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The upstairs bath in a 1926 Pennsylvania house retains its fixtures, tile floor, unpainted oak woodwork, and deep linen drawers and closet. Photo by Gross & Daley.

Modest Bathrooms

by Patricia Poore on May 15, 2012

in Kitchens & Bathrooms

ABOVE: The upstairs bath in a 1926 Pennsylvania house retains its fixtures, tile floor, unpainted oak woodwork, and deep linen drawers and closet. Photo by Gross & Daley

In our era of must-have-it-all luxury, some people can still leave well enough alone. They usually live in old houses.

In a seaside cottage in Maine, walls painted in Farrow & Ball ‘Green Ground’ complement the original, tiny marble corner sink and cabinet. Photo by Edward Addeo.

In a seaside cottage in Maine, walls painted in Farrow & Ball ‘Green Ground’ complement the original, tiny marble corner sink and cabinet. Photo by Edward Addeo.

The reference to modesty here is not about shyness and shame, but rather to the possibility of a proper and seemly approach to the bathroom, its size and appointments. These days, huge, luxurious bathrooms are touted by builders, by high-end plumbing-fixture companies, and in magazine articles. The room is supposed to include his-and hers vanities, soaking tub and showerbath and indoor sauna, marble or onyx, and fixtures that are anything but the American standard.

If you live in an old house, however, you simply don’t have the room! And thus you have been spared the expense and constant cleaning those spa baths demand. You even may have grown to like your old bathroom. (I believe that a bathroom should be big enough for only one person at a time. How else can you get a break?) And you may have inherited the white tile, wainscot, capacious sink, clawfoot tub, linen closet, or old-fashioned medicine cabinet so coveted even in today’s mansion-size bathrooms.

Though its size didn’t change, this pleasant room in Massachusetts has been reconfigured; the tub was turned and the window, fitted with period trim and stained glass, has been moved away from the corner. Photo by Greg Premru.

Though its size didn’t change, this pleasant room in Massachusetts has been reconfigured; the tub was turned and the window, fitted with period trim and stained glass, has been moved away from the corner. Photo by Greg Premru.

A modest bathroom, dating to or modeled after those of the early 20th century, is probably in its original location. Such rooms are not perfectly preserved; their practical owners have fixed them up, painted them, added and deleted. The rooms are believable and functional because their owners responded to an existing bathroom (and presumably to what they knew about the house). Modest bathrooms are unique because limitation makes for creativity. They have “evolved,” with, say, a reproduction light joining a Forties radiator and Twenties tile. Such bathrooms have some quirks.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dawn Restuccia July 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

We purchased an 1950′s Arts and Crafts bungalow. After realizing that we needed 2 bathrooms, we did some configuring to add another bath. While small in size we are working hard to restore the style of the home by using period tiles, pedestal sink and wainscotting. Any ideas from anyone would be greatly appreciated!

2 tenantproof December 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Check out Jane Powell’s book Bungalow Bathrooms.

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