The Multiplication of Bathrooms
Usually, Danish dwellings have only one bathroom. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, it became popular to have a guest toilet, and since the 1990s a trend toward having two bathrooms for daily use has emerged. It is not possible to obtain precise statistical information on these changes over time, but in January 2006, 19.7% of all detached houses, terraced houses, and double houses had two bathrooms (based on information from Statistics Denmark and Bolius, a knowledge center for homeowners in Tre badeværelser , and own calculations). Presently, several Danish builders of standard housing mostly offer detached houses with two bathrooms, one in connection with the master bedroom and one in connection with the children's rooms (Bülow and Nielsen 2006; Eurodan 2006; Lind og Risør 2006). Allan Dahl, managing director of Skovbo,7 observed that the once-popular guest toilet has been replaced by a guest bathroom and that the main bathroom of the house has to contain both a shower and a spa/bath (Danske huse har vokseværk 2006). Consequently, the builders (e.g., Skovbo and Eurodan) have observed an increasing demand for more square meters devoted to bathrooms (Danske huse har vokseværk 2006).
An important part of bathroom investments thus consists of adding more bathrooms to existing dwellings and including more bathrooms in newly built dwellings. Informants often complain about congestion and capacity problems in the bathroom, especially when the household includes teenagers, and this argument is decisive for the addition of new bathrooms or for choosing a dwelling with more bathrooms when a family moves.
The capacity problems arise from several different trends. The most important is the changing showering practice—from the weekly bath or shower to the daily (or twice daily) shower. It is not easy to date this change, but the information we have gathered, both from interviews and from informal discussions with families, friends, and colleagues, indicates that the change took place during late 1960s and the 1970s. Such changes do not involve everybody, but since the 1980s the daily shower has been a norm for the younger and middle-aged generations. There are no data to substantiate this claim, but a recent qualitative study on teenage cleanliness (Gram-Hanssen 2007) indicates the strength of this norm. Another indication is the widespread indignation when old people in need of care are not offered a daily shower (a much-debated issue during the Danish general election campaign in 2007). Hand and colleagues (2005) identified the same trend in the United Kingdom and tried to explain it within a longer historical perspective than we apply here. In relation to recent history, the British account includes some technical aspects that are less relevant in a Danish context, where the change took place during a period with little technical progress with regard to bathroom installations. More people gained access to bathrooms during this period, which was characterized by much new building, but in many households the change took place within a basically unaltered physical framework. First of all, it was a change in standards and expectations, with less tolerance of bodily smells and stricter demands for freshly washed hair. An important change during the period that might have had an impact on norms was the rapid increase in women's participation in the workforce and the related wish to be “presentable.” The increase in showering might also have codeveloped with the diffusion of the washing machine, which helped provide clean clothes at shorter intervals and thus called for bodily cleanliness as well.
Whatever the reasons behind the changing showering practice, it has contributed to capacity problems in the bathroom. As Danish women, including women with small children, now have almost the same level of participation in the workforce as men and usually work full time, the common pattern is that the whole family leaves the house in the morning, and all family members have to get ready within a relatively short slot of time. Coordinating activities in the bathroom may be especially challenging, compared to other rooms in the house, as the bathroom is a place of intimacy and privacy. Family members may wish to be on their own when using this particular room. Of course, families find practical solutions to this coordination problem (e.g., making use of the bathroom one by one or using it simultaneously), but the calls for relieving the problem through increased capacity are strong.
This pattern is reinforced by the general trend toward individualization in modern societies: Each individual seeks independence and finds it unacceptable to have to wait his or her turn or to share. This is also reflected in the acquisition of multiple televisions, video players, and other devices. This pursuit of increased capacity is also supported by new ideas of personalized bathrooms, illustrated, for instance, by images of both intimate and remote parental bathrooms (e.g., in direct connection to the master bedroom) and colorful and playful children's bathrooms, or by feminine and masculine bathrooms for wife and husband, respectively (Grey et al. 1998; Boligmagasinet 2003). In this trend, the objective is to have a private bathroom in connection to each bedroom—besides, of course, one for the guests.
