Despite telling everyone we know that after thirty-four years together we neither needed nor wanted anything, we received two wedding gifts – one a beautiful old piece of Meissen from my old prof and, only last week, a colourful and gilded, if disconcerting, chamberpot. "WTF," said the Celt, when he saw it for the first time. Mild-mannered as he normally is, seeing a chamberpot, or po as we both knew such an item, on the dining table threw him, I think.
There was a time when bathrooms moved inside and chamberpots, in theory, were no longer necessary and as late as the 1960s they flooded antiques stores in Britain (I remember Portobello Road, so many chamberpots on display, it looked as if the market had prepared itself for an epidemic of dysentery) and it was thought amusing to deal with them as cachepots and display them in a daring, if whimsical, way and, frequently atop an art nouveau-ish pedestal. The spider plant, looking for all like a big splash, was the favorite. Never got it, myself, but each to his own.
However strongly I theorized about an aesthetic tension between a mid-nineteenth-century utilitarian object and an early twentieth-century iconic modernist table it was a friend's fixed grin that convinced me it did not look good on the coffee table. Unimaginable as it is to use it for the dining table or even as a vessel for nibbles at a cocktail party, and the idea of using it as a plant pot is just too waggish, we are faced with what to do with a gorgeously decorative po. Thus, as we wait for inspiration to strike, it sits in the office, bracketed by pairs of red sandstone carpet weights, high on a shelf, the whole ensemble looking like some forgotten souvenir of the Raj.
Remembering as I do the freezing bathroom of my childhood – in winter the windows had ice on the inside – I cannot, nowadays, bear an uncomfortable bathroom. I don't need carpet, though a good thick toweling bathmat is welcome if the floor is unheated – that 1980s decorette mode of creating a "country house" bathroom to look like a conversion from a bedroom or library was not and still is not to my taste.
Having gotten used to Italian hotel bathrooms, marvels of compression and utility that they are, they have given me a taste for the luxurious finish – marble-clad bathtubs, vanities and shower stalls, mosaic paneled walls, heated towel rails and flattering-to-early-morning-skin paint colors.
It's not easy to think of bathrooms as being timeless yet the functions are quite clearly defined and unless there is drastic change in human physiology those functions of elimination and cleanup will remain as they always have been. A third function, essential of course, is to provide lighting sufficient to the task of performing the necessaries efficiently. Anything else ascribed to the space, be it as a retreat or spa, is just fluff designed to appeal to the aspirational and envious amongst us – as pleasant as it might be to have warmed floors and towels, the costliest of marbles and glass, and every scented candle known to mankind.
The first bathroom is by William Sofield, photographed by Fritz von der Schulenberg and taken from Mr Schulenberg's excellent book Luxurious Minimalism, and is the definition of aspirational from my point of view, that is.
The second is by Tino Zervudachi from his book Tino Zervudachi: A Portfolio – another excellent book that I frequently dip into. Having been raised without a shower and only a tub, I feel if I ever see a bathtub again it'll be too soon, still I love this bathroom – despite the wc and bidet being by the window. Below the window, by the window or across from the window doesn't matter but when it's in full view of the neighbors be they human or flying squirrels, I demur.