The last time my husband and I stood next to one another, brushing our teeth at our separate bathroom sinks was … never. Side by side, hawking spent toothpaste into twin basins? Whose brilliant design idea was that? I guess mine. Since we, like many Americans who’ve remodeled in the past 15 years, exercised our double-sink option.
Above: A London bath (to see more of the house, go to The Power of Pastels). Photo by Emma Lee for Remodelista.
It turns out there is nothing romanticâ€”or even practicalâ€”about the side-by-side master bathroom. The bathroom is fundamentally a place to be alone. Things happen in there no one else should see. On what planet would double sinks make sense, the planet Spitron?
The American bathroom is yet another example of design obesity. We have McMansions and three-car garages and sprawling, pointless lawns that guzzle gallons of water. We have enormous walk-in closets to hold all the clothes and shoes we never wear. Once, when looking for a house to buy, I even saw one that had side-by-side toilets. (Twin toilets might make sense if you are running a summer camp or marrying into the Brady Bunch, but in normal life? It would take Sigmund Freud to parse that one.) And now we have redundant sinks in master bathrooms across the land. How did we get so carried away?
I blame the city of Philadelphia. In 1802, when Philadelphia became the first municipality in the US to install a public water system, it gave people ideas. For pipes. And running water. And separate spaces that could be designated as “bathrooms.” The clever all-purpose washstandâ€”with its splashboard, towel bar, and pitcher-and-bowl setâ€”was headed for its own private room.
Above: The Water Monopoly in London makes reproduction plumbing fixtures like this Marble Double Basin on Legs, a reproduction of a French 1920s sink made from Calacatta Orro marble.
Within four decades, 82 more cities were supplying hissing steam-powered water through cast-iron pipes. Then the Sanitary Movement got imported from England, and by the late 1800s public health advocates were campaigning for adoption of the “water closet” (aka: the toilet) and “lavatories” (sinks).
By the early 1900s, we had hot-and-cold running taps, and commode style sinks, and pedestal sinks, and porcelain sinks, andâ€”for rich peopleâ€”marble sinks with silver-plated fixtures that cost the ungodly sum of $50.
Above: A pair of vintage sinks in a project by Sydney-based interior designer Justine Hugh-Jones.
At that point, we as a nation should have left well enough alone.
Fast forward to 2012, when I remodeled my 1,750-square-foot cottageâ€”its first overall design overhaul since being built in 1926â€”and vowed not to strip the house of its vintage charm. I saved the wedding cake ceiling molding, the leaded pane sideboard, and the wavy glass casement windows.
I avoided many other remodeling pitfalls, as well. I carefully considered every bit of common wisdom and without a moment’s hesitation said no to the monster kitchen island, the super-sized spa tub, and the under-counter wine cooler.
But in the bathroom, where I really desperately need a linen closet, I instead have redundant sinks.
Above: Double sinks with a pair of vintage mirrors in a project by Justine Hugh-Jones.
Is there any silver lining? I sought an architect’s opinion.
“Well, with Valentine’s Day approaching, it might be interesting to think of the sink in relation to the two-cushion sofa. While two cushions may look much better, they’re anti-socialâ€”who wants to sit in the crack? Two sinks on the other hand, is socializing,” said Oakland-based architect Jerome Buttrick, of Buttrick Wong. “It harkens back to the idea of common water sources in the village square.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “But I don’t think I’d want to socialize with the other villagers while flossing.”
“There is something to be said for having one sink,” Buttrick agreed. “There’s an intimacy. Just as you might share a table, a sofa, and a bed with someone, who knows what might happen if you share a sink?”
I’ll tell you what will happen if you don’t. You’ll lament your lack of a linen closet (which, if it were 24 inches deep and 24 inches wide, would need no more space than the amount currently allotted to the second sink in my master bath), and you’ll have to find somewhere else to store your extra set of bedsheets and your bath towels and the spare bath mat. At my house, you’ll find them under my husband’s sink.
Don’t let this happen to you. Let my story be a cautionary tale. Say yes to smart design by saying no to the dumb double sink.
Read more of Michelle’s Domestic Dispatches, including Remodeling 101: Could You Live Without Your Shower Curtain? and Seven Secrets to Making a Perfect Bed.