The Victorian Period, which began with the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 and lasted until her death in 1901, is known as a time of great advancements that forever changed the way people lived out their daily lives. During this time, the simple indoor bathroom was introduced and by its end America had laid the foundation for the modern bathroom that has changed very little over the past one hundred plus years. This blog entry provides an overview of the Victorian bathroom’s humble beginnings through its progression to what most people today envision as a Victorian bathroom.
It was in the United Kingdom during the Victorian period where the bath became defined as a separate room within the living quarters of a residence. Early Victorian bathrooms were expensive creations with bathtubs, wash basins and toilets encased in elaborate furniture pieces made by skilled cabinet makers. They were extravagant in design and in decoration that mirrored other rooms of the Victorian home. Soon, however, technological advancements and experience lead to the removal of the decorative cabinetry leading to the unique standalone fixtures that we know today. By the early 1900’s advancement in the process of casting iron into large molds brought about what we now call freestanding clawfoot tubs. The cast iron clawfoot tub was much less expensive, more sanitary, and required less maintenance than furniture incased tubs. With this a succession of changes in bathroom fixture design was now set into motion. The Victorian sink lost its expensive cabinetry surround in favor of wall mount, peg leg console and pedestal style designs. The toilet experienced less dramatic changes in appearance during this time. The high tank, or pull chain, toilet existed relatively unchanged throughout much of the Victorian period.
During the Victorian Period, America still looked to Europe for trends in fashion and design. Thus, American bathrooms at the start of the Victorian Period drew inspiration from European, namely English, designs. However, American industry and innovation soon quickened the pace of the transformation of the bathroom. American industry mass produced plumbing fixtures with simple designs of tubs, sinks, and toilets that resemble the fixtures that we know today. The design of American bathrooms and its fixtures focused on function over form. Fixture design focused on enabling personal hygiene with much less attention given to their aesthetic qualities. The bathroom was to be a sanitary place and was designed to be easily maintained as such. Fixtures were plain white and glazed ceramic tiles were common on floor and walls. Order and proper ventilation was also important aspects of the American design. Soon, the benefits of the modern American designed bathroom caught on and were adopted in Europe and beyond. Thus, the modern bathroom was one of the many life changing inventions that came about during the Victorian Period.
Check in next week, when I discuss options for bathtubs, sinks, faucets, toilets and more for your Victorian bathroom.