Is the Built-in Makeup Vanity Dated? Yay or Nay

My lovely reader needs advice on her new build project. She’s wondering if the design plan for her built-in makeup vanity is dated. This situation is really more of a good design vs. bad design. Here’s how to get it right if you are planning a new build.

New build season is right around the corner, so I recently received this great Ask Maria question:

As you are aware, planning for cabinets is a huge job. I am wondering what your thoughts are regarding making a place for sitting to apply makeup in the master bath. I have 2 separate vanities – a 5′ for him and a 7′ for me. My designer planned a place for my vanity to have a place to sit for makeup but I am just not sure if this is a passé plan. What are your thoughts??

Sometimes when I get asked a question I’ve never thought about before it makes me sit and think for a second.

Hmm. . . . what is my opinion here?

Is my makeup vanity dated?

Are they dated? Since I don’t design millwork, I don’t have an instant opinion about that.

But I have definitely seen a lot of badly designed, after-thought-vanities in master bathrooms.

And then I realized something.

This kind of a situation falls into the ‘good design/bad design’ category.

My guess, without seeing any photos, is she’s reacting to the design itself. Not the idea of the vanity.

So because the design is bad, you start to question whether the whole idea is bad. Have you ever had this happen?

After all, functionally, I think it’s a great idea if you have space to sit to do your hair and makeup!

So how do you get it right?

How to design a makeup vanity

Here are some lovely inspiration photos if you are designing a vanity:

Love this design which works really well because of the natural light. Perfect for applying makeup. Plus it’s right in the middle, giving this a pretty, symmetrical feel.

House Beautiful 

If you have space in your closet it would work there too:

Studio DB

This is a beautifully designed makeup vanity:

BHG

Not every makeup vanity has to be built in. 

You could also consider a free-standing vanity like my client Crystal suddenly had room for in her bathroom redesign:

White Bathrooms | Master Ensuite Bathroom Design | Makeup Station | Pink Makeup Desk | Decorating with Pink

Mirror | AFTER | Interior Design by Maria Killam

However, back to reality, this is more like the design we normally see (below):

This kind of design with the bad pony wall would make me question if the whole vanity idea should be scrapped as well.

And, just for good measure, check out this post about my favorite vanity lights to replace your ugly builder grade bar light.

Remember if you are questioning any part of your designers or architects plans, one place to look is whether it’s well-designed or not? Start searching for other images in the same configuration. This might help to figure out if the plans you have translate to good design or bad design?

Over to you my lovelies! Those of you who are planning a bathroom redesign, are you including a built-in makeup vanity?

Are they dated? Yay or Nay?

If you have a question for my Ask Maria column, send photos to this email. Please note, good photos of a cleaned up room will have a higher chance of being considered.

PS. If you’re last minute Christmas shopping, you can share classic and timeless design and give the gift of colour with a Maria Killam Gift Certificate. Purchase in any amount starting at $50. Your loved one can apply it to any online product, training event, or eDesign service they choose. Buy it here.

Maria Killam Gift Card

 

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  1. I say, “Nay” — not dated — but I think you nailed it, Maria, when you focused on the issue of poor design. The examples you presented proved your point nicely. Despite the lovely hard surfaces chosen, the pony wall design screamed 1990s to me while the others looked current.

    I would also say I don’t know many women who have a seated makeup area on their master bath wish lists, but I can imagine someone sitting and enjoying the luxury of taking their time getting ready for a special occasion. So, where there is a need, my inclination would be to address it with furniture vs. a built-in and maybe design the space for the bedroom, especially if the bath is shared. No need to rush if someone else is waiting to shower and no steam mussing with your hair and makeup. I love installing a writing table which can multi-task as a bedside table, laptop desk, study space, or vanity.

  2. I think this depends on the homeowner. Is there someone in the house who spends a lot of time on hair and makeup? Is there space available? I’m more concerned if the space is useful to someone or not.

  3. There was a makeup vanity in my 1920’s house and loved it. It was in the dressing area of the bedroom. Very useful as we only had one bathroom, so it provided more flexibility for freeing up the bathroom.
    Are they dated? I think so. But that’s just my opinion.

  4. Vanity spaces used for applying makeup seem wasted to me. I like having a sink/ water at arm’s length when i apply makeup, plus need a magnifying mirror and excellent lighting. If i had all that and a comfy chair, well, then OK!

