Omnia Mechanical Group

571 Timpson Place Bronx, NY 10455

Phone: 212-534-2500

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How Bathroom Designs Have Evolved Throughout History

From full four-piece or even five-piece bathrooms to smaller half-baths, people take the functionality of the design for granted. However, this necessary home space did not always maximize comfort, hygiene, or practicality. The modern bathroom didn’t truly take shape until the 19th century. Discover the history of bathrooms and how lucky society is to have the plumbing amenities and advancements it has.

The History of Bathrooms Through the Centuries

16th Century

Before the 16th century in Europe, public bathhouses or washhouses were common, but that changed during the second plague pandemic in the 1500s. People did not want to share spaces with potentially infected people, so society moved toward private home tubs.

Private bathtubs were a bit of a luxury despite their primitive design. A bathtub was a freestanding wooden basin that sat next to a fireplace for added warmth. Taps and interior plumbing did not exist, so bathers boiled water in a cauldron. Because it took time to empty and refill the tub, families often shared the same bath water, which was unfortunate for the last bather, who typically got stuck with tepid or cold and dirty water.

In wealthier residences, you might find a garderobe or a primitive, pre-plumbing toilet. The garderobe typically existed on a second story as a small nook or room that jutted out from the rest of the house. The room usually hung over a creek, river, moat, or street, and the “toilet” comprised a hole in the center of the floor. People would go to the bathroom in a chamber pot or directly over the opening, dropping waste to the street or water body below — not the grandest waste management solution in the history of bathrooms.

17th Century

By the 17th century, public baths were uncouth. Private bathtubs were standard and slightly more refined than the wood basins of the early 1500s. The new tubs still had a wood exterior, but steel lined the interior as an insulating layer, allowing water to stay warmer longer. Unfortunately, the filling, emptying, and refilling was a hassle, so people bathed infrequently. To help relieve the stench of the unwashed, perfumes and pomanders became common marketplace items.

Despite the invention of the flushing toilet in 1596 by Sir John Harrington, 17th-century toilets still comprised chamber pots beneath a washbasin on a washstand. People still eliminated waste in outhouses or waterways. The flush toilet would not become popular until the 19th century.

18th Century

In the history of bathrooms, the 18th century was a turning point in design. This era didn’t see many changes with the bathtub; most still comprised a wooden exterior with a metal insulating layer. However, other bathroom elements were advancing, including the room itself. During the century, many new construction homes had separate washrooms from the other living spaces, especially in the latter years.

Cabinetry and vanities were commonplace, and the mirror became a design accent as the manufacturing of mirrored glass became more affordable. Reserved for the wealthy, the looking glass was a status symbol; people often draped theirs with curtains, and manufacturers produced them with ornate frames. In the latter half of the century, glass-making processes improved, making mirrors available to people of all income levels.

Finally, while chamber pots were still standard, the invention of the commode improved the comfort of its use. A commode was a chair with a hole in the seat. Below the seat was a shelf that could hold the chamber pot. People still emptied the pots in waterways or other designated areas.

In 1775, Alexander Cummings improved on Sir John Harrington’s flushing toilet design. Cummings’s improvements were the last of several developments that would lead to the adoption of the flush toilet in the 19th century.

19th Century

The history of bathrooms took a giant leap forward in the 19th century. Public health crises and the Industrial Revolution motivated governments to make regulations and improved what was possible. Installations of sanitation and sewer systems became standard. Flushing toilets and running water became the norm in advanced societies.

As plumbing developed, becoming a regular part of home construction, moveable commodes and basins ended. It was typical to find stationary and flushable toilets in most wealthy homes. The 19th century was the era of Thomas Crapper, Henry Dulton, and J.L. Mott.

Exposed pipes became status symbols. People in the era commonly adorned their bathrooms with embossed, glazed, or gilded exposed pipes. Also, toilet paper became a new luxury. Patented in 1857 by a New Yorker named Joseph Gayetty as Medicated Paper for the Water Closet, every sheet included his name. Before toilet paper, people used things like seashells and corncobs.

20th Century

The 20th century is another pivotal period in the history of bathrooms, as well as the rest of the home. By 1925, half of all homes in the U.S. had electric power. By the start of World War II, electric lighting was commonplace.

In addition, the 1900s saw the rise of modernism and consumerism. Ideas like interior design became available to most income levels for the first time. The century also gave rise to the concept of disposable income, with homeowners splurging on things like shower mats and curtains, vanities, and towel-, toothbrush-, and soap-holders.

The 1950s became the era of ceramic and plastic tile. Plastic was a “space age” and innovative material. People continue to prefer ceramic tile in bathrooms for its waterproof and hygienic properties, but plastic is no longer as highly regarded.

21st Century

Still in the first quarter of the 21st century, it is difficult to speculate on the future trends or changes to current bathroom design. That said, most people love simplicity and clean lines. Modern bathrooms typically have floating vanities, freestanding tubs or showers, and large windows. Designers use software to plan spaces and make use of every nook and cranny.

The History of Bathrooms and Beyond

Expertise Keeps the Water Flowing

The long history of bathrooms has seen the advancement of sanitation and septic systems and the rise and fall of various design trends. The rise of indoor plumbing and flushing toilets led to the necessity of plumbing system maintenance and inspections. Sanitary Plumbing is your one-stop shop for all your plumbing needs and installations. Call our team at 212-734-5000 to schedule an inspection, repair, or installation.


Our Privacy Policy

Omnia Mechanical Group(the “Company”) strives to ensure the highest standards for property listings and customer information privacy. Please review the following statement to learn about our company practices and policies. Please be aware that our Privacy Policy is subject to change at any time.

1. Purpose.

This Privacy Policy (“the Policy”) provides information on how the Company uses your personal information. By agreeing to the Policy, you agree to our collection and use of your personal information as described in the Policy. This Privacy Policy is effective for all new users of Sanitaryplumbing.com.

2. Personal Information.

You can browse some areas of Antler.nyc (“the Website”) without being a registered user. However, certain activities do require registration. (You consent to the transfer and storage of your information by registering with Antler.nyc). We may collect and store the following personal information:

  • Name, email, address, telephone number, and (depending on the service used), move-in dates;
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13. Privacy Policy Questions & Concerns

Questions and/or concerns regarding the Policy should be emailed to the following email address: info@omniagroup.nyc.