Vintage bathroom sinks — the seven distinct design styles

vintage bathroom sinks Today, a geeky story: The correct technical names (I think) to describe the distinct design styles of vintage bathroom sinks back in mid century America from the 1940s to 1960. In the auto industry, you would call these “body styles.” Looking at the shape of the mold used to create bathroom sinks, I count seven basic design variations, and show six of them in this story. Maybe these descriptors are still used in the bathroom industry today? All the images in this story come from a 1954 Kohler plumbing fixtures catalog in my personal collection.

The difference between lavatories and sinks:

Before I jump in, a discussion of the term “lavatories”. I am pretty sure that a lavatory is a meant to describe a sink in which you wash your hands or face. Not dishes. All lavatories are sinks. But not all sinks are lavatories.

In this story, I will refer to them as sinks, since I don’t think too many people use the old school name any more. But it’s cool to know the difference.

The difference between bathrooms and washrooms:

And while we’re on it, I might as well continue:

I was looking at another catalog, which seemed to suggest: A “washroom” is a room that includes a toilet and a sink — what we today commonly call a “half bath.” A “bathroom” dials up that definition to include a bathing receptable (what we would call a “full bath” today).  Back in the day, once plumbing fixtures started going into toilet areas, homes first installed a bathroom. Many — probably most — houses had just one, full bathroom. As prosperity grew, washrooms were marketed as an add-on: As in, install a washroom (half bath) for visitors to use and to save steps.

#1 — Shelf style vintage bathroom sinks:

vintage bathroom sink kohler

Above: Shelf style vintage bathroom sinks have chunk of decking at the top to hold stuff. The faucets are essentially wall-mounted. I will further declare this a: Straight back shelf sink. because, continue and you will see there is a variation:

#2 — Slant-back shelf bathroom sinks:

corner bathrooms sinks

Above: I’m taking poetic license now. Forget that this is a corner sink, as per the Kohler page. I am calling this a slant-back deck sink because of the way that the faucet installs. I recently did a story on where you can still find slant back faucets.

#3 — Hudee rim vintage bathroom sinks:

vintage bathoom sinks metal rim As published on RetroRenovation.comAbove: Kohler is calling these sinks for “building in”. I am queen of this page, so I call them “hudee rim sinks” reflecting the fact that they require a stainless still rim, or ring, to cover the edge of the sink where it meets the counter top material.

#4 — Tile-in bathroom sinks:

There are no tile-in sinks shown in my catalog. I *think* that these require yet another design or mold: The edge of the sink sits as high as a thickness of tile, so that it can be tiled in seamlessly.

#5 — Ledge style vintage bathroom sinks:

vintage bathroom sinksAbove: A ledge sink looks to be evolved from the shelf sink. The faucet sits flat on the deck and takes up space there, so there is not so much storage space.

#6 — Flat-top bathroom sinks:

vintage bathroom sinks chrome legs

Above: Flat-top sinks seem even more “modern” to me. Sometimes ledge sinks had a short splash back — but not enough for me to bump them up to the Splash Back design category –>

 #7 — Splash-back bathroom sinks:

vintage bathroom sinks splash backAbove: Splash back sinks are pretty. They have an integral back splash. I believe this look was a hangover from Victorian and early 20th century designs.

Further geeky distinctions among mid century vintage bathroom sink designs:

