The Manse was built in 1888, a time when the toilet facilities would doubtless have been an outhouse and the “bathing” facilities would have been – well, who knows? Water heated up on the stovetop, I guess. When I was growing up there in the 1960s and early ’70s, there were still a few houses in Queensborough that did not have running water; the residents used outhouses and relied on hand-pumped water. The legendary quilt-maker Goldie Holmes, our neighbour kitty-corner across the road, lived in a house like that until the day she died, well into her 90s. (I’ll do a full post about Goldie someday soon; she was amazing.)
Anyway, all that to say that the Manse having been built without a bathroom probably explains why the current bathroom is in such an odd place: right beside the front door, with a large window in it that looks directly onto the front porch. I wonder why, when the members of the Manse Committee of the 1930s or ’40s or ’50s decided to install such a modern convenience, they felt that that was the best place.
However, I don’t think anyone in my family thought anything of the oddness of the bathroom’s location in the years when we lived there. Nor did it bother us that if we had to use the facilities in the middle of the night we’d have to trundle down 13 or 15 stairs (depending on whether we were using the back or the front staircase) to get there, and then climb back up again to return to bed.
Another oddity about the bathroom is that it is inordinately large, way bigger than it needs to be. Which is probably another indication that it was originally used for something else altogether; maybe the kitchen?
Like everything else at the Manse today, the bathroom needs a big makeover, as you can clearly see from the photos. Our initial plan had been to turn it into a two-piece (sink and toilet) W.C., thus opening up the rest of the space to enlarge the kitchen and create an area for boots and coats to be stored and hung up – and maybe also to put a washer and dryer. This much-smaller bathroom could be contained to the area south of the big window, which would no longer have to be covered all the time and thus would allow a lot more light into the already-bright kitchen.
And our thought was to make the second-floor room immediately above the existing bathroom – “the girls’ room,” as we call it, because it used to be the bedroom my sister, Melanie, and I shared – into a fairly big new main bathroom. The reason we chose that room is that the plumbing in the Manse is, shall we say, minimal. (My brother John, the veteran house renovator, says he has never seen a house with so little plumbing.) The only pipes are along the south wall of the Manse, serving the bathroom sink and toilet, the sink and washing machine in the pantry (yes, I know: washing machines don’t belong in the kitchen) and a rough laundry-type sink in the back porch. If the main bathroom were to be one floor up on that same side of the house, extending the plumbing to it would be no big deal.
That location would put the bathroom a short walk down the hall from the master bedroom, and a slightly longer walk from the other bedroom (the “boys’ room,” and you can easily guess why we call it that). It wouldn’t be “en suite,” in other words. But I’ve never felt the need for an en suite bathroom; I know they’re popular and are supposed to be a good selling point for a house, but going to the trouble of putting one in feels kind of 1980s to me. I mean, if one already has one, lovely; but creating one where none now exists seems unnecessary. Besides, in our place in Montreal we have to walk a short distance from the bedroom to the bathroom, and it doesn’t bother us a bit.
So that was the plan.
But then while we were on vacation in Maine last August, I happened to be reading a home-renovation Q-and-A article in the Portland Press Herald, in which an elderly woman wrote in defence of full downstairs bathrooms (which the writer of the column had apparently cast aspersions on in a previous instalment). The letter-writer said that having a full bath with tub and shower downstairs had allowed her to remain in her home for many more years than she would otherwise have been able to. Even though she could no longer climb stairs, in other words, she could stay in her home because the ground-floor bathroom was easily accessible.
Well: that made me think. Neither Raymond nor I are anywhere close to not being able to climb stairs (touch wood), but wherever we end up living I’m sure we’ll want to remain there for as long as possible. That letter-writer made a really good point, I thought.
So now we’re revisiting our plan. We definitely need more than one bathroom; at the risk of sounding like a hopeless sybarite, I have long subscribed to the ideal (as yet unrealized, of course) of having one bathroom for every inhabitant of my house – which, come to think of it, is an awfully long way from how Goldie Holmes and her husband, Art, lived.
But it doesn’t really make sense to have the full bathroom downstairs and a “powder room” upstairs, does it? So our latest thinking is to have a slightly-bigger-than-originally-planned bathroom downstairs, one with no tub but a shower; and the main bathroom (nice and airy and with what I hope will be a big beautiful white new or vintage bathtub and separate shower – ooooh, maybe even a shower with a steam option) would still be in my old bedroom.
Just down the hall, in other words.