In a study on British house extensions (i.e., additions to dwelling space), Hand and colleagues (2007) also observed the trend toward the multiplication of bathrooms, and their respondents also mentioned congestion problems in the family and the interest in having toilets both downstairs and upstairs (a more obvious consideration in a British multistory dwelling than in the Danish housing tradition). Besides, some of their respondents emphasized that they wanted additional bathrooms and toilets because it is convenient when they have guests—some houses are simply transformed into guesthouses, where guests have facilities they can think of and use as “their own” (Hand et al. 2007, 14–15). The idea of guest toilets is also found in Danish households, but our observations indicate that this was more fashionable in the 1970s, whereas the present multiplication of bathrooms is mainly motivated by congestion and timing problems.
In some cases, the installation of new bathrooms in relation to home extensions, conversion of basements, and the like makes it possible to establish a more independent accommodation unit within the household, so grown-up children stay with their parents a little longer. After a long period when children left home at an ever younger age—concurrent with improvements in the housing situation—the trend has turned in recent years (Carlsen 2005). Parents have become less restrictive, and young people enjoy the convenience of staying at home.
The Multifunctioning of Bathrooms
Besides multiplying bathrooms, much investment is related to the arrangement and upgrading of bathrooms. In the British study on home extensions mentioned earlier, Hand and colleagues (2007) distinguished between the trends for kitchens and bathrooms, observing that bathrooms are multiplying, whereas the spatial changes in the kitchen appear to be related to multifunctioning. Our study suggests that multifunctioning is also an important element of bathroom renovations in Denmark and thus contributes to the increased focus on bathrooms. The investments go beyond simply renewing outdated bathrooms, as the functions of the room are being developed in new directions.
The changing functions are indicated by the changing images that drive bathroom renovations. As Hand and Shove (2004) observed in their study of kitchens, “investments in new appliances and in kitchen makeovers were commonly desired, anticipated or justified as a means of bridging between the dissatisfactions of the present and an image of a better, more appropriate future” (4). They emphasized that the image includes not only the potential pleasures related to changing material possessions but also the performance of specific practices related to the material changes. In our analysis of our interview material, magazines, advertisements, and other material, the focus is thus not only on aesthetic changes but also on the changing practices and reinterpretations of old practices that the images imply.
The importance of images as a driver of consumption was emphasized by Campbell (1987), who identified a modern form of hedonism that is pursued through daydreaming: Pleasure is derived from imagining a future situation that one could achieve by acquiring various consumer goods. When the consumer succeeds in acquiring the goods, the reality often falls short of the imagined pleasure, and the consumer ventures into new dreams and a ceaseless search for novelty.
More recently, related ideas have been elaborated by others who study modern time-pressured families and the impact of busyness on consumption. Hochschild (1997) described in The Time Bind (see also Wilson and Lande 2005) one of the coping strategies applied by busy families: A parent who is not able to live up to her (or his) ideal of being a good parent can cope with this by distinguishing between her “potential self”—the person she would be if only she had time—and her “real self” with limited time. Objects can then function as totems to the potential self, as they represent a potential future when the ideals can be realized. Families are thus motivated to buy, for instance, fishing equipment that can be used in an imagined future when the family has time to go fishing.
Sullivan and Gershuny (2004) elaborated on this observation and identified a particular form of consumption whereby expensive leisure goods are purchased and stored away due to lack of time. By owning the goods, a person can signal to himself or herself what sort of person he or she is (e.g., a person actively participating in outdoor activities) and thus strengthen his or her self-image, and although the goods are seldom or never used, satisfaction may be obtained by the mere consciousness of possession. Such considerations can also be relevant for the bathroom case: Sometimes consumers succeed in realizing their dreams and carrying out the imagined practices, but sometimes the goods remain as symbols of an imagined future.
In the following, we aim at identifying some of the dominant images in relation to how a better and more appropriate future is represented in relation to bathrooms. Of course, in each of the individual stories told by our informants, several of these images are combined, but for analytical purposes we identify the different dimensions separately.
