If Lloyd Alter were building a new house right now, he’d be sure to add one unusual feature: a bathroom sink in the front vestibule. “We're going to see a real resurgence of the vestibule, I think,” says Alter, a former architect and design historian who now teaches Sustainable Design at the Ryerson School of Interior Design. “This is a transition zone from the outside to the inside, where you take off your dirty stuff and you wash your hands before you go into the house.”
Alter predicted that disease-avoidance would rise to the fore of bathroom design a few years ago, when he observed the traumatizing effects of the 2003 SARS outbreak on Toronto, which killed 44 people. But home design in general — and bathroom design in particular — has long been influenced by infectious disease. This isn’t a linear narrative with clear causation, but rather a convergence of advancements in science, infrastructure, plumbing, sanitation and design trends. The modern bathroom developed alongside outbreaks of tuberculosis, cholera and influenza; its standard fixtures, wallcoverings, floorings, and finishes were implemented, in part, to promote health and hygiene in the home at a time of widespread public health concerns.