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Why is it called a vanity unit?
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Why is it called a vanity unit?

Posted by Adam Chard in Buying guides | 1 month ago 4 min read

New to bathroom buying? If so, this may be the first time you’ve heard the term “vanity unit”. In this article, we explain what it is and how it earnt this rather odd name.

Hi. My name’s Adam and I’m Victoria Plum’s resident bathroom boffin. For the past decade, I’ve been explaining how bathrooms work and bringing you the best inspiration for this most private of sanctuaries. I’ll also attempt to answer any question you may have about bathrooms to help demystify the whole bathroom buying process.

One question I commonly hear is “Why is a particular item of furniture called a vanity unit?”. In this article, I’ll attempt to explain this, but first, let’s understand exactly what a vanity unit is.

What is a vanity unit?

A "vanity unit" typically refers to a piece of bathroom furniture that combines a washbasin with a storage cabinet underneath.

In British bathrooms, a vanity unit commonly comes in the form of a floorstanding furniture item, somewhere between 400mm and 700mm in width, with doors or drawers and a ceramic basin. And while floorstanding models are more common, wall hung vanity units are proving increasingly popular.

Orchard Dulwich stone ivory floorstanding vanity unit with semi recessed basin 600mm

The Dulwich stone ivory vanity unit is one of our bestselling bathroom vanity units

So, why do we call this particular furniture item a “vanity unit”?

The term "vanity" in this context originates from the concept of a dressing table or dressing room, historically known as a "vanity." These tables were originally designed as a place for women to sit and prepare themselves, often featuring a mirror and drawers to store cosmetics, perfumes and other personal items. Hence, it would be a place to serve your sense of vanity—taking excessive pride in your own appearance.

Interestingly, the word itself comes from the Latin word "vanitas”, meaning emptiness or worthlessness. In many philosophical and religious traditions, vanity is considered a negative trait associated with superficiality and a lack of deeper meaning or substance in life.

In everyday language, calling something or someone "vain" often implies that they’re overly concerned with their appearance or self-image, sometimes to the point of being self-centred or narcissistic. However, paying occasional attention to appearance is normal and healthy; it is only when this becomes excessive and consumes thoughts and actions, where it may be considered vanity. Hence, a “vanity” would be somewhere to indulge these excesses…something much sought after by the aspirational of bygone times.

Adler bathroom furniture

A vanity unit usually forms part of a wider bathroom suite

What purpose does a vanity unit serve?

In the context of a bathroom, a vanity unit serves a similar purpose to one of these dressing tables of old, by providing a convenient space for grooming and personal care activities. It usually includes a sink or basin for washing, along with storage space for towels, toiletries, and other bathroom essentials. The term "vanity unit" thus reflects its function as a practical yet stylish piece of furniture designed to facilitate personal grooming and hygiene routines.

Orchard Derwent white wall hung vanity unit and ceramic basin 600mm

Wall hung vanity units, like this one from our space-saving Derwent furniture range, are gaining popularity in the UK

Is a bathroom vanity different to a vanity unit?

Depending where in the world you are, you may hear the terms “bathroom vanity” or “vanities” being used, rather than the British English term “vanity unit”. The term "bathroom vanity" is commonly used in American English to refer to a piece of bathroom furniture that incorporates a sink or basin and often includes a countertop and storage space underneath. However, in American bathrooms (which generally tend to be larger than their British counterparts), a “vanity” may refer to a much larger pieces of furniture than you’d expect to find in the average British bathroom.

Despite this, the terms “vanity”, “bathroom vanity” and “vanity unit” may be used interchangeably by English speakers around the world to mean, basically, the same thing. So, whichever term you use, you’re highly likely to be understood.

Mode Hardy white floorstanding double vanity unit and basin 1380mm

While less common, double vanity units, like this one from our Hardy furniture range, are great for larger, shared bathrooms

More handy advice on bathroom furniture

With a world of resources at your fingertips, make Victoria Plum your first port of call for all things bathroom furniture-related.

Searching for articles about vanity units specifically? Read our vanity unit guide to find out everything you need to know before you buy, or why not check out our beginner’s guide to floating bathroom vanities.

For inspiration, discover our favourite floorstanding vanity units and best bathroom sink cabinets.

For DIY tips, read our steps for installing a bathroom vanity unit and discover the right height for your vanity unit.

Shop bathroom furniture

Now you know why a vanity unit is called a vanity unit, why not browse our full and comprehensive range of bathroom furniture? We’re sure you’ll find the perfect solution for your specific needs.

Shop bathroom furniture

Author, Adam Chard

Posted by Adam Chard in Buying guides | 1 month ago

A born & raised West Countryman, now living on the Yorkshire Coast, for over 10 years Adam has been bringing home interior ideas to life at Victoria Plum. Adam’s favourite interior styles have been shaped by both urban and natural influences.

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