Taking care of the body has from the beginning been a core activity in the bathroom, and daily practices such as washing and preparing the body are still viewed as central bathroom functions. In a symbolic sense, this employs the bathroom as a setting for backstage preparation that has to do with relations between self and society, with individuals conveying certain messages to the surrounding world through these types of performances—for example, ensuring proper front-stage appearance (Goffman 1959; Shove 2003). Currently, these preparation activities seem more important than ever. According to a Danish time use study, an increasing amount of time is used for taking care of the body. In 2001, Danish women spent almost an hour washing and dressing on an average day, which represents an increase of half an hour since 1987, whereas men spent around three quarters of an hour in 2001, an increase of 20 min since 1987 (Bonke 2002). The variety of specialized products currently found in supermarkets and special stores is impressive, offering consumers a wide variety of options for customizing aspects of themselves (skin, hair, and scent) after having stripped the body of its natural odors (Shove 2003). Spending time on taking care of the body is not new, as humans have always modified and ornamented their bodies, sometimes in highly painful ways, but it is a relatively new phenomenon that such a large part of the population spends so much time on the process. Present demands concerning body care were effectively summarized in the novel Bridget Jones's Diary (Fielding 1996):
6. p.m. Completely exhausted by entire day of date-preparation. Being a woman is worse than being a farmer—there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done: legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated and moisturized, spots cleansed, roots dyed, eyelashes tinted, nails filed, cellulite massaged, stomach muscles exercised. The whole performance is so highly tuned you only need to neglect it for a few days for the whole thing to go to seed. Sometimes I wonder what I would be like if left to revert to nature…. Is it any wonder girls have no confidence? (30)
At a general level, this can be seen in the perspective of identity formation in postmodern societies, where also the body is viewed as a vehicle of self-expression, and where the commercial supply of means for constructing and maintaining bodily appearance is larger than ever (Howson 2004). The theoretical discussion of the background and implications of the preoccupation with bodily appearance and body fitness and health is to be found in a variety of literature that we must omit here, but we wish to emphasize that the developing preoccupation with body care influences the visions of the bathroom and contributes to its changed status.
Demands on the bathroom are escalating as preparation activities become more demanding and require more and more time. The bathroom is turned into a kind of beauty salon, providing the right conditions: a multitude of body care products (shampoos, balms, and crèmes) and tools (razors, nail file, scissors) and a proper setting (with mirrors, storage capacity, and a nice atmosphere). The current fitness trend, whereby people exercise their body as a part of body care activities, may also influence the future status of the bathroom, as it can develop into a setting for fitness activities in the home. Many people go to fitness centers, but we can observe an increasing supply of home-fitness equipment from both ordinary supermarkets and specialist stores. It is plausible that the bathroom can turn into a kind of fitness center, especially given the ongoing trend toward enlarging the room, which will make it more appropriate for such activities. Furthermore, it seems plausible that fitness facilities in the home can be an example of the phenomenon whereby objects function as totems to a potential self and as a device for developing self-identity—unless, of course, the facilities provoke a bad conscience when they are not used as much as expected.
Another aspect of body care is the widespread tendency to associate body care with wellness, pampering, and self-indulgence. Some people experience body care activities, such as bathing or showering, moisturizing the skin, and applying hair balm as enjoyable, interpreting them as body treats, whereas others consider them to be laborious duties. In a historical perspective, bathing has long been a valued and pleasant experience due to the curative properties of water. Immersion in water has been widely believed to benefit both health and well-being (Shove 2003). The appreciation of this experience has shifted over time, however, and in many Danish homes, bathtubs have been gradually replaced with showers (more appropriate for a quick wash), as daily showering has become more commonplace. In 1979 a spokesperson from Max Sibbern, one of the main suppliers of sanitary appliances in Denmark, explained that the bathtub was on its way out compared to the shower, which was considered more efficient for daily use (Albertsen 1979).
