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(Picture: Clive Hurst/Licenced under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Water closets in a range of hues, both bright primaries and pastels, were produced in the US from the mid-1920s, and soon became popular in the UK, too. From the end of the 1920s, British manufacturers added coloured after-glazes to their products, and soon consumers could choose from greens, blues, yellows, pinks and even black toilets. The vogue for colours continued through the Art Deco era, characterised by bevelled cut-corner rims, into the 1950s and a new range of colours in the late 1960s.

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(Picture: Clive Hurst/Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)


Possibly the most memorable and era-defining colourway for sanitary ware was avocado, introduced by Armitage Ware around 1968 – it came to typify bathroom suites of the 1970s and 1980s. That era proved to be the last hurrah for coloured suites, at least up till today; from the 1980s, British tastes flirted with Victorian styles before reverting in the 1990s to the simple shapes and neutral white that remain prevalent today.

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(Picture: cello/Alamy)


Decorated sanitaryware has a long tradition. Chamberpots were decorated with floral or humorous designs – one example from around 1805 contains a painted miniature bust of Napoleon Bonaparte. During the 19th century, a small bee was sometimes painted at the bottom of a chamber pot or on the back of a urinal or toilet. The bee served two purposes – as a target and as a Latin-themed play-on-words: in Latin, apis means bee – so the classically educated would enjoy the humour of going for ‘apis’ or using ‘apis pot’.

Early ceramic water-closet pans were white earthenware, glazed for firing. Cheaper, more-robust stoneware or fireclay toilet pans were a mid-brown shade known as cane, with interiors often glazed white to cater for the tastes of consumers accustomed to earthenware. Coloured transfers were popular on Victorian water-closets, initially on the inside of the pan and then, from the introduction of pedestal closets, also on the exterior.

The idea of a toilet as decoration reflects a desire to take something essential, used by everyone every day, and make it beautiful rather than merely utilitarian. When designing toilets for any situation, it’s important to ensure the result is comfortable and pleasant to use as well as hygienic, safe and functional.

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