  • I do not believe sinks that sat on top of the counter (sans hudee) were common until the 1960s. The slicing and dicing in this story stops around then.
  • Sinks may have been made porcelain-enamel-on-cast iron, porcelain-enamel-on-steel or all china porcelain.
  • Sinks may have sat on a single china pedestal or on legs, have been set in a vanity, or have been wall-hung.
  • Legs were typically chrome, although we have seen other designs. I remember one that looked like scrolled wrought iron, as I recall.
  • There were a few designs that were quite wide — 36″ — and incorporated, essentially, counter top space to the right and left of the wash basin. They sat in special vanities, were wall-hung, or sat on legs. For example: The American Standard Gracelynn.
  • There were also sinks designed to protrude from a vanity counter top, they were hudeed in, or tile-in.
  • Sinks may be corner sinks — and I tend to believe that corner sinks may have had any of the deck designs — shelf-, ledge-, flat-, slant-, or splash-back. Maybe not so much tile-in or hudee-ringed; but who knows.
  • Some vintage sinks had integral faucet spouts — like the Henry Dreyfuss-designed Cranes.  These also may have had different deck designs.
  • Further, I will put dental sinks intended for residential use into their own category. Some of these even delivered water from under the rim to clean out the sink after.
  • I will stop at the end of the 1950s for purposes of this analysis. Starting in the 1960s (I’ll guesstimate) we began to see even more one-piece sink/counter tops designed to plop right down on a vanity. There was push-button plumbing. And maybe more innovations. I need to find some Kohler catalogs from that period!

What do you think, readers?
Are my geeky lists correct and complete?

  1. Jules says:

    I just picked up a 1963 ledge style sink with chrome legs – sweet find from the local craigs list. Can anyone tell me how to determine the maker? I can find a date imprint, but thus far no brand. Ant tips?

  2. Alice says:

    I am searching for the fittings for sink #6 above. This sink is in great shape and has been in my house since installation in 1939-40 when house was built.
    Does anyone know where I can find the tub fixtures or fittings that match this sink. Called the Jamestown? I have a retro bathroom that I want to redo rather then tear up.

  3. Joe says:

    Hello – great looking fixtures and explanations. My wife and I own a home built in 1952 and I would like to re-do one of the baths with period pieces – an “integral” faucet sink and a matching round commode. I’d like to have a wall mount, with legs, and maybe side towel bars. I’d like to go color – green, blue, yellow or pink (in that order). My tub is original cast iron, white, but is well worn and needs to be re-coated. In any event, I need to look more at your website – I live in State College PA. Thanks for the leads. Now I have to do some homework. Cools stuff, the 50’s. I grew-up in a home with PINK fixtures, and chocolate and pink tile around the bathroom. I love the period. Thanks. Joe

  4. Melissa says:

    I am currently working on MY pink bathroom (I will be sharing pics).
    I have an American Standard sink. I purchased the house from a relative (c. 1948), so I have a good history on the house. At one time, I believe this sink had legs, but was replaced in the 70’s with a h*****[edited] sink cabinet. I was able to find replacement legs/ towel bars on eBay for a lovely $20. The only component missing was a part of connect the towel bars to the wall (in this set, the bars connect to the wall at the back, rather than under the sink).
    I thought I might stop by and post the link to the SO HARD TO FIND item I needed to do this:


    Hopefully, this will save someone else a lot of time.

  5. Dale says:

    What a great article! I was excited to finally find the name, picture and model number of the “Gramercy” shelf lavatory by Kohler. Two of that exact sink model are installed in the bathrooms of the circa-1950s home I just purchased. I love the sinks and the retro style of the bathrooms, which also have Kohler cast-iron tubs and ceramic tile throughout. I only wish that I could find replacement or reproduction chrome parts for the sink faucets to replace the original ones, because they have been scarred by the previous owner’s careless use of pliers from prior faucet valve repairs. Is there anywhere that I might find replacements for the chrome parts on these sinks? Thanks for the article and any suggestions you might have!

  6. Devin says:

    Anyone know of a good place to get rid of some vintage sinks in the CT area?? We’re renovating one of our bathrooms and have a 50’s Case-brand sink that’s in great shape. We also have three Case toilets (one without a tank top). I’m going to throw the sink on CL today, but was hoping there would be more somewhat local salvage places that buy this stuff. Anyone interested or who can provide me some info, I’d greatly appreciate it, shoot me an email me at devincomiskey.com
    We’ll have a second Case sink available at a later time when bathroom #2 is re-done (or unless someone offers us money for it!)

    1. pam kueber says:

      Yes, you can comparison shop. The website you link to is one of many retailing the designs of a number of wholesalers. Deabath.com is a longtime advertiser here on the blog – so try them, too.

    1. pam kueber says:

      yes, likely so. i will correct the statement as soon as i get a moment – thanks for the catch!

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