  5. Agreed with the comment above. I’d focus on the bathroom itself, is the tub or shower crowded, adequate storage??

    I would take a largest bath closet over a make up vanity !

  6. Like you pointed out, I don’t think it’s dated if it’s well done. But the most important question is will you actually sit down and use it? I think the home should suit the owner and HER needs rather than trying to check a box off because “this is what everyone is doing”. It kind of sounds to me the designer is trying to break up a large expanse of vanity by adding one. Depending on the age of the homeowner and expected duration in the home, it could be a nice “age in place” feature.

    • I’m 68 and a sit down vanity is a waste of space to me. I’m with Mary above: I want water at hand as well as a magnifying mirror and good lighting! As a realtor I used to advise clients against them unless they really would use them and they were well designed (lighting!). In my career I’ve seen way too many master baths with cramped counter space so the vanity could get wedged in where it would’ve been better to have a longer counter.

  7. Lovely inspiration photos! I have had them in the past and I have found the makeup vanity space is much like the kitchen desk — a nice luxury if you have the space but not well used.
    I ended up placing a laundry hamper under my makeup vanity counter, and I placed a wine fridge where a kitchen desk chair used to sit. So my vote is – make the space flexible. Who knows? May she will want to convert the vanity into a coffee station 😉

  8. Great posts! Both this one and the last. I would say to consider universal design. If one ages in place, a spot to be seated with lots of natural light would be welcome. Even consider one sink and vanity that would accommodate a wheelchair. I think this could be done with a timeless materials and a beautiful look and feel

    • Replying to myself, Maria, I would like to see your thoughts on the topic of beautiful, functional, timeless aging in place, AKA universal design. I’m only in my 50s and very fit but my parents in their 70s just built a lovely home with a pinch point between the island and the fridge. It’s on my mind. I feel if I remodel or build and don’t leave enough room to ambulate with a walker or wheel chair, it will cost more $ or hasten my departure from “home”!

      • Great question Brenda! I think about this all the time- how to seamlessly incorporate functional changes that work all for all aspects of lifecycle. Not necessarily even for the aging only- a lot of people have health complications pop up unexpectedly…or take on aging parents in their own homes… being able to accommodate that seems like good design!

      • Echoing Brenda’s request, I’d love a post incorporating your thoughts on beautiful and timeless ways to do universal design.

    • I’m in my early 50’s and started thinking recently how it would be so much easier to sit & apply make-up. It’s getting more uncomfortable trying to do it bending over a magnifying mirror, or squatting down to look into the mirror – my legs aren’t as strong anymore. I still don’t mind standing to do my hair though, but I’m sure the time will come that I will.

  9. I have two thoughts here:

    First, I’ve never had a vanity and I’m not sure I could learn how to put makeup on while sitting down.

    Second, having a vanity in a bathroom would make a good place for a desk/office for the lock down. Quiet, private, pretty.

  10. I absolutely LOVE having a sit down makeup vanity in my bathroom. When I bought my home, the framing had just been finished. Luckily, I was able to have my bathroom wall moved 18”, giving me space between the 2 sinks to have a makeup vanity. I use Kohler Vox vessel sinks – then the countertop is low enough to sit at the makeup area, but the sinks are high enough. Across from the vanity I gained the space for shelves for towels and baskets for supplies.

  11. It depends on the client and their wants and needs. Me, personally? Our house came with one and I don’t sit there and do makeup and hair. I stand. But maybe in 20 years, I would prefer to sit. I do seem to require more makeup year after year, so in 20 years this could be quite the process! LOL But I do agree with you on incorporating great design and not making it feel like a jammed-in afterthought:)

  12. YES YES YES, I love my makeup vanity and will always have one in my homes. I am on my third new construction home and always try to notch out a little space in the closet for one. It helps keep the mess of makeup, hair products, perfume bottles and etc contained to the closet and it’s so much more comfortable to sit while doing hair and makeup. This keeps my main vanity always nice and tidy! I would rather have less hanging clothes space and an area for vanity in closet any day over more clothes!!

