From pre-Victorian to modern times, the bathroom has developed into a luxurious staple for your home.
The idea of a luxury bathroom is strictly a modern invention. In the great houses of pre-Victorian times, baths were taken by the fire in a sitting room or dressing room. In lesser dwellings, the single living room doubled as a bathroom, if indeed the household possessed more in the way of bathing equipment than was afforded by a rustic bucket or a dip in the nearest stream.
The development of the porcelain-lined, cast-iron bathtub in the middle of the 19th century was part of the Victorian revolution in sanitation, as porcelain was smooth and hygienic. These bathtubs, now the pinnacle of panache, when first developed were advertised as horse troughs/hog scalders, bathing being suggested as an alternative use with the addition of clawfeet for indoor use.
It wasn’t until after World War I that the multi-purpose bathrooms considered the norm today became popular. Installing plumbing for a sink, bath and shower (and occasionally even a flushing toilet) led to the development of the bathrooms we know and love today, although outhouses remained common until relatively late in the 20th century. Turning these utilitarian rooms into places of comfort and luxury is an even more modern tendency. From practical patterned tiles and functional furnishings, it’s now possible to dress a bathroom in the most glorious decorating style. And why not? We’re spending more time bathing and grooming than ever before in the history of civilisation!
Far from its origins as a hog scalder or horse trough, the cast-iron bathtub is a modern symbol of pampering and pleasure. It evokes images of sweet repose in warm, scented waters as the cares of the everyday world are thrown off and lifted away like vapours. What better example of affluent country-style living than a bathroom that provides such an oasis from modern life? While a clawfoot or pedestal bath is the quintessential country accessory, built-in bathtubs do not preclude a country look in the bathroom.
With carefully selected country-style finishing touches and accessories you can turn even a modular tile-and-chrome bathroom into a country retreat. Tiles in the bathroom have a practical purpose and, if selected with country themes in mind, can add to the feel of luxury. Vintage-style tiles in rich creams and regal blues, sophisticated black and sumptuous gold can be laid in traditional patterns. Tiles that mimic natural materials such as stone, terracotta and slate are perfect for country decorating and have an elan of their own. Timber furniture and trimmings add warmth in a country bathroom.
Varnish or paint is essential to prevent moisture damage and discolouration of timber in wet areas. Timber floors are rare in Australian bathrooms, though they can look handsome, but timber panelled walls are an opulent option. Large rooms are an indicator of prosperity, but few of us have all the wealth and space we need, so it’s fine to create an illusion. Make a small bathroom seem larger by choosing fittings with space in mind: a clawfoot bath and pedestal handbasin increase the visual space in the room, though a pedestal handbasin offers no additional storage for the paraphernalia needed in a bathroom.
If storage is an issue, replace a pedestal handbasin with one set into the top of a cabinet. An old chest of drawers or dressing table is a felicitous choice as a bathroom cabinet — simply make sure the wooden top is finished with a waterproof varnish or gloss enamel paint to prevent water damage. Be aware that this option means you will lose the top drawer space to plumbing, but lower cupboards will still be available for storage.
Mirrors are an essential element and can be easily customised to complement a luxury country look. A large wall-mounted mirror can be surrounded with a handsome recycled timber frame; smaller mirrors with gilt or wrought metal frames can be hung in appropriate places. Place an antique-look shaving mirror on a washstand or shelf, or — if the room is large enough — position a magnificent cheval mirror in a corner. Metal has a place in a country bathroom, from the chrome or brass finish on antique-style taps and spouts to freestanding towel racks. Painted metal is another alternative, with the paint providing protection from rust and keying in the metal item to the overall colour scheme. Look out for vintage wire baskets of various sizes to hold everything from fluffy towels to a single bar of fine soap.
It’s the little things that count, and it’s the small touches in the bathroom that require frequent replacement. Towels, soap, toiletries and candles are essentials that impart touches of carefree country charm in an instant. The most appealing aspect of all is that you can change your bathroom accents as often as you need new towels or soap. Choose sumptuous fluffy towels and king-sized bath sheets in plain, soothing colours to accessorise your country bathroom with a touch of luxury. As towels often make up a significant surface area in the bathroom, select a colour that works as an accent to your main decorating scheme when purchasing towels. Most towel manufacturers provide an entire range of coordinating bathmats, hand towels and face cloths to help you achieve a unified look in the bathroom.
White towels always look fine, while classy French blue or delicate sage green are soothing pastels that contribute to a restful mood. Evoke masses of summer blooms with soft rose pink and golden yellow or cream. Emphasise a feeling of old-fashioned luxury by displaying elegant vintage bottles that once contained toiletries and medicines. Use them to store bath oils and salts and other bathing essentials if they’re suitable, or seek out toiletries in packages and containers with an antique feel — there are plenty available. Splurge on gorgeous cakes of soap and display them in a pretty bowl or basket before using them in the bath. French milled soaps have a smooth, luxurious feel and subtle scent, while handmade soaps containing flowers, fruit, herbs and spices feel as though you are virtually bathing in the garden. Creamy lotions and heavy oils transport a bather to the decadent baths of the fabled land of milk and honey. These little luxuries will be well worth the extra pennies.
Candles positioned to provide a subtle warm glow create a beautiful atmosphere for relaxation. Use scented candles or oil burners as aromatherapy while bathing, or plain pillar candles to provide flickering, romantic light. Choose candlesticks that complement your other bathroom finishes: pretty cut-glass, rustic porcelain or elegant brass and silver are just a few choices for working decorative artistry. Don’t forget the special touch that’s always provided by fresh flowers. In a bathroom, a large bunch of blooms can be impractical. Finesse a single luscious bloom or a small posy in a pretty silver vase and you’ll be surprised at the result.