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The Modern Bathroom Sink: Defining ‘Sink’

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The modern bathroom sink is a lavatory that combines sleekness with convenience and efficiency.

In some countries, a lavatory is considered to be another word for a toilet. It gives people from these countries a bit of a start to hear Americans talk of washing their hands in the lavatory! However, the people of the US are perfectly accurate. The word ‘lavatory’ comes from the Latin words ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’ and ‘lavatorium’ meaning ‘a place for washing‘.

A modern sink in some countries is referred to as a ‘wash basin’ as opposed to a ‘kitchen sink’.

The earliest permanently installed bathroom sinks are believed to have been medieval troughs, rather like a horse trough. They were found in some monasteries, and were used for communal washing.

Later some castles and manor houses had these wash troughs installed. They may have been for personal washing or for laundry. They are a far more recent invention than bathtubs, which date back in one form or another to early Biblical times.

Mostly though, devices for the use of face and hand washing were portable, and mostly made of metal. Until quite recently, face and hand washing was performed in large basins, filled with warm water from a jug. Each bedroom was supplied with one of these. The hot water was carried up to the bedrooms from the kitchen each morning. It would be the duty of the daughters of the house to do this, and in the homes of the wealthy, chambermaids included this job amongst their other duties. The jug, or ewer, stood beside the basin when full, and inside it, when empty. These jug and basin sets are sought after today by antique hunters, and replicas are available as well. The jug and basin usually stood on a marble topped wash stand. These were actually the forerunners of the modern bathroom sink as we know it today.

In fact old wash stands or their replicas are often made into modern, retro-looking vanities. Many contemporary console sinks look as though they trace back to the old Victorian shaving stands. In the early 1700s wooden pipes led water to street pumps in Boston and New York. This was the beginning of modern plumbing. In 1829 in the US the first indoor plumbing was introduced into a hotel. The modern bathroom sink in the form of a pedestal sink made its appearance a little over 100 years ago.

The Modern Sink: Defining ‘Modern’

‘Modern’ can mean different things to different people. You get modern and retro-modern. What we often call ‘antique’ today may look antique, but it has hi-tech faucets and ample hot and cold water. Even a Victorian style sink with a goose neck spout doesn’t need a hand pump to draw cold water or a ewer to fill up with hot water from the kitchen.

The most contemporary modern bathroom sink is not so much style as technology. You do get modern bathroom sinks that are smooth, chrome and glass and minimalist, and they are the ‘latest thing’. But modern fashion is no longer restrictive the way it was in the past. In those days, if you were ‘cool’ you copied everyone else.

If you didn’t follow blindly and tried to do your own thing, you were labeled ‘weird’ or ‘eccentric’ or, worst of all, ‘Old Fashioned’! Today contemporary fashion gives a huge leeway for individual differences in taste and style. You can install a medieval horse trough in your home, a replica of the dug up relics, and it will still be a modern bathroom sink. That is with one proviso. The technology must be modern. It must have a sophisticated drainage system, hot and cold water laid on, and functional surfaces that are sealed and look attractive.

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