Annual Meeting, Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SEASH)
Lynchburg, VA, October 11-14, 2017
Interpreting the Historic House Bathroom: Gilded Age Design, Decoration, and Distinction
Despite its significance within Gilded Age architectural history, the bathroom has received relatively little scholarly attention and rarely figures among other important spatial developments of the period. In contemporary museum and heritage operations, bathrooms are among the most underrepresented rooms in the house: they are among the first spaces to be sacrificed for other uses, and, where they are open to the public, are often interpreted incompletely, or else not at all. As public interest in ‘backstage’ and service spaces increases, however, identifying and understanding bathrooms and their uses becomes increasingly important.
This lecture will explore the development of the private luxury bathroom between about 1890 and 1910, during which time plumbing technology had largely been perfected and emphasis shifted from functional to social and decorative experimentation and definition. Focusing primarily on America’s mansion houses, from Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s The Breakers in Newport to James Dooley’s Swannanoa Palace in Virginia, it will consider the impact of period concerns about hygiene, civilization, gender, and class, as well as architectural trends and regionalism on the spatial and decorative arrangement of bathrooms. Lastly, it will address the case of the mansion house museum bathroom, and how to approach issues of perspective and change in the interpretation of these critical spaces.
Lecture location: Panel 3B/Heritage Tourism, Room TBD
Download the full program here.