Recently I visited, for a client who hopes to transform the property into a resort, a Georgia estate formerly owned by the singer Kenny Rogers. In the master bathroom the water gushes over a ten-inch wide gold-plated spout and falls smoothly into the large tub set amid acres of marble and mirrors. When I was a boy in the United Kingdom hot water was only available on bath night, usually Friday. The tiny furnace could only produce sufficient hot water for one bath so all the family used it – cleanest first. As an architectural student in London I visited stately homes and palaces in the UK and Europe. The guidebooks always trumpeted the technical advances: “the king had his own commode and wash stand”,” “the spits allowed for roasting two pigs and twenty chickens AT THE SAME TIME!” I remember the bishop’s residence in Würtzburg, Bavaria where each room had a huge tiled stove and there was a series of narrow passages so servants could keep them stoked from outside. This was, of course, a huge advance compared with having dirty and smelly servants crossing His Grace’s exquisite floors with buckets of dirty coal.
Having lived in America for 25 years I have become accustomed to reliable and plentiful hot water. Kenny Rogers’ bathroom makes me reflect on how quickly the definition of luxury changes. Louis XIV at Versailles also had plenty of gold and mirrors, but neither toilets nor baths. Nor, like most royalty until the 20th century, did he have much privacy. The titles Groom of the King’s Close Stool and Lord of the Bedchamber give evidence that there was always someone in attendance. When you are the state nothing can be left to chance. During my Georgia sojourn I enjoy instant hot water and privacy to say nothing of fresh food prepared in a kitchen just steps from the dining table, compared with a hundred yards of tunnels and stairs as at some of those great houses. Luxuriating in this thought I lean back in Mr. Rogers’ super-sized tub – and find that even at 6’-2” my legs aren’t quite long enough to keep my head above that wonderful water.
–written by Hans Knutzen, architect, New York