Emily Henderson Is Anti-Medicine Cabinet – Here’s What You’ll Use Instead

Since the 1920s, medicine cabinets have been the space-saving storage in bathrooms, but designer Emily Henderson doesn’t understand why. In her new book, New design rulesHenderson delves into everything interior design—from choosing between a single handle lever and faucet to the exact height of the mud seat. And in bathroom class, she spent two pages making it clear that she’s never been a fan of the obvious choice. In an excerpt, Henderson not only explains her reasoning, but offers her favorite alternative (and one genius hack) for both those who need organizational solutions and are limited to square footage.


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

  1. It can look generic. I’m not saying they always are, but most off-the-shelf products don’t make my heart sing. (Is there a gap in the market? Yes).
  2. Their tires are often quite large and chunky. This is likely due to the weight of the cabinet itself, but it’s often not the look I’m after.
  3. The indoor/recessed versions require a wall to be built, which is scary if you aren’t interested in something in the long run.
  4. The good stuff is really expensive, but it can be worth it.
  5. Wall-mounted medicine cabinets can eat up real estate, and they’re not great in small spaces. However, there’s still a very good reason to keep up with tradition and install a medicine cabinet: extra storage space. If wall construction isn’t for you, opt for a cool mirror – what I like to think of as bathroom artwork. Install it so that you have approximately 64 inches from the floor to the center of the mirror.
Bathroom with wooden vanity and square round mirror

A vanity with an under cabinet, freestanding armoire or linen closet is the most practical and multipurpose solution. One great DIY hack is to recess the cabinet (simple shallow shelves will work), find an antique mirror in the right size, and add hinges to one edge. With some careful measurement and craftsmanship, set it up as your own medicine cabinet. You now have hidden storage in this neat way.

Bathroom with marble floors and black vanity

Reprinted from The New design rules. Copyright © 2022 Emily Henderson with Jessica Cumberbatch-Anderson. Images copyright © 2022 by Sara Ligorria-Tramp. Produced and designed by Vilinda Helen. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.

New Design Rules book cover

The New Design Rules: How to Decorate and Renew, From Start to Finish ($22.99, was $32.5)

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