Build a Floating Vanity
A modern cherry cabinet supports a heavy counter while levitating above the bath floor.
Synopsis: Since Fine Homebuilding‘s Project House had a new bathroom sink (see “A New Approach to Concrete,” FHB #234) made by Buddy Rhodes, it was time to get a cabinet to accompany the sink. The editors turned to Nancy Hiller, and in this “Master Carpenter” article, she describes how she built a sleek cherry vanity that floats over the bathroom floor and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For this vanity, Hiller used plywood for the carcases, but coated the exterior with cherry-veneered moisture-resistant MDF. After the carcases and drawers were assembled, Hiller hung the unit on the bathroom wall, using four 16-in. steel brackets (rated for 330 lb. per pair) to suspend the vanity. This article includes sidebars on custom veneer, clamping techniques to make sure boxes are square, using router templates for precise work, and determining the extent of support that a hanging vanity needs. A companion video about this project also is available.
As someone who prefers not to be vexed by job-related anxieties in the wee hours, I work hard to prevent foreseeable problems. On most jobs, gravity is the cabinetmaker’s friend. When it comes to floating furniture, however, gravity poses certain challenges. If you don’t take these challenges seriously, you may find yourself with a cabinet that wants to fall apart—or worse, one that falls off the wall.
Fine Homebuilding asked me to build a bathroom vanity for their Project House, and structural challenges were only one of the issues. Designed by architect Duncan McPherson, the cabinet’s sleek, clean look depended on careful planning and on maintaining sharp lines. The vanity also was intended to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, so the center portion below the sink was to be removable for wheelchair access. To accentuate the horizontal shape, I wanted to wrap the exterior in the continuous grain of cherry-veneered moisture-resistant MDF; the carcases could be made from maple plywood. Solid maple drawers would be dovetailed for looks and strength.
Strength from fasteners and face frames
To build the cabinets, I began by cutting the case parts from prefinished 3⁄4-in.-thick maple plywood. Because the sides of this cabinet were to have finished panels applied during installation, the 1⁄4-in. plywood backs could simply be applied to the back of the cases, instead of housed in a groove or a rabbet.
To ensure the strength of these cabinets, I built them with biscuits interspersed with 2-in. Confirmat screws. After gluing and clamping the cases, I cleaned up glue squeeze-out and installed the screws.
Although the design is European-inspired, I added face frames to reinforce the structure of the cases and to have an alternative to veneer tape for covering the plywood edges.
I milled solid-cherry stiles and rails, and joined the parts with pocket screws to make the face frames. I attached each frame to its case with glue and clamps, positioning the clamps inside the box so that pressure would be applied at the visible joints between case edge and face frame. After cutting the 1⁄4-in. backs for all three cases, I test-fit the cases to each other in their final configuration, using T-nuts, bolts, and screws to attach the removable center case to the outer sections.
Dovetailed drawers are easy with the right jig
Once the cases were fitted with their face frames, I installed the drawer slides. This way, I knew the exact dimensions of the drawer boxes. I also kept the hardware in mind when determining where to cut the groove for drawer bottoms, because some types of drawer slides require a specific location relative to the bottom of the drawer side.
For more photos and details, click the View PDF button below: