How to Create an 1894 Period-Correct Bathroom


The second floor of the Cross House originally had one bathroom. This was normal for the period. Save the original encaustic tile floor, nothing remains of the bathroom. Today, it is a gutted shell. Sigh. What did it originally look like? My research indicates that it did NOT look like the bathroom above. As elaborate as the Cross House is, it was not so elaborate as to warrant the pictured bathroom, which would have been in a mansion-grade edifice.



This image however offers a good approximation of what my bathroom looked like originally. Research has revealed that my walls originally had high wood wainscoting, just like as pictured. Was my wood painted or varnished? I do not know. I suspect varnished. In this image the shower is obviously new, as is the toilet. The sink though appears original, and is likely what was in my bathroom.



The same type sink. I think it is yummy.



I particularly like a detail once common to old bathrooms: sinks and tubs and toilets which sat on marble slabs with a raised edge. Nice. LOVE this detail.



This is a period-correct toilet for my bathroom, although this also seems too elaborate for the Cross House. They make modern versions of high tank toilets, but they really don’t look like this. Not really. Is it even possible to find a fully restored 1890s toilet?



I suspect that the original toilet in my bathroom would have been a simpler version such as this.



A tub to-die-for, but also too fancy for the Cross House.



I suspect the original tub would have more like this. I have also seen versions with a varnished wood top edge. Nice.



It is really fascinating that time-machines were readily available in the 1890s.


I am years away from restoring the bathroom but am nonetheless interested in learning all I can about it, and all I can about what an 1894 bathroom would have looked like for a house of the style/quality of the Cross House.

If I were to restore the bathroom now I would:

  • Recreate the wood tall wainscoting.
  • Install the type marble sink as shown above.
  • Restore the encaustic tile floor.
  • Install a toilet from 1950.
  • In 1950, a bunch of bathrooms were installed in the Cross House when it was converted into a motel. In the garage I have a stack of tubs from these bathrooms. I would install one in the bathroom.
  • Install period-correct lighting.

Obviously, such a bathroom would not look like the original. But the original bath is long lost. My version would look like an 1890s bathroom updated in 1950. Kinda fun.

But, who knows what I will eventually do…




  1. Carla Windsor Brown on March 31, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Though I’ve not been there in years, 35-40 years ago, the women’s restroom at The Hays House in Council Grove still had the old “pull chain” toilet! I recall the first time I encountered it being a bit perplexed!

  2. Bethany on March 31, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I think you have a realistic goal in your bathroom ideas. When making a house fit for use in the 2016’s I do think you have to bring in a few upgrades, such as a 1950’s toilet LOL

  3. Michael Bazikos on March 31, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    I restored my bathroom with a high tank toilet from Mac the Antique Plumber. It works very well and uses 1.6gal/flush. I had to gut my bathroom and fix the framing, rewire and replumb it. The room originally had a linoleum floor. It is practical, but I laid a hexagonal mosaic tile floor with a border and ‘flowers’. I had to account for my cousin that lives here and abuses everything. My house had wallpaper everywhere, but it would soon get destroyed in the bathroom. That in fact happened to me, it was an expensive lesson. I want to install lincrusta to protect the lower walls and stencil the walls above. I have an antique clawfoot tub with a shower riser, and an antique slate and cast iron heating grate. I know that you can find an antique toilet of the period but it will be shockingly expensive. It may have decent porcelain yet it may have just enough wear that it will be very stain-prone. You have to decide what your standards are and if you are willing to live with extremely expensive antiques that are not perfect.

  4. Montana Channing on April 2, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Too bad the Cross House isn’t fancy enough for one of those box-style toilets as I think they are so much better looking that any porcelain toilet ever made. What is the box opposite the toilet in the top view – a bidet?

    I think if you are going with a flush you should go back to the pull-chain type. The 1950’s are best forgotten – easy to do since so many products made then are so bland – lighting and furniture notwithstanding.

    Portland, Maine, City Hall’s restrooms had those pull-chain flushes well into the 1980’s.