  13. I had a built in make up vanity in my previous home and I loved it – but it was in my walk-in closet, NOT the master bath. I would have hated trying to share that steamy space with my husband. Think of the logistics! When I moved to my current home, I knew the only thing I would miss is my vanity. I solved the dilemna by moving a small chest to my office, hanging a mirror behind it, and repurposing it as my makeup, hair, jewelry, etc., vanity replacement. Not as stunning as some of your examples, but it works pretty darn well!

  14. Since the pandemic arrived I have not worn makeup in 9 months (it has now all expired). It is interesting to me that so many women do like a dedicated area to apply makeup. There used to be a vanity table used years ago; it would have a large attached mirror, a low area to sit at and drawers on each side for storage. My 3 aunts each had one in their homes but it was always placed in the bedroom.

    In the designs pictured there does not seem to be much room allowed for product storage. I think people that enjoy makeup have innumerable little pots and cases and brushes and bottles and tubes; where does one put all of that on a tiny table with a little drawer?

  15. When we are designing a home-we always ASK the homeowner-do you prefer to sit or stand to do your hair and make-up? The answer to that question dictates the design. Typically if we have someone who prefers a true make-up vanity-we then incorporate it into the master closet. Out of the way, out of the heat and humidity, and it becomes a very personalized space. Our kneespaces tend to be 36” wide with a narrow make-up drawer and flanked with either 1 or 2 sets of drawers. The lower drawer usually has a built in hair organizer for blow dryer and curling iron/flat iron storage with electrical incorporated in the drawer. Homeowners who sit love their spaces!

    • Love your answer Jen. Design with function and the owner. I have had to argue with so many designers/architects mostly male, but some women over what I, the owner who was going to live in the space wanted.

      • Love my vanity in the bathroom! All my lotions and potions together, near a sink and my hair products/tools right at hand. I have always sat to do makeup, skincare and hair. I have a beautiful chair, set up my iPad and listen to YouTube videos while I ‘get ready’.

        • I always sit to do my make up at a little vanity table in my bedroom, in front of the patio slider, so lots of natural light. Can’t imagine standing to do it. Bottom line, I need a place in the bedroom or the bathroom to SIT with sufficient counter + drawer space and natural light. So for me, not dated. But it’s interesting how everyone does it differently!

  16. Nay.
    Don’t build something in that may not cater to ALL of the population (i.e: some women don’t wear makeup, male same sex couples who may/ may not wear makeup, women who prefer doing their makeup outside the bathroom). I equate it to the kitchen desk area: a total waste no matter how it’s done: and a recipe for clutter.

    If you have space in your bathroom: put in a lovely desk/table and a stool and use that in there, instead of a built-in. If you move you can take that with you, and the new owners won’t get annoyed 😉

    Definitely a Nay for me.

  17. I remodeled my master bath last year. I got rid of the vanity which I never used. I’m planning to stay here as long as possible so if I ever need a place to sit down as I get older, I will probably put a freestanding in the bedroom where I do have plenty of space. Now in the master I have a lot more storage/drawers and I love it. I’ve stopped considering resale issues – I’ve remodeled for ME to enjoy since I have no plans to move.

  18. Rebecca Burlingham

    The first question I ask my clients is “Do you use it?” Most clients say, “No”. They use it as a place for a trash can or hamper. A recent client stashed her dog bed there. Most clients, given the space, would prefer a tall cabinet sitting on the counter for storage as well as a generous set of drawers in the spot where the lap drawer used to be.
    Personally, I prefer to get out of the heat and humidity of the bathroom and sit at the small desk near the window of our bedroom. I also do not like the entrance to the master closet to be in the bathroom for the same reason.

  19. We have a built in 1980s make up vanity and I currently use it as a storage nook for my laundry hamper and cat food. Since I rarely apply makeup and style my hair nicely this feature isn’t meant for a person like me. I would rather have a linen closet, pull out laundry hampers or even better a washer/dryer in its place 😂.

  20. I’m a huge fan of the makeup vanity because I have one, use it everyday, and it makes me feel pampered and spoiled. Having said that, there are a few things that make my makeup vanity work that are really important to me. Our master bath is very large, so my makeup vanity does not take up valuable storage space. I had it designed so that there are two shallow drawers to my right and left (one would do) where I keep all my makeup. It’s much more convenient than having the drawer(s) directly in front of you. (My husband laughs at how spoiled I am when he sees me sitting between the two open drawers full of cosmetics, but it is awesome!) I also had it designed so that the cabinet to my right has outlets inside for me to keep my hairdryer, curling iron, etc. I just open that cabinet, and all I need to do my hair is there. The sink is to my left. I do have to stand up and go over and wash my hands a few times, but it is just a few steps away. I never thought I “needed” a makeup vanity until I had one in a former home. Now, I would be sad not to have one.

