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What is a Powder Room?

By Donna Reynolds
Updated May 16, 2024
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A powder room is generally defined as a small bathroom that contains only a sink and a toilet. Sometimes, it's referred to as a guest bathroom or half bath, and it is usually located on the first floor of a home. This placement allows guests to use the facilities without having to trespass into the homeowner’s private space. Traditionally, these bathrooms are very small, and some are even tucked underneath a stairway. They typically do not have a window.

The term powder room dates back to the early 18th century, when it was used to refer to a closet-sized room where people went to have their wigs repowdered. The expression carried through to Victorian times, when any reference to personal bodily functions was considered indelicate. Ladies of the era were embarrassed to speak of such things and would excuse themselves from mixed company to go to "powder their noses." In fact, many women still use refer to a public ladies’ room with this term.

In today’s competitive real estate market, a powder room is often an essential selling point. Many owners of older houses, have converted hall closets into small bathrooms in order to increase the marketability of their homes. These conversions are considered to be an excellent return on investment and can have a positive effect on the value of the property.

Decorators have long understood the importance of this small bathroom, and in today’s do-it-yourself marketplace, homeowners have also recognized its appeal. A recent study by a well-known consumer research group involved in redecorating projects revealed that decorating the room is an important consideration for 75% of respondents. This can offer a homeowner an opportunity to express his or her personal style and to incorporate new colors and accessories into the home. There are limitless choices for new designs and fixtures, including pedestal sinks, custom-made cabinets and vanities, elaborate sinks and fixtures, art, and elegant wall coverings. Today’s powder room bears little resemblance to its crude ancestor and has become an essential part of a home’s overall appeal.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By staceybeck01 — On Oct 02, 2013

Thanks for all the great advice. I need to start looking at bathroom fixtures because we could use a new one.

By anon83337 — On May 10, 2010

in answer to anon74521: during the time period shown in Breakfast at Tiffany's, she's referring to the ladies room of fine dining establishments. Most likely, there were attendants that needed to be tipped and the men were giving her $50's to show their wealth as if to say they had nothing smaller.

By anon74521 — On Apr 02, 2010

Then what does it mean if someone gets $50 dollars to go to the powder room? I got that from Breakfast at Tiffany's, the film.

By anon16702 — On Aug 12, 2008

I have a powder room with a pedestal sink and very limited space to place a towel bar. While searching on the Internet I found an interesting new towel bar designed especially for pedestal sinks.

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