What Exactly is a Powder Room? – A Brief Definition and History

by interior designer

in Bathroom

I’ve been asked on many occasions to explain exactly what a powder room is. Some people imagine a powder room to be a space for simply applying make-up and general beautification. Others have assumed it is another name for a general bathroom. In fact, both these assumptions are partly right but the answer lies in between the two. A powder room is basically a small bathroom interior with just a sink and a toilet.

It was in the 18th Century when the term ‘powder room’ came into existence. During this period it referred to a tiny interior, rather like a closet, where people went to have their wigs re-powdered. The term stuck all the way through the Victorian period as well but was adapted to also mean the general toilet room. Talk of bodily functions was largely frowned upon during this era and so ladies would talk about “powdering their noses” when excusing themselves from mixed company. The expression is still around today although used in a purposefully archaic manner.

Powder rooms are and were generally located on the first floor of a home. This allowed visitors to use the amenities without encroaching too much into the more private areas of the house, usually on the second floor. Generally, the powder room is the smallest interior space in the house and is often located close to the entrance or beneath the stairs. Few have windows.

Today, powder rooms are hugely popular and can add thousands to a property when put up for sale. Their selling point is so great that people convert closets and other small rooms into powder rooms with a toilet and sink. The return on investment is always considered worthwhile and with the right interior d├ęcor can tip the balance over whether a potential buyer goes through with the purchase or not. It’s interesting to note, that a recent survey by a respected consumer research group found that 75% of respondents saw the powder room as an important decor consideration.

A modern powder room in a domestic setting offers a myriad of interior design possibilities. Unlike the traditional powder rooms, modern formats can include extra items of furniture such as cabinets, vanities, decorative wall sculptures and even added windows. The small nature of the powder room means the interior is in many ways a lot easier to design than a conventional sized room. A powder room also acts as a world of its own where a completely different color scheme and design features can be experimented with.

If you were considering getting rid of your powder room, perhaps to make extra space for another interior, it might be worth thinking again.

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