“In a room five feet square.”

While working on remodeling my bungalow bathroom (more on that later) I was looking for some vintage art to put on the wall. I found this 1922 ad:

1922.

I loved it immediately and decided that would be on my wall. (I ordered it from this eBay seller.) But, note the caption:

“Five Foot ‘Standard’ Bathroom
Pembroke Bath with Shower, Marcosa Lavatory
and Expulso Closet in a room five feet square.”

Five feet square?! 25 square feet? That’s a pretty small room, but it is possible if the sink is small. I grew up in a house that had a very small bathroom, but it was closer to 5′x7′ — the sink and toilet could both fit on the same wall, which at least left room for a laundry hamper.

Looking at other Standard ads from the 1920s, I saw this theme repeated over and over, usually with gorgeous painted artwork to illustrate (click each image to see a full version):

The advertising emphasized the flexibility and freedom of having these small bathrooms as convenient extra bathrooms in one’s home to “assure ideally ample bathroom facilities” and allow “leisurely washing, and splashing, and fixing, and primping before the lavatory glass.”

This ad attempted to appeal to both women and the men in their homes who might be irritated at the time spent in the bath:

"Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own" -- the freedom of not sharing a bathroom, by installing one in a five foot square space.  "Ample bathroom facilities are not a luxury." Though the room is small, it has rose tiles and a checked linoleum floor, with elaborate light fixtures.

“Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own” — the freedom of not sharing a bathroom, by installing one in a five foot square space.
“Ample bathroom facilities are not a luxury.” Though the room is small, it has rose tiles and a checked linoleum floor, with elaborate light fixtures.

Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own — where she could take her own sweet time, knowing it would not be remarked upon — confident that others were not being inconvenienced.

How hard it is to use a bathroom on schedule!

The bathroom in this ad, though tiny, had a sense of feminine luxury, with rose-colored tilework, golden sconces with aqua shades, and a butterfly area rug.

Unspoken in the Five Foot Square ad campaign was something else — if you can install a full bathroom in such a small space, you can easily add bathrooms to homes that previously didn’t have indoor plumbing.

Standard ads, both in the 1920s and otherwise, tended to promote elaborate and expensive luxury bathroom designs, ones which were out of reach for many. Earlier ads often showed fairly large bathrooms with features such as bidets and sitz baths, and it was common for the ads to show household maids at work in the bathroom. Here are a couple of the earlier Standard ads:

The Five Feet Square ads combined an appeal to luxury (extra baths for the lady who has everything) with an appeal to those homeowners still in smaller, older houses: you too, they said, can have glamorous indoor plumbing. All you need is a spare closet or the end of a hallway!

Whether the campaign was successful or not, I don’t know. By the 1930s, Standard seems to have moved on to ads emphasizing color, Art Deco modernity, and the replacement of old, “unsightly” fixtures such as clawfoot tubs. If you want a bathroom in a room five feet square, though, American Standard (formerly Standard) still sells a tiny sink or two.

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