking for a 1950s style ranch house, my husband and I briefly considered a factory-built ranch house very much in the mid-century style on the outside. One could choose the surfaces and designs one wanted in the kitchen and bath. I asked if I could have a formica countertop in the kitchen instead of granite and was told “That would be an upgrade and would cost a little more.” (Of course, laminate is cheaper than granite, but it means they would have to pull our house off the assembly line and install something different, which would cost more in labor.) The same went for the bathroom vanities in place of pedestal sinks. So you can get what you want from any builder of “McMansions,” but expect to pay a little more for the “upgrade.” Good luck with your move, and may the retro gods find you the perfect house for your family. :-)

  14. Kelly M says

    I’m not sure how you’d access the plumbing on most of them. Other than that small issue, they’re really cool!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      No, it’s not just you. The idea was to glorify the “space age” in design.

      I swear, all my friends said that the electric two-oven range in my first 1960s kitchen (updated in a 1939 house) looked like the control panel for a spaceship. Way cool, once I learned how to “beam up” the roast and zap the vegetables.

  15. nina462 says

    Oh Pam….that lady in pink, combing her hair. I went to an estate sale this weekend and picked up 5 postcards from Formica. I also picked up a 5 more of another scene (kitchen). I want to send them to you! So please contact me via my email address.

    They were salesman postcards from Hamilton Fabricating Co. in Kalamazoo, MI. ….they’re old – no zip on the address and the telephone # is 44770. (mint condition)

    Please contact me -

  16. Lisa Compo says

    We stopped in our local ReStore yesterday on the way home from an appointment and low and behold were 3 little oddly shaped cabinets. They were in poor shape, all catty-wompas and out of square from being removed and beat around over the years, but wouldn’t you know the white background with wood grain Formica was as smooth and slick as ever. There were very few chips and almost no scratches. The word Formica and the logo were printed inside. The brown seams Pam mentioned were there, and it was so ironic to see them after reading this article. The outsides of the cabinets held up much better than than the fiberboard insides.

      • Lisa Compo says

        I had to do a Google search to find it, but this is the best I could get (see link below). I guess it’s a regionally used word for crooked, askew, awry. You know…just not how it’s supposed to be. In this instance the frame of the cabinet was out of square and didn’t have nice 45 degree angles at the edges where the seams met. If your gate doesn’t hang right on the hinges, if a drawer won’t close into it’s space, if a shade hangs crooked in the window–that’s what I’ve always heard as catty-wompas. Upon further reading in the article I discovered I knew NOTHING about the term about slavery or I would never have used it. I never heard it used that way. Hope no one was offended.

        http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_origin_of_the_word_cattywampus#slide2

        • Mary Elizabeth says

          Oh, Lisa, I’m sure you can be forgiven for not knowing the connection with slavery, if indeed Wikipedia is correct that it was ever used that way.

          I’ve only ever heard the term used in Alabama when I lived there in the early 1970s, and it was only used to describe something that was “out of true” or out of shape. My neighbor used to give me loaves of bread she had baked and apologize for them being “so cattywampus that you can’t make sandwiches.” I never heard of cattywampus as a mythical creature or in reference to slavery or minorities.

        • Joe Felice says

          Slavery? Really? This is a very-common term. I’m surprised you Yankees haven’t heard it. (I live in Colorado, but we don’t consider ourselves Yankees, even though Colorado was part of the Union. We have too-many people from everywhere else to ever be any of one thing. We’ve heard it all and done it all.) I’ll bet no one knows the old reference, but now that I do, I will not use the term, either. When I lived in Alabama, everyone used to call black children “pickininnies” (SP?) It was many years later and after I had moved here, that I learned the term is considered racially offensive by many. All those years, I actually though it was cute, and almost a term of endearment. Of course, my family was a little-more progressive than most, even when we lived in Alabama, as we NEVER dissed black folks. I remember we had a house keeper we all loved, and she would not use the front door. I was just a little kid, but I told her she could use the front door. Still, she refused. She explained that there could be physical repercussions, from both whites and blacks, if she were seen doing this! I found that very odd, but later learned the meaning of the “back-door” reference in our language. I was actually living in Montgomery in 1955 when Rosa Parks did her thing, and, I guess I must have been precocious for a little kid, because I thought it was great and long overdue! I thought nothing about race until we went shopping or rode the bus. But “people” took me aside and tried to teach me correct behavior for a white boy, which caused me to notice race differences, even to this day. It is something I truly regret.

  17. says

    Oh, HECK yeah!! I’m lovin’ the one-legged model with the makeup mirror and cosmetic compartments inside the top!
    Going to have to really consider designing one for our next home.
    Thanks so much for sharing something fabulous, AGAIN!! :)

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