The Smallest Room in the House: Exploring 20th Century Bathrooms

On a recent visit to the Lodge House, I stopped to consider something strange.

It was something I’d noticed before – something that you probably noticed too if you’ve visited the Lodge House. This historic house has multiple bathrooms (only one of which is available for public use), and all of them have unique features. Sporting double-faucet sinks, split toilet seats, and a shareable shower, there are surprises aplenty. But as far as functionality is concerned, these kinds of features seem odd. For example, what are the specific purposes of a sink with two faucets? And why is there a random shower on the Lodge House’s second floor?

Admittedly, I know nothing of the specifics of 20th Century interior design, much less the architectural anatomy of bathrooms. As such, it spawned an interest in me to fill this gap in my knowledge, and then to share some cool facts about the Lodge House. With that said, let’s take the plunge and discuss the intricacies of these design choices.

(I’m sorry for the pun. It felt necessary.)

Double Faucet Sinks

The most obvious oddity of the Lodge House bathroom is its sinks. Each one has a standard faucet in its center, which is perfectly normal for sinks. But take a look at that extra faucet on the right-hand side.

Why two faucets, you ask? (I sure did.) Turns out, each faucet has its own water line and specified purpose. Predictably, the center faucet was used for handwashing. The right-side faucet was used exclusively for anything that involved oral hygiene: rinsing, swishing, and spitting. Having separate water lines and faucets for these two activities was considered more hygienic in the 1900s, and that seems to be the case here.

Interestingly, some 20th Century bathrooms even have completely separate sinks: a standard sink and a “dental sink,” which was used only for tooth-brushing and mouth-rinsing. Hence, we call the additional right-hand faucet on the Lodge House sinks the “dental faucet.”

Split Toilet Seats

I confess: I wasn’t able to find out as much information about toilet seats as I was hoping (what an odd sentence). At least not conclusive evidence, anyway. Seats typically come in two “shapes”: the O shape and the U shape. The O shape design is fully closed and is found in most private bathrooms. The U shape is an “open front” design that features a space at the front of the seat. Public bathrooms usually have this latter design, but oddly enough, it’s featured in every bathroom at the Lodge House. We’re not sure why. It looks neither comfortable nor convenient to me, but there must have been a reason that it shows up in every single bathroom.

No one else seems to be conclusively sure why the U-shaped seat exists at all, either. Theories range anywhere from the configuration being more sanitary and utilitarian; to it being cheaper to manufacture; to lowering the risk of toilet seat theft in public restrooms. Articles online abound that attempt to answer this ageless question, so give it a Google if you’re curious.

Shared “Dorm Room” Shower

Guests and engineers used the second floor dormitories when staying long-term at the Lodge House. The setup included a bathroom exclusively used by these overnight guests. It includes multiple stalls and three sinks (all of which include the dental faucet), and a shower in the west corner of the room. But this is no ordinary shower. This is truly a dorm-room shower, where two or three people could bathe at once. Featuring multiple faucets and a large square design, there was enough room for everyone to clean up, saving water and time.

We don’t know how much this shower was actually used, or how often it was used by multiple bathers at once. But the fact that it was made available to them is pretty neat.

Interested in more 20th Century bathroom info?

If you’d like to learn more about this arguably strange topic, there’s a lot of information to go around. Check out the following resources I consulted when checking out this topic!

Cromwell, B. (2021 July). 20th century American toilets. Toilet Guru. https://toilet-guru.com/usa20th.php

Kueber, P. (2021, December 10). “Dental sinks” in mid-century bathrooms. Retro Renovation. https://retrorenovation.com/2010/12/10/dental-sinks-in-mid-century-bathrooms/

Lambert, T. (2021). A history of toilets. Local Histories. https://localhistories.org/a-history-of-toilets/

Sullivan, B. (2021, June 17). The history of the lavatory. Old House Online. https://www.oldhouseonline.com/kitchens-and-baths-articles/the-history-of-the-toilet/