1

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. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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….

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    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. 🙂

    1. 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.

  6. 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 –

  7. 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.

      1. 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

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

Leave a Reply

Commenting: Information

All comments are moderated, generally within 24 hours. By using this website you are agreeing to the site's >> Terms of Service, << which include commenting policies, and our >> Privacy Notice. << Before participating, read them in full.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.