Currently, the bath is experiencing a renaissance in Denmark, as the idea of enjoying a nice bath regains momentum, but now as a supplement to the shower. It is worth noting, as some of our informants did, that the idea of health and pampering applies not only to bathing but also to showering:
I think it [her evening shower] is just so nice. It is so relaxing. Ahh, then I relax. And I also think it provides such calm when I have taken a bath. I feel such a pffff [exhales], not tired but relaxed. I get such a feeling of calm in my body. And it's lovely, oh ahh, you smell good. It's also lovely to smell good in the morning, but then you still do for a little while yet. And ahh, then you are clean and lovely when you go to bed. (Katrine, aged 33, cleaning supervisor)
Then [when you don't have to consider others in relation to the warm water], I love to take a very long, boiling hot shower. Without thinking about anything else at all than that it is just wonderful…. It's just, if there is time for it, such a luxury. Something enjoyable that is just pleasant and terrific. (Betina, aged 34, self-employed animation instructor)
Often, the association between pleasure and showering or bathing is related to accounts of stress and hard work and, hence, a wish to delve into body care once in a while, enjoying the opportunity to pamper oneself (Alt for Damerne 1999; Boligmagasinet 2004; Tidens Bolig 2004). Enjoying a relaxing bath is often portrayed as a way of reacting against stress and as a healthy way to recover from a hard day's work:
A bath can provide a feeling of being reborn, a gift in a busy everyday life. No matter how worn out you are, a 20-minute soak can give extra energy. (Alt for Damerne 1999, 121)
The bathroom is definitely becoming the home's new room for enjoyment. The place where you relax and gather new energy for a hectic everyday life. (Boligmagasinet 2003, 35)
Such tendencies contribute to the escalating demands on the bathroom, as the room becomes staged as a place where people can find good recreational experiences. The bathroom comes to represent a kind of sanatorium, where more recreational activities are located. This encourages the installation of more luxurious fixtures in the bathroom, such as freestanding bathtubs or spas, and other features—for example, transforming the shower into a massage shower—have also become more popular (Bo Bedre 1993b; Boligmagasinet 2003; Familieliv i badeværelset 2003; Byggecentrum 2004). Figure 3 shows an example of a bathroom sanatorium.
It has not been possible to collect data to document this development, because bathroom suppliers and producers are reluctant to reveal their sales figures. Nevertheless, wellness is an important issue for customers, noted the sales and marketing director of HansGrohe, Thomas Leth. According to Leth, the increasing focus on wellness is supported by the fact that the Rain Dance showerhead, which has a wellness feature of providing huge amounts of water, now represents 10% of the turnover of HansGrohe (Sørensen 2007). The trend also influences the overall arrangement of the room. For example, one of our informants described a romantic atmosphere in the bathroom as being central to the experience of a relaxing bath. Similarly, a typical illustration in the press is that of a person lying in a bathtub with foamy suds and a romantic setting, with beautiful colors and lighted candles (Alt for Damerne 1999; Boligmagasinet 2004).
A special element of this well-being theme is the wish for retreat; the bathroom is increasingly presented as an oasis where individual family members can find peace and take care of themselves. This develops further the idea of privacy that has long characterized the bathroom. Traditionally, the room is considered to be a private space, placed relatively remotely, and with activities being carried out behind a locked door and frosted windows. This makes the bathroom one of the few places in the home where individuals can—without question—withdraw for a short time and be themselves. This symbolic status of the bathroom has probably contributed to nurturing the current idea of making more conscious use of the bathroom as a place for retreat, an idea that is often put forward in media coverage:
Now, it is the bathroom that is the centre of the home. It is not here we gather, but it is here family members can find peace to care for themselves. Pampering themselves in beautiful surroundings. (Byggecentrum 2005)
Now, extra focus is being directed toward contentment and well-being in the only room where we can withdraw and be ourselves in peace and quiet, the bathroom. (Spabad i stor stil 2006)
As with well-being, retreat is linked to the hectic pace of people's lives, as stress and hard work give rise to a need not only for relaxing but also for withdrawing. In several of our bathroom cases, husbands explained that they found relief in the possibility of retreating from the hullabaloo of everyday life by spending some time alone on the toilet, reading. Other activities, such as bathing or showering, reflect the similar pleasure of having the possibility to enjoy a brief time alone. The current idea of retreat affects the status of the bathroom, as it is interpreted as a kind of sanctuary, especially when it is linked to images of pampering oneself and relaxing. Obviously, such use contributes to the demand for multiple bathrooms so there is room for everyone.
The opposite idea to the idea of retreat was also present in the material we reviewed. Some persons express the wish to enjoy each other's company in the bathroom. In general, the home is an important setting for socializing within the family, and recent developments in the kitchen reflect the increasing need for socializing in busy families: It has become popular to arrange the kitchen as a “kitchen for conversation” (SamtaleKøkken), where family members can be together while they are preparing dinner (KVIK 2006). Although bathrooms are not developing into rooms for conversation, the idea of the bathroom as a private place is subject to change:
The bathroom is becoming the family's most popular room to be in. Here, you shall be able to use more time to care for your body in beautiful surroundings, and maybe entertain each other while doing so. (Baderummet ændrer status 2004, 30)
One way of enjoying each other's company is by taking care of daily routines together, interacting in the bathroom while preparing for the day. This was illustrated by one of our informants:
It was something we wanted—a bathroom with two sinks. And we have it now, so we can brush our teeth at the same time. That way, we can be together in the bathroom much more than we could before. Now, people might say, yes, but brushing teeth takes only a minute, but it can take three or four minutes for us both, with dental floss and all. So it actually means a lot. (Henrik, aged 40, lawyer)
There are two aspects to this bathroom idea. One has to do with congestion problems in the bathroom (e.g., during the rush hour in the morning). In order for daily preparation activities in the family to go smoothly, it may be a possibility (or a necessity) to be together in the bathroom rather than have multiple bathrooms.
