Monthly Archives: August 2013

Why do we put seashells in bathrooms?


I live in a cottage that is more than 100 years-old. It qualifies for the name “cottage” because it is tiny, has no insulation, is beadboard from floor to (and including) ceiling with double-hung windows that look into the 1945 added-on rooms behind them.  The outside stair rails are galvanized pipe. The attic is high enough to stand up in. There are gas jets in most rooms sticking up from the floor. The floors are Douglas fir and there is the burned imprint of an iron in the floor by the front door where a doorstop would be. From a time when irons were heated on wood stoves.

The bathroom was redone when I bought the house in 1984 with a cottage/Victorian look. Two-inch shiny black tiles with grey grout go halfway up the wall. Grey beadboard rises above. Stained-glass windows flank a matching mirror, showing wear and cracks behind the glass front. A deeply carved blanket cabinet holds a sink. Aged brass shelves, scrolled and embellished, hang above the toilet holding incense sticks.

And sea shells.

Mother of pearl adorns the light fixture, a clock, a picture frame, and tissue holder, bringing together the shells on display that include the blue pearlish lining of a giant abalone shell, Interesting prickly spines contrast with the smooth, pink lining of two conch shells. A small curl of driftwood completes the look. It’s a tasteful and interesting tableau. Take a glance at any Pottery Barn catalog, Coast magazine or even time-worn wallpaper from the ’50s with seahorses and bubbles and you’ll see the formula.

Bathroom=beach. What is that?

Some might say that it stems from our primordial origins. That once our race crawled out of the sea with gill-gaping necks and shiny scales. Others might relate it to back-to-the-womb longings – safe from bumps and bruises. Buoyant. Protected.

My take on the whole phenom is infinitely more philosophical while being plainly crass.

As human beings we have the gift of being able to look at the shit surrounding us and see where it’s going.  Today’s turds are tomorrow’s sandy shores, sparkling waves and sunshine. We know how it all ends up. We have hope.

No one decorates their bathroom like a barnyard.

So the next time that you feel stuck. That you are surrounded by crap. That you’ll never get that flush.

Wait for it…wait for it…wait for it.  There it goes.

So, have faith.  Put a little beach into your bathroom – just a small shell or two.  So you can remember that we get to imagine beyond the now and even, at times, see where it’s all going to end.

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