I am revisiting one of my very favorite books, “Noblemen’s and Gentlemen’s Houses” by James Paine, first published 1767. Now, I’m pretty well versed in English domestic history, but there are two kinds of rooms showing up in these houses that have me pretty well befuddled.
The first is a “light closet.” These are just dressing rooms that happen to have windows–they always communicate with a bedchamber. But why? I understand that for a long time prior to this a “closet” was just a small private room. But in a house with twelve bedchambers, surely enough for everyone or at least every married couple to have their own room, would the architect want to waste a window on a tiny 8x10 room? If I had a one of those gigantic 20x24 bedchambers, and it had an 8x10 light closet attached, I’d jolly well put my reading chair and my writing desk next to a window in the bedchamber, not in a tiny stuffy room.
Second kind of room is “powder room.” This is larger than a dressing room, I’d say perhaps 14x14, and situated on the lower level of the house among all of the “offices” (kitchen, laundry, servant’s hall, etc). Was this medium-sized room really dedicated to powdering wigs? I realize it’s a messy business, but… but… well, but. Its location on the lower floor is bizarre.
So do you know? I’m out for answers, not more guesswork on the level of my own.
BEcause many times in those great houses there wa no privacy in you main room. There were not a lot of hallways [check out Versailles or Louvre sometime] and you frequently went room to room through all the other rooms. Often the light closet was used as a makeup applying and dressing room.
Paine’s houses are surprisingly sensibly designed–a tribute both to himself and to the British love of privacy. The bedchambers all communicate with the “annex,” which is basically the hall around the stairway, and with nothing else but their own closets. So the bedchambers were perfectly private.
The term powder room dates back to the early 18th century, when it was used to refer to a closet-sized room where people went to have their wigs repowdered. The expression carried through to Victorian times, when any reference to personal bodily functions was considered indelicate. Ladies of the era were embarrassed to speak of such things and would excuse themselves from mixed company to go to “powder their noses.” In fact, many women still use refer to a public ladies’ room as a powder room.
Perhaps there were also chamber pots or washing basins in the powder room?
I know you don’t want WAGs, but if candles were the only light, and someone wants to see the clothes in their closet, why not a window?