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The vintage vanity, designed as a place for leading ladies to primp and preen, as well as engage in a little unabashed, well,… vanity, easily ranks among the most polarizing vintage finds. Whereas contemporary life—for better or worse—is often guided by the tagline Doing it for the ‘gram, Doing it for the glam feels like the mantra of a bygone era— when women wore fur-collated dressing gowns and generally had an hour or two to spare beautifying in front of the mirror.

This isn’t to say that a vintage vanity can’t be holistically integrated into modern interiors. In fact, when reworked just a touch, the virtues of the antique vanity become clear. While double sinks were intended to be the great equalizer for the past decade or so, it’s recently become clear that couples need not do everything in synthesis. In fact, a little personal space can be a very wise (some might say “marriage-salvaging”) proposition. A vintage vanity with a mirror accommodates the need for personal space with aplomb. An abundance of drawers offers a proper place for corralling a cache of combs, cosmetics, and compacts that were previously causing tensions piled up on a shared countertop, while a plush seat encourages turning a rushed face routine into a well-earned minute of self-care.

If an antique vanity still seems like too gender-specific a proposition for your master bedroom or bath, consider selecting a vanity that doesn’t lead with its feminine guiles. Rather than the sweetheart-shaped mirrored vanities that starlets like Katharine Hepburn and Rita Hayworth gazed into, look for vintage vanity sets that pack a bit more brawn. Art Deco vanities, for instance, were often constructed of weighty hunks of polished burl or massacar wood. The result is a vanity that looks to be a closer cousin to the executive desk than a standard vanity. Similarly, Mid-Century Modern vanities by Scandinavian makers have a tendency to trend more robust than dainty. Simple, square vanities constructed of teak and outfitted with tops that flipped up to reveal concealed mirrors were a favored style of many Scandinavian makers. Today, these vintage vanities are the antithesis of the girly glam stations that dominated the golden era of film.

But perhaps more important than an actual vanity itself is what the vanity stands for: a private space of one’s own. Owners of houses that lack the square footage for an antique makeup vanity can procure an alternate set-up with a similar sentiment by swapping a vanity with a built-in mirror for a desk or dresser with a mirror hung above. Vivifying the vanity is all about reinterpreting this classic style in a way that feels most relevant to the beholder, be that a place to prettify or simply a place to decompress.

What are vanity dressers?

Plug in the words “vanities for sale” and you’ll be flooded with options that look nothing like the typical desk-style vanity, but instead look more like a dresser with a mirror placed overtop. Which begs the question: in a world of stand-up desks, why not a stand-up vanity? Vanity dressers may not have the sit-down-and-stay awhile appeal that run-of-the-mill vanities do, but they are a saving grace in secondary bedrooms that don’t have an en suite bath and don’t have the space for both a dresser and a vanity. Consider deploying one in a guest room so that overnighters can get a head start on their morning routine before having to march down the hall to the communal bath.

Does a vanity require a vanity bench?

Vanity purists may call foul, but there’s no steadfast rule that you can’t swap out a vanity bench or stool for a chair or even an ottoman. If you’re trying to decide what style chair to partner with your vanity, consider a skirted or slipcovered number, which can lend a bit of softness to the vanity’s front. Chairs with fancy shield backs or decorative ladder backs can be tempting, but they’re likely to distract from a vanity’s own gravitas. Some vintage makeup vanities are simply too low to accommodate a chair, so do bust a tape measure if you think your vintage vanity’s clearance might come up short.

Can you swap a vanity for a desk?

A desk actually makes a champion vanity, especially when teamed with a striking mirror. The trick to making two disparate pieces appear like a single unit? Choose a mirror in a finish that echoes the details of your desk. For instance, a gold mirror will sync beautifully with a desk bearing brass drawer pulls or corner caps. Accessories can also go a long way to helping a desk identify as a vanity over a workspace. Placing matching table lamps on either side of a desk can help pump up the aura, as can spreading a series of glass vessels or bowls across the surface area of your desk to collect jewelry and other baubles. If the idea of using a table other than a vanity appeals to you, but not necessarily a desk, you can grab a bare-bones table and drape in a fabric with a pleasing pattern. Have a tailor add darting or pleats to polish the look. The finishing touch? A chunky mirror that won't recede into the pattern below.