Many people like the idea of having an antique inspired bathroom, with period-style furnishings and fixtures to create an air of decadence and luxury. And that’s easy and easier to do – vaguely antique-inspired bathroom vanities are a dime a dozen, and so are clawfoot freestanding tubs. But historically accurate bathroom design can be a lot trickier. You need to think about color schemes and specific furniture types, materials, and even the historical context. So if you’re thinking about designing an Edwardian bathroom, here are a few historical details you should know before you start!
First, A History Lesson
Generally speaking, the “Edwardian Period” is considered to be the period from 1901 to about 1920, which comprises the rule of King Edward VII and about a decade after his death. This is the period immediately following the death of Queen Victoria (and the end of the Victorian Era), and is stylistically different in a few ways for some major cultural reasons. First and foremost, by 1901 the middle class had begun to raise up suburbs, meaning lots of new construction and plenty of room for a new architectural style. This was also the time that both electricity and indoor plumbing began to become widespread, and the presence of servants in the home began to recede. Together, that made for wide, open rooms in lighter (non-soot-hiding) colors in simple, easy-to-clean designs.
A Note On Toilets
Now, when I say that indoor plumbing had only just begun to become common during the Edwardian period, it’s important to remember that that means the first flushable toilets. Before this time, the facilities were limited to chamber pots and outhouses, and during the Edwardian period toilet designs weren’t what they are today. For the most historically accurate Edwardian bathroom, you want to have a cistern style toilet like this High Tank Toilet, where the tank is elevated high above the bowl and connected by a thin metal pipe, but many of the other designs of the time are neither in production nor particularly practical. Because of the latter, if you’re going to break from historical accuracy, this is probably the one place you can really get away with it. Most people don’t realize – and don’t want to realize – that the use of flush toilets is hardly 100 years old, so even just a decorative wooden toilet seat can probably get you by just fine.
Indoor Plumbing, Indoor Bathing
Before the Edwardian period, bathrooms and regular bathing were considered to be unnecessary, even decadent. But with the advent of widespread indoor plumbing, the notion of a permanent space reserved for toiletries was integrated into home architecture for the first time. Previously, both tubs and toilets were portable and not necessarily private (in fact, bathing was often a once-weekly family affair), but the invention of the enameled clawfoot tub by Kohler Co in 1883 replaced temporary tin tubs with permanent fixtures. Edwardian bathrooms featured oval-shaped clawfoot tubs with an even rolled trim all the way around, like this Cast Iron Clawfoot from Elizabethan Classics.
Bathrooms were still large and made for family use during this period, but were very much in line with the overall aesthetic of cleanliness. In an Edwardian bathroom, you’d find tile across the whole floor and tile or wainscotting half or a third of the way up the wall to make the surfaces easy to clean, and the walls above topped with light pastel colors or floral patterns. Empty corners and open spaces were the rule, with only as much exposed plumbing as was expressly needed to fill a Clawfoot Tub and feed the Console Sink and toilet. Edwardian bathrooms, as with the rest of Edwardian architecture, utilized lots of natural light, so you’d find lots of large windows, light pastel color schemes, and often bouquets of fresh flowers to emphasize the bright, natural aspect of the bathroom.
Bright, Open Bathrooms; Bright Open Fixtures
The form of Edwardian bathroom fixtures followed the architecture and overall design of the time, emphasizing light colors and open spaces. Revolutions in toilet technology meant that ceramic porcelain was becoming widely used, and the material was repeated in clawfoot tubs like this Imperial Tub from Barclay and simple, open console sinks like this Versailles Console. Mirrors and artwork were simple, with simple Mirror Frames. Ceilings were sometimes decorative, with molding or murals, but not nearly to the extent found in Victorian bathrooms. What ceiling decorations there were were simpler, easier to clean, and done in lighter colors because they didn’t have to hide soot or smudges from gas lanterns.
Unlike Victorian design, Edwardian bathrooms tended to have relatively very little ornamentation. While Victorian design favored lots of small knick-knacks and decorations, Edwardians preferred an uncluttered aesthetic, again relying primarily on floral ornamentation with some smaller clusters of decorations. That said, as in the historical sketch above, Edwardian bathrooms were often decorated with beautiful leaded glass windows and large, ornamental or oriental rugs. Simple porcelain fixtures – like this Lutezia Toilet, Charleston Bidet, Naples Pedestal Sink, and full-bodied Roll Top Tub all offer a simple elegance, accessorized by decorative wall tile, the rug and window panes, and even the cloth of the curtain or paint or floral wallpaper on the walls.
Edwardian bathrooms are simple but not austere in the way that modern bathrooms are. While the simple decoration of this historical Edwardian bathroom - a Cistern Toilet, Wall Mount Sink, and Clawfoot Tub with a simple rug tossed on the floor – might seem rather spare, the elegance and decadence comes in the finer details. Look for clean large fixtures, but decorative brass tub fillers and sink faucets, lush oriental rugs, metal framed bathroom mirrors, and even modest bathroom chandeliers to enhance the simpler elements.
Take this gorgeous restoration Edwardian bathroom designed by Jean Strahan. In terms of fixtures, this bathroom is incredibly simple, but the detailing on the console sinks (similar to this Sonnet Petite from Porcher) adds historical charm, and the brass fixtures on the sink and tub, plus the petite but beautiful crystal chandelier and rich woodwork create a spectacular sense of decadence and luxury in a bathroom that’s, well, relatively simple, well-lit, and easy to clean. And that’s what an Edwardian bathroom is all about.
- Roll-Top Clawfoot Tubs
- Wall Mount Or Console Sinks
- Period Style Toilets (Or: With Wood Elements)
- Floral Designs/Fresh Flowers
- Tile Floors And Half Walls
- Decorative Windows And Mirrors
- Luxurious, Exotic Rugs
- Ornate Lighting Fixtures
- Natural Light
- Pastel Colors
- Dark Or Bright Colors
- Go Overboard On Ornamentation
- Too Many Solid Fixtures – Keep It Open
- Small Windows/Not Enough Lighting
- Mix and Match Patterns
What has you interested in an Edwardian bathroom? Do you have a home from that period, just love the decor, or are you looking to find which historical design fits your personal taste the best? If you’re interested in learning more about Edwardian bathroom design, or the history of indoor plumbing, check out this article on Edwardian Interiors, or this Brief History Of The Toilet.