  21. I am including a vanity table in our current master suite addition. It will br centered in a long run of cabinets and his/her sinks and will include the drawers with outlet for hair appliances. It is one of those personal luxuries that I really value, along with heated floors and under cabinet night lighting. It will also allow me to have a small (under 12″) pretty lamp on the surface for an extra layer of lighting in the bathroom.

  22. Everything about my home is dated..including me. But the built in, seated vanity space was there and in a separate area from the tub and shower. For 30 years In my previous home, I did hair/makeup standing up, to the point of having a permanent dent in my thigh from a drawer pull!
    Sitting as opposed to standing? Yep.

  23. If you buy a home built in the 1980’s with a 6′ motel-style vanity alcove off the bedroom with bedroom carpet running all the way to a built-in single sink vanity cabinet joined to a 30″ dropped makeup tabletop, and no extra cabinet storage, it’s more than dated, it’s miserable. I live in such a home in Sun City West, AZ, a Del Webb retirement community. I totally get that back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we had the Sundome, a large outdoor/indoor entertainment venue and all the big entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence, etc. used to come in regularly, and folks around here who ran around in golf shirts and shorts or themed tops and capri pants everywhere, even to church on Sunday, dressed to the nines for these events, and the women of those days loved this little luxury in their newly built, reasonably priced retirement homes. All of this lifestyle was gone by the time of the homes built in 1990 forward such as the one my late husband and I bought in 2004 with stucco and clay tile roofs, high ceilings and lots of light from lots of windows.

    The home I bought later was built in 1986 and had the dreaded vanity alcove as described above. With no funds for major changes, the first thing I did was get someone to cut the attached faux marble makeup table top out from the side of the vanity cabinet and the wall and to take down the mirror portion above it so that I could put some kind of stand-alone cabinet there temporarily until I decided how to redo the whole vanity area.

    I don’t think women in general spend as much time putting on makeup today as they did 30 or more years ago. We live in a faster, busier world, even if retired, and a makeup table built in to the rest of the vanity area can not only look dated but can be mostly wasted space. If you’ve got a large bathroom, money to spare and a good designer (and/or if you have other considerations such as someone wheelchair bound, etc.), go for it, but I like the idea of a separate makeup table either in a small converted closet or the master closet or an all-purpose table in the bedroom.

  24. This reminds me of the desks built into kitchens (matching the cabinetry) that was popular for decades but seems less so now.

    Would you have the same answer on that? Depends on how well it’s done? Or is it an out-of-fashion idea that would date your kitchen and turn off most home shoppers today?

    • I have never seen a desk in a kitchen that didn’t become a clutter collector, used or not, as others have said. I think the reason why the desk in the kitchen went out of favour is because people needed office space and the best spot to sit all day is definitely not the kitchen. Thanks for your comment, Maria

    • As a cabinetry designer, I find that most people don’t use those desk areas in kitchens. They might pile up mail there, but they don’t sit and use it. With laptops and tablets people are much more likely to take their work to the kitchen island or table than sit facing a wall. I try to replace those areas with functional banks of drawers or other storage people can put their mail and technology chargers away and off of the countertop.

  25. For me personally, it was a wasted space in a home that we purchased many years ago. It was too low and I have never sat to do my hair nor my makeup. In our current home that we designed, I used the space to put in a window seat with drawers to stash our “sleeping” pillows. I use the window seat daily to put on shoes, etc. The photos you showed are beautiful and perfect if the homeowner can design the space for their needs, but the basic knee-hole space with a small drawer is really not ideal. Our walk-in closet has a flexible space that could be a vanity area, if needed.

  26. I think that if the vanity is well designed, has adequate space, and meets the needs of the homeowners then it could be an excellent feature. An aspect to consider would be accessible design; for people in wheelchairs or the elderly – or at least those who are not 29 anymore. I’m only 50 and able-bodied but being able to sit down to apply makeup is a welcome luxury. This could be about future-proofing your bathroom and allowing aging-in-place. If you have the space for it!

