What are Supplementary Rooms?

Houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth century had a variety of different rooms that functioned in different ways. One important categories was Supplementary Rooms. These were additional rooms sometimes connected or attached to other rooms. Supplementary Rooms included such rooms as cloak-rooms, lavatories, bathrooms, plunge or swimming baths, service-rooms, and water-closets.

supplementary rooms

Family residence of the early 1800s. Author’s collection.

  • Cloak-room: Cloak-rooms, sometimes referred to as Retiring-rooms, were used to store coats and other outerwear. If a house had a large Entrance-Hall, a Cloak-room might not be necessary, but if the house had a Vestibule, Cloak-rooms were desirable. Furnishings in a Man’s Cloak-room was nothing more than a cloak-stand and a table. Sometimes, a washstand might also be available in one corner. Usually, Ladies’ Cloak-rooms were separate from Men’s Cloak-rooms, and often times, a Ladies’ Cloak-room was a Sleeping-room converted into a Ladies’ Dressing-room.
  • Lavatory: Lavatories were also provided primarily for gentlemen guests. After Water-Closets became common, Lavatories might be attached to a Man’s Cloak-room. Lavatories generally contained a couple of wash basins, chairs, a side table, and perhaps a fireplace.
  • Bath-rooms: Bath-rooms contained such things as a reclining bath or perhaps a shower/bath. They often had fireplaces and provided sufficient space for dressing after bathing or showering. Such rooms often received light from either a window or skylight and ventilation was usually an important consideration because there needed to be a way for steam to escape. Dressing-rooms and Sleeping-rooms were often attached to Bath-rooms. If a house had one Bath-room, everyone used it. If it had two, one Bath-room was usually designated for females and the other for males. Hot water apparatus heated the water and waste pipes helped to drain away used water. Bath-rooms also possessed wash-basins if there was no Dressing-room. When Water-closets became popular they were incorporated into Bath-rooms. 
  • Luggage-rooms: Luggage-rooms were available in superior houses. They were used to deposit portmanteaus, carriage-boxes, and other luggage that visitors such as Madame Récamier might bring when visiting. These rooms were also used to air out the contents of luggage. They were usually small and meagerly furnished with nothing more than a small table. They might also have a fireplace. If a Luggage-room was unavailable, a Lumber-room might serve this purpose.
  • Plunge-Bath or Swimming-bath: In superior homes an ordinary Plunge-bath was 5 or 6 feet square and no deeper than 5 feet. If a large bath was desired, this was accomplished with a Swimming-bath. These were a minimum 20 feet by 10 feet and usually no deeper than 5 feet. Dressing-rooms, with fireplaces, were usually attached to either bath to allow a person to change their clothes.
  • Service-rooms: In large homes, another the Supplementary Rooms were service-rooms. These were often included to help improve Dining-room service and were usually placed close to the sideboard and the master’s chair, but often separated by some sort of intermediate lobby between the Service-room and the Dining-room. Service-rooms or even Dining-rooms also sometimes had lift-tables that allowed service wagons to be raised or lowered at will and these lift-tables made a servant’s job easier when serving meals or clearing dirty dishes.
  • Water-closets: When Water-closets became available, homes with them based the number and distribution of them on certain rules. In the smallest upper class houses there were usually two: one for servants and one for the family. In larger homes, sometimes there was an extra one on the upper floor and in country homes there might also be another one provided for Gentlemen in the Garden. Cloak-rooms also sometimes had two Water-closets attached, and, sometimes Billiard-rooms or Smoking-room had one attached. Nurseries and School-rooms usually also had their own Water-closets.


  • Kerr, Robert, The Gentleman’s House, 1865.

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