Emily Henderson was never a fan of this generic bathroom storage solution

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Since the 1920s, medicine cabinets have been the go-to storage in bathrooms, but designer Emily Henderson can’t understand why. In his new book, The new design rules, Henderson delves into everything about interior design, from choosing between a lever and a single-handle faucet to the exact height of a mudroom bench. And in the bathroom chapter, she spends two pages pointing out that she’s never been a fan of the obvious choice. In an excerpt, Henderson not only explains his reasoning, but offers his favorite alternative (and genius hack) for both those in need of organizational solutions and those short on square footage.


Believe it or not, choosing to have a medicine cabinet is among the most controversial decisions bathroom designers face. Let me explain why I’ve never been a fan.

  1. They may seem generic. I’m not saying they always are, but most ready-mades don’t make my heart sing. (Is there a hole in the market? Yes.)
  2. Their mounts are often too big and stocky. This is probably due to the weight of the cabinet itself, but that’s often not the look I’m going for.
  3. Flush/recessed versions require wall construction, and that’s scary if you’re not really interested in something long-term.
  4. Vouchers are really expensive, but can be worth it.
  5. Wall-mounted medicine cabinets can eat up real estate, which isn’t ideal in small spaces. That said, there is still one very good reason to stick with tradition and install a medicine cabinet: extra storage. If wall-to-wall construction isn’t for you, go for a statement mirror – what I like to think of as the bathroom’s work of art. And install it so that you have about 64 inches from the floor to the center of the mirror.
bathroom with wooden vanity and rounded square mirrors

A vanity with a cabinet below or a freestanding cabinet or a linen closet is the most practical versatile solution. A good DIY is to inset the cabinet (simple shallow shelves will do), find a vintage mirror of the right size, and add hinges to one edge. With some careful measuring and craftsmanship, mount it like your medicine cabinet. Now you have hidden storage in such a chic way.

bathroom with marble floor and black vanity

Reprinted from the New design rules. Copyright © 2022 Emily Henderson with Jessica Cumberbatch-Anderson. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Sara Ligorria-Tramp. Produced and styled by Velinda Hellen. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

the new design rule book cover

The New Rules of Design: How to Decorate and Renovate, Start to Finish ($22.99, down from $32.5)

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