Freeing The Bathroom From The Past

Last week, we covered the evolution of private and public space in the home and covered the bathroom. While the bathroom has naturally become more private over the years, its history has influenced its design in interesting ways. Since modern plumbing is barely more than a hundred years old, the bathroom is actually one of the newest rooms in the home. Even in its short history, the bathroom has had a fascinating development.

Timber Frame Guest Bath Clawfoot TubWhen indoor plumbing started to become common in Europe around 1870, there were two distinct directions for the toilet. In the large homes of the wealthy, entire large rooms were converted into bathrooms. These rooms would house a shower or bath, toilet and sink, much like a modern bathroom. In smaller homes, the various fixtures were kept separate as they had been previously. The toilet was placed wherever possible, often in a closet. This gave rise to the term water closet, which also contrasted with outhouses which were called earth closets.

Timber Frame Master BathroomIn America, there was a great deal of new construction and bathrooms made their way into new homes first. These bathrooms of the early 1900s already had all the features of the modern, typical bathroom. The sink, toilet and shower were all arranged along one wall, which made plumbing easier and less expensive. The materials were primarily tile and porcelain, reducing the large amounts of wood used in European bathrooms.


Bathroom from 1915


While the materials and décor may have changed over time, the basic layout of the bathroom has been essentially constant for a hundred years. Most bathrooms are still constructed in one room, and usually a small one at that. Experts have argued that separating the various fixtures of the bathroom is the best idea for hygiene and efficiency, but most bathrooms in homes today follow the patterns dictated by inexpensive plumbing.

bathroom with jetted tub in bay windowOne of the best aspects of building your own home is designing each space to fit your needs. If you’re someone who loves to take baths, then there’s no need to compromise. You can build an outstanding walk-in shower and separate, elevated soaking tub, instead of the poor compromise shower/tub combo that is too small to be a proper tub and too tall to be a great shower. You can have the toilet located in a separate small room of its own, increasing hygiene and usability of the bathroom.

Grantham-Residence_05_Master-BathSome past trends in bathroom design are making a resurgence, as well. A current trend is to use re-purposed cabinets as vanities, topped with vessel sinks. This choice evokes the aesthetics of wash basins before the advent of indoor plumbing, while maintaining all the modern conveniences.

barn home modern bathroomWhatever your ideal is for a bathroom design, it would be a perfect complement to a new timber frame home. Please contact us today to get started on designing a home, and bathrooms, that will please you for years to come.

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The Evolution of Public and Private Home Spaces

The Home has never been a static concept, and what constitutes the ideal home has changed throughout time. With the increasing living standards that have occurred over the centuries, we have been able to build more intricate and complex homes. This trend has allowed us to build homes with more rooms, leading to an increased distinction between public and private spaces within the home. Mostly, this trend has allowed increased private spaces within the home, with one notable exception.


Modern timber frame homes allow for the perfect balance of public and private space.

The earliest homes, as we would recognize the term today, consisted of one large enclosed room. Typically, the kitchen was near the center so that the fire could also provide heat to the home. Guests were received in the “front” of the house between the entryway and kitchen, while the family slept in the rear area. This arrangement provided some privacy from people outside the home, but once inside there was very little separating guests from the sleeping quarters.

Timber frame home with some cape style characteristics, including steep pitched roof and central chimney

Even small timber frame homes offer outstanding privacy.

The first increase in privacy was, naturally, to build an interior wall separating the public front of the house from the sleeping quarters. Now the home finally had separate public and private spaces, so that guests could be entertained only in the public areas of the home. However, all members of the household still slept together in the one private room. It was only in the Victorian age that privacy of a married couple from their children became an important consideration. Even then, all children would typically share one room. By the early twentieth century opposite sex children might have their own rooms, with individual rooms per child only becoming common much later. In non-Western countries, two-thirds of children still sleep in the same room as their parents.


Private bedrooms were a welcome, but relatively recent, innovation in the average home.

The bathroom is another room that has been trending towards more privacy over time. Initially, the functions of a bathroom were separated by necessity. While the outhouse provided a fair measure of privacy, washing up was done in the bedroom or kitchen, while bathing was typically done in the kitchen since that was the only source of hot water. Once indoor plumbing consolidated these functions into the bathroom, there was privacy during use but only one bathroom shared among all. Later, separate restrooms for guests and bathrooms for the family became common, and the increased privacy of a master bathroom has become de rigueur in recent decades.


The master bathroom is one great leap forward for privacy in the home.

With this trend towards increased privacy in the home, the kitchen is one area that became more private before becoming public again. Early kitchens were public by necessity, but as soon as a family could afford to tuck the kitchen away in the back they did so. Until perhaps the 1980s, the kitchen was considered unsightly and was often hidden from guests who were served in a more formal dining room. Recently, however, the kitchen has become the social center of the house and the cooking experience is shared with all. Today, the kitchen has become one of the most public rooms in the home.

post and beam kitchen

The kitchen has become a more public space in recent decades.

We hope you enjoyed this look at the history of privacy in the home. Whatever your privacy requirements are in your dream home, feel free to contact our designers about building the perfect home for you.

