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How Previous Epidemics Impacted Home Design

Wednesday, December 9, 2020   /   by Adam Donaldson-Moxley

How Previous Epidemics Impacted Home Design

Article originally posted on architecturaldigest.com on March 31, 2020

Whether you realize it or not, a number of the design features in our homes today originated, or were popularized, because of previous infectious disease outbreaks, like the 1918 flu pandemic, tuberculosis, and dysentery. Below are a couple of our favorites, for the whole list click the link below: Link


Though household closets have been around in some form for centuries, what we think of as the place where we store our clothes is a more recent innovation. In fact, when visiting (or living in) older American homes or apartments, you’ve probably noticed (and bemoaned) the lack of closet space. That’s because, up until the beginning of the 20th century, most clothing and related items were kept in stand-alone furniture. “It used to be that almost everything was [kept] in armoires,” Lloyd Alter, a former architect and design historian who now teaches sustainable design at Ryerson School of Interior Design, tells Clever. “When you look at the plans from the turn of the century, the closets are tiny, tiny, tiny—if they exist at all.” The switch to closets was to make rooms easier to clean. Bulky furniture items like armoires were difficult to move and therefore collected dust, which was thought to pass along germs. By the mid-1920s, Le Corbusier was writing about the importance of minimalism, cleanliness, and hygiene in home design, advocating for built-ins throughout the house, which eventually became the norm.

Powder Rooms/Half Baths

Powder rooms—or half baths on the ground floor of a house near the front door—are also the result of the attempt to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the early 20th century. Those were the days of having daily coal and ice deliveries: “There was no Amazon guy dropping it off at the door and taking a picture of it for you,” Dr. Kelly Wright, who teaches American history at the University of Cincinnati and specializes in the historic use of color in architecture, tells us. In other words, every day, at least one delivery person would traipse inside your home after being inside many other homes, including some where people may have been sick with something contagious. “The iceman is coming right into your kitchen, and if the iceman needs to use the bathroom, you don’t want him using your family bathroom. So the half bath made perfect sense for visitors to the house.” And, as Alter points out, having an accessible sink on the ground floor of homes made it more convenient for people to wash their hands—which, as we’ve been reminded of a lot recently, is crucial for health and hygiene.

Click on the link below to see the full article: Link