This section is from the book "Homes And Their Decoration", by Lillie Hamilton French. Also available from Amazon: Homes and their decoration.
IT used to be the cry of returning travellers from abroad that no conveniences for bathing existed in Europe, and that for a good honest tub, with hot and cold running water, one must come back to this country. In reality, however, such travellers know nothing about the charms of baths abroad, neither how to order them, nor yet how to take them when obtained, - nothing, in fact, of those baths in Paris where a maid in cap and apron wheels into one's bedroom in the morning a copper tub on rollers, with a clean linen sheet laid inside, another sheet on her arm to be spread over an easy-chair, in which one is to be seated on stepping from the tub. And then the towels! - in a copper bucket, also on rollers, and tucked away in compartments, a separate compartment holding hot water for heating them, so that when the half a dozen towels are taken out they are found to be as warm as though they had been heated on the high fender of one's own nursery fire. Until lately what had we to match these delights? To-day, to be sure, most houses have a bathroom on each floor, and a house of any importance has one for every member of a family. Some thirty years ago such arrangements were not required: even in Newport they did not exist. One bathroom to a house was often considered luxurious enough. I do not remember a single genuine Colonial house that was originally built with a bathroom. There was no sign of any in General Washington's house at Mount Vernon.
Even in our own day, outside our great cities, we can boast few conveniences for bathing. In few of our newest summer hotels are there more than three or four bathrooms for the use of all the guests, and a bath every day becomes the most expensive of luxuries. The guests are forced in self-defence to provide their own tubs, and then a fee must be doubled to secure enough hot water to fill them in the morning. People travelling from place to place who are obliged to go to the small hotels of our country towns tell us that in winter a bath in one of these places is almost an impossibility, since the single faucet (for cold water only) is always turned off with the first coming of the frost, and the tub itself made a receptacle for dustpans and brooms. When bathtubs were introduced into tenements in New York, they were filled with dirt by the tenants, and used for the growing of vegetables and greens. In many instances the winter coal was stored in them.
The development among us, indeed, of the modern bathroom is one of the interesting signs of the times. In our small apartments they are often the one desirable feature of the flat, being better built and appointed than they are in many an old-fashioned, four-storied, brown-stone house, and better ventilated even than the bedrooms. Open plumbing is now considered imperative; the heavy look of the old bathrooms, with everything encased in walnut, is no longer possible. Varnished papers and tiles have taken the place of woods and oilcloths, glass shelves that of wooden ones.
In many of the sumptuous houses of the day the bathroom alone frequently costs ten or twenty thousand, sometimes more. The splendid baths found in Pompeii or the Alhambra, or the cities of the Mediterranean, are copied. The floor is covered by a single slab - the tub cut from a solid block of marble. The cost is in the exquisite workmanship and in the materials used. High up on the mountains of the Island of Majorca I once saw one of these baths, restored by an Austrian prince for his daily use. A colonnade of wonderful Saracenic columns enclosed a rose garden; outside, some of the bushes grew against the windows, filling the huge marble bathroom with a cool, green light. The square marble tub, itself larger than many a prison cell, stood on a raised platform at one end. Round the other three sides of the room and against the walls ran low benches, on which the bather could recline and rest. And this in a wild and rugged country, inhabited only by peasants, except when the prince and his suite took up their residence on his estates. The interesting point to me was that the most primitive conditions existed in the rest of this particular lodge, all the cooking being done with charcoal on high stone tables against the walls, like those seen in the houses of Pompeii.
These square marble or tiled bathtubs are to be found in our newest houses, where they take the place of the porcelain-lined tubs which once marked so wide a step beyond the tin tubs of an older generation. Sometimes they are set in the floor, approach being had to their depths by marble steps. In some of our modern country houses, with an inexhaustible water supply, swimming pools and bathing places are found in separate buildings. The buildings are constructed of wood or marble. The great tub below the floor-level is surrounded by ferns and growing plants. Everything possible is done to revive the beauty and the sumptuousness of the ancient bath. For all that, we do not yet approach the splendor of the ancients, nor even the luxury of many Europeans. We crowd too much into one room, - the bath, the basin, the sitz, and the shower, - the cost of land in a town making this economy of space advisable, perhaps. One sometimes wonders, however, why in country houses, where there is plenty of land, the fashion of some foreigners is not adopted, each of the several articles just named being put in separate rooms; the bathtub in one, the basin in another, and so on. The floors of some of these luxurious bathrooms are of alabaster heated from below, a seashell sunk in the floor forming the bathtub, the faucets being of swans' heads and gilded.
The question of color should never be neglected, even when a bathroom and its appointments are simple. A moderate-sized bathroom in a modest city house has been transformed in this way: The floor is of white tiles, the bathtubs and basin are of white porcelain, a varnished paper showing pink roses and leaves covers the walls and the ceiling. The wall-space is broken by a mirror running from the floor to the same height as the top of the window. The window itself is of a leaded glass of pinkish tone, the curtains are soft green China silk, taking up the color of the leaves on the rose vines. China silks, it must be remembered, are easily laundered. All the pipes in this instance have been gilded.