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Bathroom History

“While you halt, you will take every measure for refreshing your men and rendering them as comfortable as possible. Bathing themselves moderately and washing their clothes are of infinite service.”   - George Washington to one of his colonels

A Brief Bathroom History

And How to Make History With Yours

Bathroom No. 1

It’s a bit odd to discuss, but for many of us, the majority of our private time is found in our homes’ most utilitarian space: the bathroom. There have been many trends in bathroom design since the room first took the form we know today. Tile, wallpaper, paint, cabinet style and sink shape have all oscillated, but one constant has remained- their size keeps growing. As the nuclear family grows smaller, it’s even become common for homeowners to remove a third or fourth bedroom in favor of a larger master bath. Palatial bathrooms have become an absolute symbol of economic arrival. While we at Daniel House understand the desire to bathe in splendor, we don’t think size is a requirement. In fact, we think the smaller the bathroom, the greater the opportunity for impact. 

Before we show you a few of our own small bathroom projects, we think it might be interesting to take you on a little journey that has brought our contemporary bathing civilization to the “advanced” place it is today. We all know the ancient Romans bathed (often ritualistically) in massive and elaborately decorated public baths. The baths of Diocletian and Caracalla were particularly resplendent and provided early 20th century American architects a platform for such important buildings as New York’s original Penn Station (demolished). We may be less aware of the reasons why we, as the torchbearers of Western culture, no longer bath publicly; it’s not because we suddenly became more modest.

In the Middle Ages, England repeatedly suffered outbreaks of the plague. As people grew to believe water may be causing these outbreaks, bathing eventually fell out of fashion all together. According to an article written by Anne Reagen for, Elizabethans favored freshly laundered white linen against the skin to keep the body clean. They did their business in chamber pots, which ladies often had brought to them and concealed beneath their large skirts. The earliest example of a toilet we know today appeared in the late 1500’s, but was unpopular because people considered it crass and obvious to get up and leave the room. 

It was more dignified to have the toilet brought to them. Similarly, men and women would dress in more public rooms of the house and would often do so together as a social activity. Not until cities grew much larger and the disposal of waste became a real concern did the modern toilet prove its worth. By the late 1800’s, many new houses in the United States had fully plumbed indoor bathrooms with enough water pressure for a shower. Still, these private bathing rooms were utilitarian and bore little resemblance to Ancient Rome.

Through the 1970’s, a large portion of new homes had 1.5 bathrooms ( 

Today, Reagan says a third of new homes in the U.S. have 3.5 bathrooms or more. We have gone bathroom crazy. And who could blame us? These rooms are, perhaps, the last frontier of privacy in an ever more invasive world -- so if you’ve got the space, we say go for it and enjoy your 5:00 a.m. solitudinal bliss. But much of our housing stock remains old, and not everyone has the square footage available for a modern private bath palace. For those of us facing a six-foot-square bath situation, we’ve got a couple of pictures that may stimulate your imagination. 

Bathroom number one was formerly a linen closet. It is actually less than six-feet- square, but feels ample with a small Calcutta gold marble topped basin, pivoting polished nickel mirror and medicine cabinet from Rejuvenation, and a vibrant wallpaper called Acquario by Cole & Son of England. We believe small spaces are the very best for bright, large-scaled patterns. So many people worry the pattern will make a room feel busy and small, but if executed correctly, the opposite is true.

Bathroom number two is of similar size and also features a large-patterned paper from Cole & Son. Here, though, we have also matched a color in the paper and used it as the trim color for the room. Trim does not have to be white or stained; it can also feature the main color of a room.

Bathroom number three has brightly painted trim as well, but the same high gloss blue is painted on the walls, too. We even had a custom colored tile produced by Portland’s Pratt & Larson so the entire room would feel perfectly in sync. The finished product definitely has a historic feel appropriate to the house it’s in, but its high sheen makes it feel new and fresh.

Our final bathroom is a tad larger, but still not gigantic. At eight by ten feet, every inch had to be used efficiently. This room was formerly a bedroom, but was considered too small to be used as such today. It has now become part of a new master suite linked to the bedroom railroad style by way of the master closet. We’ve used Calcutta gold marble again, but here it’s over a custom limed oak double vanity. The limed oak is quietly complemented by a Ronald Redding grass cloth featuring wide reeds woven over a silver background. Simple white linen curtains finish the room. White is always nice in a bathroom; just as the Elizabethans believed, it is a symbol of cleanliness and well-grooming. 

Go forth, and make your tiny bathroom feel like a great, big, personal haven. Just be sure to leave your phone out in the bedroom, otherwise it’s libel to get just as crowded as a Roman bath, and we 21st century Westerners wouldn’t want that! As our forefather George Washington said in a few more words, “rendering yourself refreshed is of infinite service.

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