The other aspect has to do with finding time to be together in a situation where many families experience stressful lives. The bathroom and its related activities thus become linked to ideas of proximity, finding time to be together in stressful family lives. The proximity aspect also explains why the bathroom may also, to a greater extent, be used to perform recreational activities together (e.g., enjoying a bath together), as this provides yet another opportunity for quality time together. The status of the bathroom can thus be envisioned as a family room, or a kind of “living room,” on the same footing as other rooms in the home where the family enjoy being together. This image implies new demands with regard to the physical layout of the room, as more space is typically necessary and some fixtures have to be multiplied in order for several people to use the room simultaneously. Also, we have observed a tendency to develop bathroom products for more than one user. This is currently the case with spas, which are also designed for two or more people (Jysk Spabad 2006; Westerbergs 2006). Figure 4 illustrates a bathroom for two.
Two final issues that we want to emphasize are convenience and aesthetics, as these have become more central in connection with current developments of the bathroom. With regard to convenience, we observe that many new types of appliances and accessories are making their way into the bathroom in connection with the earlier described development of bathroom activities. This is also connected with new standards and expectations in the home in general. For example, common products such as radios, televisions (even waterproof versions), and telephones are now appearing in the bathroom (Familieliv i badeværelset 2003; Boligkataloget Eksklusiv 2004; Tidens Bolig 2004) to entertain the bathroom user or keep the busy bathroom user in contact with the surroundings.
It had to come. The shower stall with built-in telephone. Who hasn't been in the situation where the telephone rings just as you are standing there with your hair full of soapsuds. Instead of rushing out of the shower, you can now push a button and redirect the call to the shower. The same model also contains a built-in radio and a connection for a CD player. (Byggecentrum 2004, 5)
This suggests that the bathroom is being turned into a high-tech room, with much effort being put into arranging the room in appropriate ways with regard to facilities. This kind of consumption often requires more room, for practical reasons (e.g., to make room for more storage or large equipment).
With regard to aesthetics, the private, hygienic, and utilitarian room has developed into a presentable, beautiful, and impressive room, where individual styles and personal accessories replace the standard bathroom picture (Lupton and Miller 1992; Bo Bedre 1996b, 2004; Baderummet ændrer status 2004). The consumption trends related to the rest of the home have diffused to the bathroom, as this is now designed and equipped in the same way as the living room. In the coverage of bathrooms in Bo Bedre, there is an increased interest in aesthetics. The issue of decoration is taken up in a larger number of articles than in earlier years, and decoration is portrayed as a more central element of the bathroom (Quitzau 2004). Characteristically, the aesthetics of bathrooms mainly concern the atmosphere of the room rather than such details as colors and accessories:
The home's wet room can easily breathe warmth, coziness and personality. We have chosen three bathrooms that resolutely turn their backs on the white streamlined style and are instead fashioned with colored walls, golden metals and dark woods. (Bo Bedre 1993a, 68–71)
Providing good atmosphere involves both a nice physical environment (e.g., heat and humidity) and a pleasurable aesthetic experience (e.g., style). More tolerable and pleasant conditions are expected because of the prolonged stays in the bathroom. As one informant put it, “one learns to make many demands for the bathroom” when one spends so much more time there. Central themes in the media coverage relate to notions of well-being and of having a good experience in the bathroom (Bo Bedre 1993b, 1996a, 1996b; Badeland 1996; Bo Bedre A-Z 2000; Boligmagasinet 2004). The bathroom is staged as an oasis where atmosphere and ambiance have high priority. It has emerged as a front-stage room: The bathroom door is, to a greater extent than earlier, left open for visitors to take a peek. According to trend researcher Kirsten Poulsen, the bathroom has become a showroom that reflects the identity of its owner, and this only makes sense if the room is visible (Sørensen 2007).