  27. If I’m sharing a bath, then I do Not want my vanity in the bathroom.
    If not sharing a bath, then I prefer to have separate area in the bath for vanity location. I like to have more space, more electrical options.
    Under NO circumstances would I choose to put my vanity in between 2 sinks!

  28. Dated? Maybe. I got accustomed to sitting when I was in a boot (twice) with achilles issues. I also let my hair grow during pandemic and use a round, dryer brush thing to dry/style my hair and it takes forever! Not much makeup going on but still like to sit with my magnifying mirror to apply makeup. We are in process of a new build and I will have a spot to sit, but not quite as nice as your examples as we a using extra space for potential wheelchair accessibility. Maybe we need to take a second look at that space….?

  29. Dated, waste of space. But I do have an antique dressing table with tall mirror that functions as a full length mirror. I am 65 years old and have never applied makeup or done my hair from a seated position.

  30. I have a pre WWII metal desk that I use. It has polished chrome trim and weathered brass handles. I took it to an auto body shop and had it painted a glossy deep brown (chrome and brass parts masked off). I have it in a space in the closet. I like free-standing because we have moved 3 times and I’ve taken it with me. That said, you’ve shown some nice designs. The most important aspect is good lighting and I have a lighted makeup mirror for that.

  31. To apply make up you need good artificial light as well as natural light. Sometimes you need to get ready at 5pm! How do you get that lighting low enough for makeup at night? You may need to use water several times like I do. A sitting position doesn’t allow a close up to the mirror so you need a good magnifying mirror. Sitting while blow drying your hair? Have you tried that? Vanities just aren’t practical. I would recommend a beautiful vanity for looks/resale only, and then only in the biggest, most opulent space or for a disabled person. In my experience.

  32. Can’t live without a vanity area, but not in the bathroom. I prefer mine in the closet. That way my husband can still use the bathroom while I’m putting on makeup and it keeps the bathroom counter clear

  33. Growing up, I had a stand-alone vanity which I really liked. However, upon getting married 38 years ago, I have not had one since & I have not missed it. All that being said, we are building a new home with a large master bath & the architect gave me a corner with a seated vanity area. At first I said I didn’t need/want it, but then my husband reminded me of my jewelry & skin products & a little makeup that I always have on the counter. HE wanted me to have my own space so I wasn’t cluttering his space. I would say that’s a great reason for the vanity. Hair appliances, electric toothbrushes, perfumes, etc. are on my counter if I use them everyday, so I am now looking forward to my new vanity! And so is my very neat husband!

  34. When we bought our current home, I planned to remove the vanity, which is through a doorway right next to the bathroom and across from the walk-in closet. I didn’t think I would use it. But by golly, I use it every day and love it. It is so nice to have a place to sit and do my hair and make-up.

  35. Depends on how the bathroom is shared, I personally would prefer the makeup vanity in a separate place. Love the idea of the closet or dressing room if space allows. Our house was built in the 70’s and we have a powder room off the master that connects to the master bath for 2nd floor. This works for us so we each have a space to get ready in the morning.

  36. I would love a vanity space, but in our small house it’s out of the question. So much better than bending over a mirror on the bathroom counter!

  37. I just built a vanity into my new bathroom. I do better sitting down while I apply makeup and know that as I age it will be increasingly important. A more modern look is what I was going for, so I kept it up at counter height which makes it look clean and unbroken in line with the sink, which in my opinion is also nice to have close by. We also have the luxury of ample space, so fitting it in wasn’t an issue.

  38. Sitting vanity dated? To me the question has nothing to do with dated or passe’. If the client likes to sit and do her makeup then it is definitely in! I don’t have one because I would never use a sit down make up vanity. As Maria will tell you, (I think) the things to consider are how much space the client need/wants on the surface. What the drawers will hold. Where the outlets will go, ( maybe inside the drawers?) Fancy mirror or a desk top? I’ve seen pictures of vanities with no mirror, which I find odd. Also the comfort of the chair should be considered. A stool or does the client need a chair with a comfortable back? We found a transparent acrylic fancy kind of modern Victorian chair with arms for $100! Really elevated the whole design and was very comfortable and unique. Now that is a place that is used all the time and IMO will never be dated. Wish i could send pictures but cut and paste doesn’t seem to work.