  5. Amy Heavilin on April 3, 2016 at 10:15 am

    This is such a great post – especially since we’re in the pre-planning stages for Bath #1 (of five!). Bathrooms are tricky, aren’t they? My goal is to feel like the bath belonged in the house, even if it has some modern touches. I think anything within 10-15 years on either side of the build date of the house is fair game – you can use something older, because it would have existed, and it’s okay to have some updates, of course! I am so excited to get a bathroom done. We also discussed doing a high tank toilet – and I think we will somewhere in the house, but not on the first floor bath. Doug said, “We have some many guests and kids that come over – I don’t want to have to explain how to use the toilet to everyone – or have them feel awkward asking!” As always, he’s so logical and makes a valid point!

    • Ross on April 3, 2016 at 10:36 am

      I am not sure about a 10-15 year timeline.

      When people build a house they almost always default to new bathroom fixtures. I mean, if somebody were building a house today, would they use fixtures from 1999?

      Also, do people renovate bathrooms that are but a few years old?

      I enjoy learning what my 1894 house would have had when it was built. When I purchased the house I had no idea what a 1894 toilet looked like! I now do. And 1894 toilets look quite different than 1909 toilets. Or 1879 toilets.

      My approach is to try and work with a strict period-correct timeline, OR go way far into another period.

      If a person owns a home built in, say, 1890, and they don’t want to do a period-correct 1890 bathroom, why not do, say, a period-correct 1920s bathroom? 1920s toilets and sinks and tubs are readily available, and 1920s-style tile is being made again. One could go on eBay and buy 1920s home decor magazines which will have ads showing what 1920s bathrooms looked like.

      Or maybe do a 1930s bathroom? Or 1940s, and so on?

      • Amy Heavilin on April 3, 2016 at 10:49 am

        I absolutely think between 1890-1920 people would renovate / update bathrooms that were a few years old. Probably not full gut jobs – but changing out lighting and plumbing fixtures? Absolutely! We’re talking about a time period where electricity and plumbing advances and inventions were changing weekly and monthly – and many people moved heaven and earth to keep up with these changes. It’s part of what makes the change from the Victorian era into the 20s so crazy exciting!

        On the flip side, I also think that people have things that they love, and feel comfortable with. So, I do think that tile patterns or availability from recent years (hence my 10-15 year thought) makes sense. It’s not like people had the internet to scour for things – they had whatever the local hardware store or merchant had on their shelf. So, having tile that’s from a decade earlier? I think it’s entirely probable.

        It’s what makes restoring old bathrooms so hard – especially in my case, where there isn’t one shred of evidence about what existed (no matter how hard I’ve researched). When it’s all guesswork – you have to find the new reality from the house. For me? First and foremost, I want it to make me smile, and feel like it fits in with the rest of the home. I’m okay with it not being exact – because I have no clue what exact was. But my goodness, it’s going to make me smile.

        I am SO EXCITED to see what you do with yours!

        • Ross on April 3, 2016 at 11:20 am

          I am a firm believer in the Smile Factor!

        • Seth Hoffman on October 21, 2016 at 12:49 pm

          I like your philosophy. Congruence with the rest of the house is really more important than fitting a rigid interpret ion of what that period might have dictated. You’ll see it in the context of the rest of the home, not against a catalog. Of course, period styles are an important guide in finding what will look right.

      • Chad's Crooked House on April 5, 2016 at 8:12 am

        A few houses in my parents’ neighborhood were built in the 1930’s but have maid’s bathrooms with clawfoot tubs, so that may be an exception to everything being new.

        My grandparents re-tiled a 1959 bathroom in the 70’s.

  6. Seth Hoffman on October 21, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Whatever you end up with will look great. I’m so glad you’re not one of those people who remodel a Victorian bathroom in whatever the current ultra-modern style is at the time. Nothing bothers me more than walking from one room to another and feeling like you’re not in the same building anymore.

    Plus, any style that’s “In” now is guaranteed to look very dated in short order. Classic and consistent with the rest of the home will always look good.

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