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Bathrooms of the 1920s

Tips for Achieving a Jazz-Age Bathroom

1925 Crane Bathoom

From the late 'teens to the late 20s, a huge transformation in what was considered de rigueur for personal cleanliness took place. Americans just after post-WWI were accustomed to bathing weekly. By the late 20s, that routine changed. Regular bathing, if not daily, took place at least several times a week, replacing the earlier Saturday night ritual.

The bathroom, generally functional but benched decoratively speaking, was integrated into the home in a big way.

First, the bones

1920s vintage bathrooms, despite the images shown in our gallery, were generally fairly small. Often, a bathroom was no more than 6' x 10' and that would have been fairly generous. The grandiose bathrooms with space for an extra dressing table and chaise, or the chandelier as shown in the 1925 Crane bathroom here, were largely reserved for the homes of the rich and famous or at least the well-to-do upper-middle class.

Built-in linen cabinets and closets were fairly common, which made for sensible storage of all those bathroom accoutrements as well as bath linens.

The layout shown in many of the images in our gallery occasionally entailed placing the toilet in its own private enclosure or nook. This was both a feature of earlier bathrooms as well as those in larger homes, but due to size constraints, it was rarely the case in 1920s middle-class home plans.

Back in the day, people were much like they are today. Though most of us can't afford or justify a luxury renovation of our own bathrooms, we still strive for something attractive and regardless of generation, we take our inspiration where we can find it. Many of our predecessors took it from magazines like Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post.

Wall finishes

Plumbing Fixtures

In the early 1920s, fixtures were white. That limitation was lifted in the late 1920s, when manufacturers began offering a variety of colored fixtures that ranged from pastels to sophisticated black. According to Kohler's timeline, color was introduced in their line of fixtures in 1927; Crane and Standard offered their colored fixtures at about the same time.

The wall-hung rolled-rim china sink was a standard bathroom solution especially suited to the small bathrooms found in middle-class homes. Another prominent style was the single-post pedestal sink. Less common was the marble-topped vanity and porcelain sink supported by two nickel-plated legs in front and attached by brackets to the wall. A vanity cabinet, similar to today's vanities, is occasionally seen.

The old-fashioned clawfoot tub, available as an economical solution, was replaced in period advertising if not in fact by new tub configurations includinga corner style, a single-sided unit to be placed in a recessed enclosure, or set into a deck with a tiled surround. Showers were most often integrated with the bathtub. Separate shower stalls had been introduced earlier in the century, and while offered in the brochures, they were not common in middle-class homes as a stand-alone bathing solution.

Floors

If you are looking for a flooring solution for your 1920s bathroom, the most prominent solution was tile, which was often configured as a single field tile with a decorative border, however, geometric patterns were equally popular. Materials used in middle-class homes were most often simpler porcelain tiles, most often the 1" hexagonal shape, but also in a variety of other styles.

Wood floors were also used but required sealing and diligent maintenance.

Linoleum, though common in kitchens of the 20s, was slow to arrive in the bathroom. It begins to appear some bathroom images during the late 20s. In the 1929 Home Builders Catalog, the W. S. Sloan extols the virtues of the linoleum floor for almost every room in the house, but excludes the bathroom.

Color

A happy coincidence occured during the 1920s with respect to color in interior design. Advertising printing began to use lots and lots of color. Talented illustrators were hired in droves to draw different products that would entice the American public to part with their hard-earned dollars. The economy, which lagged in the years immediately following WWI, rebounded optimistically by 1924. Innovations in manufacturing made new materials and colors more widely available than ever before. All of these factors combined in a perfect opportunity for Americans to avail themselves of interior design options that had never before been so available to the middle class.

In the early 20s, color was mostly neutrals and pastels. Like other rooms in the home, bathrooms tended to be light colored with ivory, beiges, and other pale neutrals predominating. If you like pretty, cottage-style rooms, the early 20s are a good model regardless of whether you have a new or old house.

As the decade progressed, color became more saturated and color schemes became bolder and more complex. Primary drivers included the influence of the Art Deco movement that emerged from Europe in the mid-20s. American designers were enthralled though most ordinary folks tended to favor the traditional and romantic revival styles. Despite their skepticism of the faddishness of "modern" design, homeowners embraced color!

By the late 20s, fixtures, which had been exclusively white, were available in matching suites of color ranging from butter yellow to dramatic black. Images from the period show tile in a variety of bright, extravagant combinations that are treasured today by many of their lucky owners. [ed. Sadly, the unenlightened seem to have few compunctions about taking a sledge hammer to vintage bathrooms ... some of whom (you know who you are!) should know better ... we won't dwell on it here because thinking about such wanton destruction horrifies us.]

Style

One of the most compelling aspects of the 1920s was the sheer variety of styles. In the early 1920s, Colonial Revival styles dominated. Paint finishes and cabinetry tended to be light colored and very traditional.

With the advent of the Romantic styles like English Revival, Spanish, and European, rooms tended to be designed around a theme. A Spanish style bathroom would have warm apricot-colored plaster walls, decorated tiles, and light wrought iron light fixtures. Alternately, an English Revival style might have Tudor-arched doorways. By the late 20s, styles shown in period advertisements were often opulent with exotic tile, rich draperies, and other ornate decorative elements.

Sources

To see examples of 1920s bathrooms, check out our gallery of period images.


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