Hand washing has become a ritual amongst everyone as they want to stop themselves and their families from getting coronavirus. Yes, we should have all been washing our hands already, but leave it to a deadly virus to up the ante! Changing habits due to a pandemic should not come as a shock. There’s a long history of bathroom design being influenced by infectious diseases. The modern bathroom moved from outdoors to indoors following outbreaks of tuberculosis, cholera, and influenza. Tubs, sinks, showers, and indoor toilets are additions to homes to promote health and wellbeing during times of public health concerns.
With coronavirus and public health front and center, we would not be surprised by the return of washing stations at the entrances to homes. Sinks in entryways are not a new idea and were in fact commonplace during the turn of the 20th century in tenements because they represented a cost-effective alternative to indoor plumbing. We are likely to see additional changes in a post-coronavirus world, and the bathroom is likely to be front and center.
At the turn of the 20th century, indoor plumbing was a novelty and mainly found in the homes of wealthy Americans. The initial indoor fixtures were kitchen taps, followed by bathroom sinks that replaced washbasins and water pitchers. There was no such thing as a dedicated bathroom. Chamber pots and outhouses were commonplace until the medical profession convinced the public that it was far healthier to have an indoor commode connecting to a public sewer system.
Fixtures made from wood were replaced with materials that were easier to clean and more sanitary. Kohler introduced the first enamel-coated cast iron tub in 1883 – it was actually used as a horse trough before being advertised as a bathtub! Because enamel is easy to clean, it became the material of choice for bath fixtures in homes, hospitals, and commercial facilities.
White became the color of choice for bathrooms, taking cues from the hospitals that featured all-white rooms because they were easy to clean and served as symbols of hygiene and health. Tiles started to replace wooden floors in bathrooms because tile, too, was easier to clean. Health and hygiene became priorities. Heavy window coverings were replaced by lighter textiles that were easier to clean and allowed more natural light and air to enter the home.
White paint became the go-to wall covering, replacing wallpaper, because white reflects light, and light was considered at the time to be the best disinfectant. Nickel-plated brass door hardware found their way into kitchens and bathrooms due to their ease of cleaning and tarnish-free performance.
The desire for a healthier home started another design trend: the secondary bath. In multi-story homes, baths were typically found on the second floor near bedrooms. As the flu became more commonplace, many homeowners added a smaller half bath on the first floor that we know today as a powder room. Early powder rooms served an important functional purpose. In the early 20th century, homes received daily deliveries of everything from coal to groceries. The powder room allowed delivery people to wash their hands on the ground floor, thereby avoiding the need to enter living quarters.
Following the 1918 flu pandemic that has received considerable press attention, serving as a parallel to the current coronavirus pandemic, the design of bathrooms took another turn. After surviving the health emergency, the bath was transformed from a single focus on health and hygiene to a place of rest and relaxation, a role baths increasingly play in the 21st century.
What impact will the coronavirus have on the design of bathrooms? The past 50 years have seen the number of baths in a home double per person. That number may increase as a result of spending weeks self-quarantined. We’ve already experienced a significant increase in bidet and bidet seat sales as a result of toilet paper shortages. Will we see increased demand for sinks and wash stations in mudrooms and in entry halls? Most likely. What would be best to make it easier for your family and your home easier to remove germs and potential health hazards?