Sometimes the things we take for granted have the most interesting lineage. Take the bathroom, as author Jane Powell and photographer Linda Svendsen have in "Bungalow Bathrooms" (Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2001, $39.95).
Not only does the book deliver practical information on restoring or designing a period bathroom for today's home, it also contains a humorous account (complete with Powell's self-confessed love of puns) of the history of the bathroom from the quite primitive to the fabled Roman and Turkish baths to those of today. Along the way, Powell debunks some commonly held ideas. One is that 17th century nobles rarely bathed. Wrong, she states. The palace at Versailles had more than 100 bathrooms, and Marie Antoinette bathed daily. She even describes a rudimentary shower used by Michel de Montaigne in 1581 in Italy.
All of these historic asides lead to her main theme, which is the importance of keeping the bathroom true to the style of the house that contains it. Focusing specifically on bathrooms found in all kinds of late 19th and early 20th century houses, she calls her book a "what-to," not a "how-to." Powell explains what was available and used at the time and gives specific hints for those she calls obsessive restorationists and others more willing to compromise.
In chapter after chapter, each one introduced by a humorous quote, Powell gives practical advice. One titled "Nuts and Bolts" illustrates plumbing fixtures, with such subtitles as "Pipe Dream" and "Drain of Terror." It's hard to make such a mundane topic enticing, but Powell succeeds by combining practical information with funny commentary.
Powell explains that American bungalows in the later part of the 19th century were mainly done in a sanitary-looking all white. Although colored tile was introduced in the 1920s, it wasn't until the 1930s that it was used often to create the Arts and Crafts look, which came long after the peak of the movement. There are several white bathrooms in the book, with the hall bath of the 1908 Greene & Greene-designed Gamble House in Pasadena being a standout because of its art-glass door. Take away the door, Powell says and the bathroom is like that of any other of the period.
For more color, there's the Moorish-style niche bath in a 1929 Spanish-style house that has a raised lavender tub and bright green tiles, the dark-stained bead-board wainscoting in a late 19th century Queen Anne cottage bathroom and a black-and-blue bath in a 1929 Mediterranean-style home.
The author of "Bungalow Kitchens," Powell is also the past president of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, a historic preservation organization in her hometown of Oakland. "Bungalow Bathrooms" concludes with a list of resources that will be invaluable to anyone seriously contemplating restoring a bathroom--or any other room in an older house.
Anyone who's walked the streets of San Francisco and looked up at the many colorful Victorian houses has probably wondered at their differences. Some seem totally over-the-top in color and cornices; others are a bit more sedate, like a quiet elderly aunt sitting in the corner. "Victorian Glory" (Penguin Putnam, 2001, $32.95) by author Paul Duchscherer and photographer Douglas Keister explains the differences. Although the book is coffee-table quality, it also has information for those who want it; San Francisco-based Duchscherer is a historian, former University of California professor of design and author of four other design books.
Long captions under the photographs detail when the house was built, the architect, the specific style and any decorative features shown, including fittings, ceramic tiles, wood used, wallpaper and so on. Duchscherer opens each chapter with longer text, covering styles such as Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire and Stick/Eastlake. Because all these different styles represent popular taste changes throughout the 19th century, it's easy to see how one followed another, each new one set of craftsmen attempting to outdo what came before.
Of particular interest are the before and after shots showing houses that have been restored. There is also a list of 34 historic homes in the Bay Area that are open to the public.
The new British Galleries of London's Victoria and Albert Museum opened in late November after a $45-million remake. On view are such decorative arts treasures as the Great Bed of Ware and Henry VIII's writing desk. The 15 galleries tell the story of British design from the Tudor period to the Victorian era and display the V&A's collection of historic furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass and more.
Among the more than 3,000 exhibits on view are works by such major names as Robert Adam, William Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Wedgwood, Doulton and Chippendale. The museum's address is Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL, England. For more information, visit the museum's Web site, at www.vam.ac.uk.