-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Sunday, November 11, 2012

1930's cast iron Sitz 'chair' bath

Our bathroom is on its way to being truly vintage.  We have the 1890's toilet -- "The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet" to give its full tremendous title.  Now added to the mix is a 1930's chair bath.

I first encountered this style of bath when I visited Ripponlea, an historic house in Melbourne, in 2010. They had a matching bathroom set that included both a normal bath with a shower contraption above it, and this other bath in the shape of a chair.  They also had a toilet with a high cistern tank, so even though ours is a few decades out, it's still in broad keeping.

ripponlea - 34 ripponlea - 35

I was immediately struck by how useful a chair bath kind of thing would be during times of drought.  There is nothing like soaking in a bathtub, but that's something that you can do only rarely when you have to watch every drop of water.  But a chair bath would, I presume, give you a bit of a similar feeling, and use only a fraction of the water.  So I had been looking out for one, but with little hope, when suddenly ...  I found an Ebay listing for a restored 1930s german spa bath leather lounge chair.

Intrigued, I had a look and yes!  It was indeed one of these kind of baths, that had been restored and fitted with a (removable) leather cushion.  Here it is now, as well as a photo of what it was like when they found it:

chair bath - 2 chair bath - 3

It is hugely heavy, made of cast iron, takes two strong people to lift.  It's been sandblasted back to get rid of the staining, and right now has a lovely chalky white finish.  But we are going to have to put a sealant on the surface I fear, to make it like a normal bath, as I worry it might get easily stained otherwise.  

From the Ebay description:

If you are looking for something unique then chairs do not come much harder to find than this stunning example. Dated pre war and made by the German manufacturer Ahlmann. Fully sand blasted to remove all corrosion then the base has been painted gloss black to contrast with the matt white porcelain. A new tan leather cushion provides a comfortable and stylish look.

Since becoming the proud owner of this chair bath I've done a little digging to try and find out more about them.  Especially... why???!!!   Given that one was installed in a bathroom in Ripponlea that also had a normal bath, what on earth was the point of it?  

I found the answer in FAQ #6 at a brilliant website aptly titled Vintage Plumbing

The Sitz bath, or a Seat bath was made in the shape of a chair with a raised back, lowered and rounded bottom, and sides to rest the arms on. The operating hardware was standing valve and drain hardware roughly half the size of the set that would mount on a normal bathtub. These fixtures came in enamelled cast iron with claw legs or pedestal as well as solid porcelain with base moulded on or on individual pedestal like "legs". They were roughly 2.5 feet x 2.5 feet square and maybe 18" tall in back. Elaborate models had hardware on both sides that operated not only the fill spout and drain mechanism but also a "wave" feature up high on the back and even a douche feature that shot a geyser up from the drain fitting! ....

To best understand the purpose of this fixture, one has to understand the American culture regarding bathing 90-120 years ago. Bathing was widely feared as unhealthful or else felt to be unnecessary so many people didn't. ... Yet, water was and still is believed to have restorative and recuperative powers (and) hot water might reduce hemorrhoids ... So, for upper class or wealthy people who lived in finer homes in urban areas and who bathed more routinely than rural folks, specialty plumbing fixtures were available to be used for unusual bathing purposes.... Sitz baths were not all that uncommon in better homes and mansions. People could rest their posterior sections in about 8" of water through the use of this chair shaped and sized bathtub. Water could then work its magic. 

Indeed, if you search for Sitz bath today, you find it is still a recommended treatment for some medical conditions -- although sadly it nowadays takes the form of a plastic contraption you buy from a chemist and fit over your toilet!  Still.  I am happy that we are able to provide a home for this now-rare item.  I'm planning to situate it in the open shower area, and have the shower head on a pulley so we can just fill it from that whenever we want to use, rather than faffing about getting it its own plumbing.  And, if I change the cushion cover so it's waterproof, the rest of the time it can be a cool bathroom chair :) 

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