Most of what we take for granted as normal amenities in a home are actually very new historically, including such basics as separate bedrooms, a hot shower and temperature control.
In Ken Follit’s outstanding book, Pillars of the Earth, he writes about the expansion of the field of architecture through the lens of the growing wealth and power of the church. It was normal for the people to live communally in town, or for the farmers and peasants to come into town to conduct business and for all to sleep in a communal hall together. “In the communal societies of the Middle Ages, the concept of privacy simply didn’t exist. There was strength in numbers and to keep the community strong, people within a community centered their life and livelihood in and around the great hall. Everything from food preparation, cooking, business, trade, marriage, birth, death and sleeping would have taken place within the safety of the great hall. When darkness fell, everyone would lie down on the rush flooring and sleep around the embers of the central fireplace.” Privacy consisted of nothing more than a blanket or fur thrown over whatever folks wanted to accomplish in the night, being sleep, breast feeding or whatever.
Sometime during the medieval period the Lords and Ladies began live above the masses in a “bed chamber” which was still a communal situation for the family and privileged friends and associates. Servants might sleep in the trundle of the bed, but certainly in the same room.
It wasn’t until the 16th century that the middle class began to emulate the noble families and build a second floor bed chamber onto a house. Still this was a common room where births, weddings, business and socializing all took place. Death also occurred in the bedroom, creating the final act in the circle of life.
Early closets were places where people would go for solitude, or to pray. “It’s important to remember that no one had privacy anywhere.” So, having a closet was a great luxury!
It wasn’t until the 18th century, with the installation of interior staircases, did bedrooms begin to become private place.
The Master Bedroom “has only been a common element in American real estate for the past 25 years or so. Also known as the master suite, these bedrooms evolved from “McMansion”-type homes that sprung up in the mid-1980s.”
To read more about the evolution of the bedroom, here is a great article: A Brief History of the Bedroom - http://porch.com/advice/history-bedroom/ Quotes in this blog post were taken from this article.
Likewise, indoor plumbing and central heat did not become common until the 1800’s.
A fun note about indoor bathing: “It was said that no house in Quincy, Mass., had a bathroom before 1820. When the temperature of a bedroom dips below the freezing point, there is no satisfaction in bathing.
Most Colonial bathing consisted of occasional dips in ponds or streams. Typical was a quote from Elizabeth Drinker, the wife of a highly-placed Philadelphia Quaker. She had a shower (probably a bucket arrangement) put up in her backyard for therapeutic use in 1799. She said, 'I bore it better than I expected, not having been wett all over at once, for 28 years past."
Click here to read more about indoor plumbing: http://theplumber.com/usa.html Quotes on plumbing in this blog were taken from this article.
In conclusion, know that any house with a roof to keep you dry, warm and cold water running in the pipes, temperature control and a room where you can sleep in private would likely have been an outrageous luxury to your great grandparents. Let us all be grateful for what we consider to be “normal”.