Room-inations: The Bathroom

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library

Room-inations: The Bathroom

This is the first post in a three part series about rooms around the house.

bathrooms Photo by Ambro.A sweet silence descends over the din when you shut the door. A sigh of liberation is born. Water is ample, tumbling from shower-heads, from faucets, signifying the spiritual purification found in ablutions. If you are lucky, accoutrements—ranging from good-smelling hand soap to a large mirror with soft lighting on which one can confront all matters of contemplation, amour-propre and self-loathing—adorn and are, naturally, adored.

Man is born free and everywhere else is in chains — except, of course, when he is in his own bathroom.

There is no place quite as wonderful. Whether it is big or small, grimy or well-appointed, those who are initiated know that between discomfort and relief, desire and satisfaction, distressing vulnerability and a brave face poised to take on all the horrors and joys of the world stands one thing, and one thing only: a bathroom. It is no wonder Blanche Dubois subscribed to the luxurious absolving of the self that only a soak in a tub of hot water can claim. And consider the nearly religious comfort Esther Greenwood finds in a hot bath:

“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure," she says, "But I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: ‘I’ll go take a hot bath.’ I meditate in the bath."

The carte blanche of, essentially, whatever is what makes a private bathroom a magical paradise. Its whatever may be more limited than other rooms found in a house, certainly, but who cares when you’re dreaming away in a steam bath? Indeed, where else can you examine the islands of your knees while surrounded by a pool of fragrant water? Or combine the act of divesting germs from your body with listening to Lil Wayne—without prying eyes?

I myself spent many, many hours in my youth sitting on top of the faux-marble sink of my semi-private bathroom (my father, ever the utilitarian, only used this bathroom in its eponymous sense—that is to say, to bathe) painting my nails, writing limericks, reading an entire psychology textbook in one very cold, very boring afternoon. These were all things that could be done more comfortably anywhere else, obviously, but it was the contained privacy, the very intimate experience of being alone, uninterrupted, with my thoughts that was so deliciously compelling to me.  (Also, because of its diminutive size, this bathroom was the warmest room in the house.)

Where the bedroom was regarded as a cozy dinner I looked forward to every night, I considered the bathroom to be a magnificently extended snack break that, if lucky, sort of bleeds into a really nice, really long and productive lunch. And, when you think about it, bathrooms contain positive transformative properties for those who are willing to convert the mundane activity of sitting on a toilet seat or standing underneath a shower-head into the sublime experience of ritual purification.

I trust that in private bathrooms all over the world restive states, after a few moments of merely pondering the self in the mirror, become supplicants to, if not peace, then at least something loosely approximating it. Insides become outsides. After following a simple prescription of warm soapy water, dirt and your general sense of failure alter into a joie de vivre so delicious, so cocky, you may even dare consider yourself smarter than Vladamir Nabokov—if only for a moment.

So, if life is to be enjoyed, nay, luxuriated in, why not glean bathroom-decorating inspiration from the best bathroom design collection your DC library card can borrow?

The following are a few suggested titles from the library's collection.

-- My Nguyen