Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Object Lessons: The Old-Fashioned Loo


Object Lessons: The Old-Fashioned Loo

October 7, 2014

Arguably the most nicknamed piece of plumbing in domestic history–and certainly one of the most life improving–the flush toilet was invented by John Harrington, poet and godson of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1597. His creation was promptly installed at Richmond Palace for royal use but remained unavailable to the general public for another 250 years. In 1778 a US cabinetmaker acquired a patent for the flush toilet and Thomas Jefferson installed three at the White House.

Still, this modern convenience remained exclusive–and notoriously unreliable–until it was exhibited at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. There, 800,000 visitors queued to see, use, and marvel at the attraction. What set the new version apart from its processors was the addition of a U-bend pipe and cistern that used its own tank of water for each flush. We have Thomas Crapper to thank for this added refinement (his name purportedly became popular slang when American GIs saw it emblazoned across toilets in Great Britain during WWII). Crapper went on to introduce the ballcock to the cistern, helping to conserve water. Toilet looks haven’t changed a great deal over the centuries. Here’s a selection of traditional shapes and styles that pay homage to the golden age of plumbing.

Above: A flush toilet beside a window with red privacy glass at Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Photograph by architect Rafe Churchill, a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory.

Five to Buy

Above: Baileys Home & Garden in the UK offers the 1930s Bathroom Kit, which includes a pedestal sink with chrome faucets (shown left), a toilet with an oak seat (shown right), plus a steel bath; £998 ($1,603.74 USD) for the ensemble. Read about Baileys in our post Beauty & Utility.

Above: Deborah Bowman, winner of the


Above: The Universal Elongated Watercloset Seat from Waterworks has a mahogany seat and is available with chrome, nickel, and other hardware fitting finishes; prices start at $993.

Above: The 1930 Floor Standing Toilet from Duravit has a Deco appeal–it was first presented in 1930; $490 from Plumbtile (bidet sold separately).

Above: The Vintage Connector Toilet Suite incorporates design details from the Australian Federation period with a dual-flush system; $1,460 AUS ($1,279.40 USD) from Caroma, an Australian company with a global reach.

Stay tuned: Later this week in our Faucets & Fixtures column, we’ll be presenting five favorite water-conserving toilets.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100, a collection of essential everyday objects presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons, including the Hardware Store Porcelain Socket, the British Great Cloakroom Basin Tap, and the Aga and Its Lookalikes.

Finally, get more ideas on how to evaluate and choose your bathroom toilet in our Remodeling 101 Guide: Bathroom Toilets.

Product summary  

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation