Friday, June 17, 2011

Victorian Reproductions or Victorian Inspired Fixtures and Faucets? Selecting Clawfoot Tubs, Pedestal Sinks and Faucets for Your Victorian Bathroom

In last week’s blog post on Victorian bathrooms, I provided an overview of the introduction and transformation of the private bathroom that occurred during the Victorian period. Early Victorian bathrooms were designed to resemble other rooms of the home. European bathroom tubs, sinks, toilets and other fixtures were encased in elaborate furniture pieces intended to hide their purpose. Due in large part to American innovations, the bathroom was transformed into a unique purposeful space designed specifically for maintaining personal hygiene. The resulting space is now considered the origins of the modern bathroom as it has changed very little over the past hundred plus years.

Home owners looking to renovate the bathroom of their Victorian home or those wanting to create a bathroom with a Victorian theme have many choices to make. Possibly the first decision in the design process is how faithfully they wish their bath to resemble those of the Victorian period. Basically, do you want to limit your design options to include only original or antique reproduction Victorian faucets and fixtures or will modern faucets and fixtures with Victorian-inspired designs better fit your style and your bath’s purpose?

Victorian Clawfoot Tub Options

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, early Victorian bathtubs were encased in decorative wood cabinets so that they resembled other home furnishings of the day. By the start of the 20th century, economical cast iron bathtubs had been introduced and soon bath tubs encased in expensive wood cabinets were abandoned. The design of cast iron tubs did, however, still maintained one key aspect of its furniture past by incorporating a lion paw and ball and claw themed legs resembling those found on fine wood furniture of the day. Clawfoot cast iron tubs, as they became known, had white painted exteriors and white porcelain coated interiors. The most common type of clawfoot tub was the roll top clawfoot tub. It was generally smaller than today’s tubs and rested on brass or polished nickel ball and claw feet. Reproductions of cast iron clawfoot tubs from Sign of the Crab, Sunrise Specialty, Cheviot Products and Elizabethan Classics faithful mimic original designs.

For those who do not want to limit themselves to reproduction clawfoot tubs or whose bathroom will not accommodate a cast iron reproduction due to concerns about their weight, there are plenty of designs that maintain the romantic look of original Victorian era tubs while offering more style choices and/or more accommodating designs. For example, large slipper clawfoot tubs and double slipper clawfoot tubs were not common during the Victorian Period but their elegant profile and the relaxed bathing position that they offer makes them popular choices today. As noted in last week’s blog, Victorian area bath fixtures were all white in order to encourage maintaining the bathroom’s sterile environment. In today’s market, color options are a must and so custom painted as well as all black and biscuit clawfoot tubs are available. Expanded options for clawfoot tubs go beyond their aesthetic qualities. Clawfoot tubs are offered in larger sizes and are available in lighter wieght materials. In fact, the introduction of light weight acrylic clawfoot tubs has to be the greatest innovation in the clawfoot tub’s hundred year history. Acrylic clawfoot tubs look like cast iron clawfoot tubs but they weigh half as much. Acrylic clawfoot tubs are, therefore, often better suited for second story bathrooms where tub weight may be a concern.

Victorian Clawfoot Tub Faucet and Plumbing Options

Bathing, rather than taking a shower, was a more typical practice at the turn of the 20th century. Simple downspout, or spigot, clawfoot tub faucets were the most common faucet type found on clawfoot tubs of the Victorian period. Compact and economical, spigot clawfoot tub faucets were mounted to the tub’s wall and in most cases did not have shower or hand shower attachments. Victorian clawfoot tub faucets and plumbing were most often polished nickel or brass. Reproduction clawfoot tub faucets are available in styles that range from simple downspout clawfoot tub faucets to much more elaborate tub fillers with hand shower and/or shower enclosure attachments. Reproduction clawfoot faucets are available in polished nickel and protected brass, a treatment that makes them much more tarnish resistant than original Victorian era clawfoot faucets.

The display of elaborate plumbing is one of the unique features that draw people to choose clawfoot tubs over traditional built-in tubs. Elaborate British telephone style tub filler faucets are more popular today than simple clawfoot tub faucets with no handheld shower attachments. Clawfoot shower enclosure attachments are also more common than they were during the Victorian period. Additionally, manufacturers now offer additional finish options for all of this spectacular plumbing. Chrome plating, which had not been invented until after the Victorian period, has long been the most popular finish for bathroom faucets and is a popular choice for reproduction clawfoot tub faucets. Brushed nickel and oil rubbed bronze are even more modern finish creations that are offered for clawfoot tub plumbing.

Victorian Sinks and Faucet Options

Original Victorian bathrooms included either a cabinet enclosed sink, wall mount sink, legged console sink or a pedestal sink. The cabinets of Victorian cabinet style sinks were made of mahogany, cherry, black walnut or ash. They were typically ornately embellished with Classical or Eastlake carvings with equally ornate pendant pulls, ring pulls or cabinet knob hardware. Marble counter tops with backsplashes holding a single under mount basin sink were also typical. Victorian wall mount sinks and legged console sinks were also often offered with these same marble counter tops and backsplashes. Pedestal sinks were made of porcelain coated cast iron or china. Victorian pedestal sinks are characterized by oval bowls and their often decorative pedestal bases. Regardless of the type of sink, Victorian sinks generally had only two faucet holes as separate hot and cold water taps were the common bathroom sink faucet of the day.


Reproduction pedestal sinks are plentiful but true reproductions of Victorian wall mount, console sinks and cabinet style bathroom sinks can be more difficult to find. Your search for authentic reproductions can be further complicated if your design calls for double basin sinks. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of cabinet style double vanity sinks available today that feature ornate wood working and marble tops. Including two pedestal sinks is another attractive option for your Victorian bathroom design. Even most antique style sinks made today have three faucet holes but that does not mean you can not still use Victorian reproduction hot and cold water taps as Sign of the Crab offers sink hole covers designed to provide a decorative cover for the sink’s center faucet hole. If you wish to go with a standard widespread fuacets or centerset faucets rather than separate water taps, there are plenty of bathroom faucets with Victorian inspired designs available.

Victorian Toilet Options

Finding a toilet design that looks appropriate in your Victorian themed bath may seem to be a challenge. There are, however, numerous options available including reproductions of Victorian era high tank toilets and modern toilets with Victorian inspired designs. The high tank toilet, which is also known as the pull chain toilet, was a common fixture throughout the Victorian period. With its tank mounted high on the wall above the toilet and unique pull chain flushing mechanism, the appearance of the high tank toilet adds to the Victorian charm and authenticity to your Victorian bathroom design. High tank toilets may not work for everyone due to their cost, operation, unique installation, or aesthetics. Fortunately, perfectly suitable styles of modern two-piece toilets are available. Many manufacturers offer affordable standard two-piece toilets that feature decorative accents on the tank’s lid and the base of the toilet that will make the fixture look right at place in a Victorian themed bath.

Visit our Victorian Home Style Guide to learn more about the Victorian architecture and Victorian home hardware and plumbing products.

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