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Exuberant colors: The bathrooms of the Bellingrath Home

The guest bath on the second floor of the Bellingrath Home.
The guest bath on the second floor of the Bellingrath Home.
Standard Plumbing advertisement
Standard Plumbing advertisement

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

One of the more popular rooms in the Bellingrath Home is the colorful bathroom adjoining the first guest room. Many express surprise when told it is original to the 1936 Home. Most seem to think this explosion of pink and green is from a 1950s remodeling. It isn’t.

Walter and Bessie Bellingrath joined 47 million others in 1933 and 1934 when they visited Chicago for the World’s  Fair which celebrated “A Century of Progress.” The event focused on scientific discoveries and new industrial techniques that were changing the world for tomorrow. It was an opportunity for optimism in the face of the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, the Bellingraths did not maintain a diary of what they saw and did, but one display stuck with Mr. Bell. It was staged by the Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh.  At the time, Standard billed itself as the “Largest Manufacturers and Distributors of Plumbing Supplies in the World.” No wonder it warranted space within a World’s Fair!

When the Bellingraths decided to build their dream home in 1935, Mr. Bellingrath remembered those displays back in Chicago. A recently obtained catalogue of the Standard firm dated January 10, 1934, contains color pictures of deluxe bathrooms of the era in a rainbow of colored tiles and fixtures.

Standard Plumbing advertisement
Standard Plumbing advertisement

Up until the 1920s, white and cream had dominated the American bathroom. Around 1930, color exploded into the mix when manufacturers learned how to reliably color plumbing fixtures. The Standard catalogue declared that color fixtures allowed for “more distinctive, more cheerful, more livable bathrooms.”

The 1934 names affixed to these colors by Standard include Rose du Barry (the guest bath), Orchid of Vincennes (purple guest bath), and Ming Green (Mr. Bell’s bath). The writer explains each color’s name. The color Rose du Barry is from “the makers of famous Sevres porcelain, their most beautiful color, in honor of Madam du Barry.”

The purple in the next bath was named “as a tribute for the porcelain artistry of old Vincennes in the time of Louis XIV.” And the green of Mr. Bell’s fixtures is described as “the fresh, cheerful green of growing things.”

How appropriate that a house known for its fine porcelain and its extensive Gardens would have bath fixtures so named!

Out of sight is the private bath adjoining Mrs. Bellingrath’s bedroom. In stark contrast to the other baths on this floor, the space is tiled in gleaming white tiles with white fixtures. It is quite possible that Mrs. Bellingrath, with her love of antiques, was not as taken with the exuberant new baths as her husband was.

The colorful bathrooms within the Bellingrath Home are just another reminder that architect George B. Rogers masterfully blended the best of the old with the best of the new when he designed the Home 80 years ago.

Mr. Bell's bathroom (above) also blends pinks and greens, but Mrs. Bellingrath's private bath was only decorated in white.
Mr. Bell’s bathroom (above) also blends pinks and greens, but Mrs. Bellingrath’s private bath was only decorated in white.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. My family, son, wife and 2 grandkids visited Bellingraph Gardens in February of this year, 2017, and they live in Montevideo, Uruguay. They were fascinated by ALL they saw!
    I live here in Mobile Al and as such, I am a regular visitor of the Gardens. They are my oasis and my place to bring people who visit with me from other parts of the world or of the US. Everyone finds something special to their likings in the Gardens. It is a beautiful place that charms the visitor in so many different ways.
    All my admiration to the founders and to the current Director of the Museum. Quite a terrific job!
    Grace & Peace
    Martha Rovira 251-975-7575 cell

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