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A Timber Framed White House

Dear Mr. President,

We were pleased to hear that funds for the redesign of the exterior of the White House had been approved. After reading our proposal for a timber framed White House, we think you will agree that a Timberpeg is the perfect design choice for a such an important building.


Time for an upgrade?

One of our reasons for proposing a timber framed White House is historical accuracy. As you are no doubt aware, the White House was originally constructed as a timber framed structure with an Aquia Creek sandstone exterior. The timber frame valiantly served for over a hundred years, but stressful events like the razing by the British in 1814 and the addition of a fourth-floor attic in the 1920s left the structure unsound. This is why the timber framing was replaced by a steel structure in the Truman administration, although the timber framing was sawn and reused as paneling in four rooms on the ground floor. We think returning to a timber frame, albeit a modern and robust one, is a natural decision.


Our vision for the north façade of a timber framed White House.

Of course, this is a great time to update the exterior materials as well. Aquia Creek sandstone was used in the early 19th century since it was easy to carve, but we now know that it is very susceptible to weathering. For protection, the stone was originally whitewashed with an unappealing mixture of lime, rice glue and lead. Of course, today we build with much more sustainable materials and methods. Our plan would be to build the walls with structural insulated panel construction, a method that would keep the White House cool in the muggy Washington summers.


The beautiful timber framed southern façade of a timber framed White House.

We also feel that a timber frame building will help the White House develop a more American character. The current White House’s stone construction, coupled with its neoclassical design, makes it feel like a building pulled right out of ancient Rome. With a new timber framed construction, we can keep the neoclassical design elements while softening the exterior appearance with wooden siding. The clapboard siding for the lower floors still projects a stately appearance, while the cedar shake siding keeps the attic looking light. We’ve also used stone to rebuild the South Portico, but understand if you’d prefer to change the shiplap doors.


If Marine One is being upgraded, why not also the much older White House?

We look forward to hearing what you think of the plans, Mr. President. Also, if you could convince Congress that a timber framed Capitol is a good idea, we would appreciate the referral.

Most Respectfully,
Your Friends at Timberpeg

Disclaimer: This post presents an obviously fictional scenario for our bid to redesign the exterior of the White House. Still, a timber frame White House sounds like a great idea to us!

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The Origins of the Timber Framing Tradition

Wood is such a great building material that it is no wonder that its use predates history. Throughout the world, where trees were abundant they were used to build homes and other structures. However, due to differences in resources available in different regions, timber framing developed uniquely in each region and was even absent from some regions. Here is the some of the back story behind the evolution of timber framing.


The timber frame home has had a long journey through history.

The major factor influencing whether a region developed a timber framing culture was the type of forests found in the region. Areas with softwood forests did not tend to develop timber framing. Since softwoods grow more quickly than hardwoods, and also tend to grow long and straight, these regions preferred to construct log homes instead. This is why Russia and the Scandinavian countries are better known for their log home cultures rather than timber framing. Throughout the rest of Europe, timber framing was more common.

Although softwoods are now commonly used for posts and beams, timber framing developed in regions with hardwood forests.

Although softwoods are now commonly used for posts and beams, timber framing developed in regions with hardwood forests.

Early timber framing used crude engineering, but modern timber framing developed around the time of ancient Rome. In fact, the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius preserved several timber frame structures at Herculaneum. These buildings were of half-timbered construction, with the posts exposed on both sides of the wall and filler made of woven sticks and plaster, called wattle and daub, in between the timber members. The Roman architect Vitruvius felt this construction method was a fire risk, but we now know that thick timers are actually quite fire resistant.

Old German Half-Timbered Building with wattle and daub plus brick infill. Public Domain Image.

Old German Half-Timbered Building with wattle and daub plus brick infill. Public Domain Image.

As the Roman Empire spread, their practices in timber framing spread with them. Timber framing became especially popular in what is now Germany, France and England. Half-timbered construction was still the prevalent form, and when you picture an English or German timber framed building this is likely what comes to mind. The German town of Quedlinberg has over 1200 half-timbered houses constructed over 500 years. The English developed the cruck truss, a medieval development that is still used today.


A cruck truss Timberpeg home.

By 1500, the massive demand for wood had led to widespread deforestation in Europe and especially in England. Wealthy houses in England used a technique called close studding, where posts of approximately six inches were placed barely a post width apart from one another. This was not needed for structural reasons, but merely intended to show off the wealth of the homeowner. The English colonists in America used half-timbered homes at first, but quickly shifted to clapboard siding, which was also a traditional English building style.

A clapboard-sided Timberpeg home.

A clapboard-sided Timberpeg home.

We’ve focused on the development of European timber framing, since it has had the most influence on timber framing in America. However, timber framing has traditions throughout the world. Japan, for instance, has a rich tradition of timber framing. While it is referred to more often as post and lintel rather than post and beam construction, Japanese timber framing was also highly resistant to seismic stress and thus widely adopted. The pagoda at Hōryū-ji, for example, is a timber framed building that has been standing since about 607 AD, making it one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.

Timber Framed Buildings at Hōryū-ji. Public Domain Image.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief review of the origins of timber framing. If you want to contribute to the history of timber framing by building your own Timberpeg, please contact us.

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