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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:

  1. 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. 🙂

  2. 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 –

  3. 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.

  4. 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. 🙂

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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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