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. Diego Garcia says:

    I’m confused by your repetitive use of the word “geeky.” This is information that those interested in restoring a bathroom would find useful. That’s why I’m here.

  2. Ben says:

    I have a Kohler Hudson in my bathroom, with a late model cheap faucet installed by the previous owners. I’m trying to find a faucet that at least looks correct, but I can’t very well see what the original looked like in the pic. Could anyone point me in the right direction?

  3. David Thomas says:

    Hello and congratulation on putting up such as useful and enjoyable website, at least from my perspective. I have spent some time this past spring looking for a way to fix the faucets on the original bathroom in my house on CapeCod built by my dad in 1950. It was originally a modest “capecod” cottage located on a salt “pond” as they call it on the Cape that we lived in during summers and which gave us much joy and still does. Wife and I are looking forward to retirement in the next few years and we are in the process of renovating and expanding it. We have been trying to find a way to keep as much of the original house while blending in the additions. so far it is proceeding well but I am trying to solve the challenge of the keeping the “old” bathroom intact with original 1950 tub and sink though have replaced the toilet as wanted low flow and matched up well though smaller! Tub ok, and sink ok but needs to have faucet relaxed and the stems are leaking and though I have replaced the washers several times it is the stems that need replacing. Until I came across your website I did not think I could replace the sink. Now think that is the way to go. My sink is similar to the Kholer line you display called self lavatories, specifically, Strand, Tauton, Delton, though the size of mine is 18″ wide, 17″ wide, e.g., from the wall out.

    Be grateful for any help you can provide.

    All best,


    1. pam kueber says:

      take a look at deabath.com — they can help with a lot of faucet / plumbing issues

      Also see all our research in the Bathroom Help category and its subcategories

      your place sounds wonderful !

      1. David says:

        thanks Pam,

        found the website you suggest just before I found your blog. Took a look around but became confusing as to which faucet, but take a look on Tuesday when they reopen and give them a call now that I have had a chance to educate myself somewhat.

        Hope they have the model that I can use but if not it looks as if they have the stem I can adapt. Will let you know.



  4. Kathy says:

    I like to see the close up of the faucet—appears that it is not much different from one circa maybe 1934, and I see simple lever and cross handles. I guess the bullet type faucet handles are more 1960s than 1950s.

    I have 1962 bathrooms, and one is a slant back sink with Hudee ring, and the other one is just an oval drop-in (no Hudee) with gold sparkle laminate.

    1. David says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Sink was installed in 1950. May have been changed in the 60’s as I was away for several years in the 60s but don’t think so as dad had gone to great beyond in 1959 and I heard nothing from mother about sink being replaced. Will send a pic of the faucet. Good idea.



  5. Miriam says:

    I saw a picture of a bathroom from the 50’s and it had 2 sinks like the ones you show above and I was wondering what the small sink was for

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