While the toilet in the form we know and love today is a fairly recent invention, public and private latrines have been around pretty much since the dawn of civilisation. The technology has changed a lot, but man’s dedication to making his toilet a place of beauty and calm, has been constant.
The toiletary styles of yesteryear are great sources of inspiration for today’s toilet makeover. Come with us on a journey through times and discover your next look…
Daily ablutions were a very important part of the ancient civic culture and - the Romans especially - put a great deal of care and design into their public bathing houses and latrines. They were social and communal places where citizens talked politics and business as they ‘did their business’.
While you may baulk at the idea of a communal loo, the Romans stylish treatment of their latrines is something that we can still marvel and take inspiration from. In particular, the beautiful mosaics of the Roman world can be replicated to powerful effect in modern – more private – toilets.
With the decline and fall of the Roman empire went all toilet sophistication for centuries. The complex sanitation and water supply systems of the ancient world were neglected and the next technology to emerge past the barbaric hole in the ground, was the humble bed pan.
Stored under beds or in closets, for centuries people just used this simple device and threw the results out of the window. The only pretty thing about the process was the pots themselves that were sometimes quite ornate.
An antique bed pan still makes a fantastic ornament in a modern bathroom (perhaps to double up as a plant pot). As well as an emergency solution, should all our modern plumbing go awry.
Oh, how the Victorians loved their toilets! For the British they were an emblem of industrial might and progress. London led the way in public sanitation, with the first public toilets in 1851 and a sewage system that is still considered one of the wonders of the world. This pride in sanitation was reflected in the decoration of toilets and every decent home was blessed with elaborately painted bowls and ornamental cisterns. It was a golden age for toilet beauty!
Victoriana is still rife in the water closets of the well-to-do, having staged a big comeback in recent years. This makes it is easy to source reproduction toilet furniture and create an authentic 19th-century style, but, be warned, this period look does not come cheap.
The next development in toilet design took place across the channel and was of a more communal nature. Paris in particular was the centre of an Art Nouveau flowering that saw many public buildings turned into things of great beauty, including public toilets. The woman’s only toilet, La Madeleine, is perhaps the most famous example, but Frenchmen are far from neglected. Paris is still littered with ornate pissoirs.
This distinctive floral style is not something that is so routinely reproduced today, and finding bowls and basins is not easy. Art Nouveau is, therefore, most commonly referenced with wallpapers. Find a good supplier and you will be able to deck your toilet out with tangled floral prints and achieve something very chic.
Decent homes for all was the post-war motto right across Europe and that push for democratisation included a decent toilet too! Mass production inevitably rendered the toilet a less fancy affair and the modern latrine is rather plain by comparison with its forbearers. Interior designers of the 50s, 60s and 70s compensated with the use of colour. Rich hues of beige, green and orange or colourful stripes.
More recently the colour seems to have drained out of toilet design and the vast majority of modern toilets are pure white. Convenient as that may be, for those of you who hanker after some retro-restyling, more colourful tiling options are still available.
So where next for the humble toilet? Well, toilets are set to get a lot more high-tech. For a long time now, Japan has led the way in toilet-tech with all sorts of gadgets and gismos built into their loos.
With the dawning of the internet of things, lavatories in the Western world could follow suit, and we’re set to see the introduction of high-tech features that do more than just blow hot air up our backsides. Smart toilets of the future will not only make us more comfortable but improve our health as well, with increased hygiene and even analysis of what we produce.
Some of the latest toilet units to appear on the market provide a complete hands-free experience for maximum no-touch hygiene. This includes voice activation, automatic raising and lowering of the toilet seat, automatic flushing, and a magic ‘wand’ that cleans up after you!
And it doesn’t stop there. Smart technology could be set to cut billions off the cost of healthcare, and toilets look likely to be right at the forefront of this revolution. Already, stool and urine testing is a reality for a few tech-leading homes. Diseases like diabetes are tested for and data can be and fed to your home computer or even direct to a healthcare provider for analysis.
If you’ve got a lot of money to spend, some of this smart technology is already available. Be a ‘first mover’ in the field of toilet tech and you are bound to create a point of conversation and envy amongst your guests.
Everything you ever wanted to know about your toilet, past, present and future.
Combine the styles of yesteryear with the technology of tomorrow with our complete guide to toilets through the ages.