  39. As a cabinet designer, I agree with you Maria. Sometimes it makes sense with the space and can be well-designed to look great and be functional, and sometimes it’s just not the right choice. I’ve had plenty of clients ask for bathroom cabinetry designs like the last one, where they try to shoehorn as much cabinetry and storage as possible into a tight space, with no regard to aesthetics or even functionality. It’s a standing joke in my mind that as a cabinet designer/salesperson I often have to talk my clients OUT of more cabinetry!

  40. I agree that it’s a design issue. I don’t really think anything that serves a useful, and often necessary, function is going to go out of style. We are just so used to those awful designs from grandma’s house (mostly from the nineties) that we might get put off. If you’re going to use it, then just take the care to get the design right, just like you said! 🙂
    I do think the concept lost track for a while, but in the houses we work in (mostly new builds), they are definitely making a comeback. And I say: nothing wrong with that! In fact, I’d love one if I had the space. I’m not so convinced it must be in the bathroom, though.

  41. Something to consider is privacy and bathroom sharing. If both partners use the same space, a different location for makeup and hair styling might be preferable to having everything in the same place. I don’t think “in style” or “out of style” should be applied to this question; Maria’s observation that poor design is the actual issue is spot on. The lead photo in this post is an example of really great design!

  42. I used to have one and never used it except for storage.
    But I’m wondering why the pony wall became so passe. I have them in my 1968 house between the toilet and sinks, and I really like the way it screens the toilet. What’s the reason behind the current hatred?

  43. In England we call them dressing tables! I have always had one and would not be without. If they are not used it is usually because they are poorly designed – many of the above look pretty, but without good lighting (preferably with daylight as well as electric light), a large mirror, and plenty of deep drawer storage they are useless. I would like to know where the users of the above keep their hairspray! An electric point is also needed for the hairdryer. Most bathrooms are designed for men – they get a good light and an electric point over the basin for shaving, so women use this for makeup, as it is the only area with good light, whilst their lipsticks, etc fall into the basin or onto the floor. It takes me at least 15 minutes to blow dry my hair, and doing it standing in front of a bathroom mirror does not appeal. Once you have got used a well designed vanity/dressing table, not using it would seem as odd as standing to eat!

  44. We built our home 40 years ago and I have enjoyed my built in vanity every day. When traveling that is the first thing I miss from home! Go for it, you won’t be disappointed.

  45. I’m on Team “Yes!” I recently remodeled my Master Bathroom (using Maria’s sage advice for a timeless design and color choices). We really didn’t have room for a larger shower and tub, so we ditched the tub. I know Maria loves hers, but we had to make a choice, and I don’t miss my tub at all (Hall bath has one if needed.) The new shower is in the corner where the former corner spa tub sat. We had to do something with the space where the too-small shower sat–a vanity area just for me was the solution. I hung a dimmable Electric Mirror that serves as lighting and the mirror. I can sit if I like at a counter stool that tucks under, but most of the time I stand. The cabinetry and drawers in a tower to the right hold all my grooming products. It keeps my perfume bottles off our dual sink area and is a lot more tidy-looking if I don’t have the time to put some of my make up away. The sink is only a few steps away, so it’s not a problem when I need to use it during the process. I love it.

  46. This comment relates to Brenda’s comment about universal design. When we remodeled the master bathroom in our home in California we took into consideration the bathroom design problems my 80 year old mother was coping with in her home in New York. We learned a lot from our visits with her and realized we wanted to have a safe bathroom for her to use when she would visit. So we studied universal design and applied what we could to our remodel. Here is what we asked our contractor to do. Widen the entry door to accommodate a walker and a wheel chair. Create a shower with a wide door to accommodate both a wheel chair and walker. The three best things we did that we enjoy every day are: the shower floor is integrated into the bathroom floor so there is no step up (a wheel chair can roll in if necessary). This required enough space to create a slope so the water flows to the back of the shower where he installed a linear drain. There is no drain in the middle of the shower floor. It is fabulous. And the best is the shower valve that is located just inside the shower door not under the spray so you don’t get sprayed before you get in the shower and this valve lets you set and lock your favorite temperature setting so its perfect every time. These are not high cost items just clever design that is fabulous when you are young and fit too.