A recessed medicine cabinet needs to be anchored inside the wall to a rectangle of framing, the center of which must be clear of obstructions. So the first order of business in installing one, before you even buy the cabinet, is looking inside the wall (see Step 1) to be sure there are no obstacles that can’t be moved. Electrical wires, studs in a non-load-bearing wall, and sometimes plumbing supply lines can be rerouted, but a large vent pipe or any load-bearing framing would be more difficult to get out of the way. If you encounter either of the latter while inspecting the wall, you should skip this project and instead buy a surface-mounted cabinet. When you know what cabinet you want, you have to settle on its exact placement.

A general rule of thumb is that the top of the cabinet box (not the door trim) should be 72 inches off the floor. But This Old House general contractor Tom Silva is more flexible. “Most people make the mistake of hanging it too high,” he says. “Then you end up looking more at the ceiling than at yourself.” He suggests starting with the 72-inch rule, but adjusting it to make sure you can see your face and some of your body in the mirror while still giving you room to place items on the sink or toothbrush holder below. You will likely have to cut away part of a stud to make room, as most wall framing is set on 16-inch centers but many medicine cabinets are more than 18 inches wide. This requires not only cutting through the stud but disconnecting it from the wall behind it by slicing through the fasteners. With the stud out of the way, you can install horizontal and vertical 2x4 blocking to create a frame in which to slide the cabinet. The blocking ties into the existing wall framing, creating a sturdy structure to hold the cabinet. The cabinet itself has a lip to overlap the edges of the cut wall, so once it’s screwed to the framing, all that’s left to do is attach the door, slide in the shelves, and stock it up.
Ask TOH users about Bathroom

Contribute to This Story Below

    Tools List

    • studfinder
      Stud finder
    • utility knife
      Utility knife,
      to score drywall
    • keyhole saw
      Keyhole saw,
      to cut openings in wall
    • flashlight
    • two-foot level
    • hacksaw blade
      Hacksaw blade,
      to cut drywall screws
    • hand saw
      Handsaw (to cut studs
    • rasp
      to tailor the drywall opening to fit
    • drill

    Shopping List

    1. Medicine Cabinet: Look specifically for cabinets labeled "recessed," though a surface-mount cabinet can be converted into a recessed one, as long as its sides can slip into the wall cavity without obstruction.

    2. 2x4 Lumber: For the blocking, which makes the frame to which you'll fasten the cabinet. Use scraps if you have them, or one 8- to 10-foot piece should be enough.

    3. Construction Adhesive: To help attach the blocking.

    4. 21/2-inch Decking Screws: To fasten th blocking to the studs.

    5. 11/2-inch Drywall Screws: To hold the cut drywall edges to the blocking and to mount the cabinet.

    6. Caulk (as needed): To fill gaps between the cabinet frame and the wall.