How to approach a dressing room

There is something robust and purposeful about this room that I admire. It is more than the architectural severity of the gloss-finished tongue and groove, the emphatic placement of the bank of windows, or the view through to the unquestionably functional bathroom. It is, I think, to do with the masculine nature of the space.

This room states very clearly that, in order for a man to dress appropriately for his day, the essential starting point is a thermometer and a good range of robust boots.

This image is one I found while browsing on the Alexander Turnbull library site ( years ago and it has always stuck in my mind because of the simplicity of the space. A reminder perhaps that dressing rooms, as they were first conceived, were working spaces and not décor experiences.

I cannot help but think there is no longer much mention made of those domestic spaces that were once called dressing rooms. Different from the en-suite bathrooms and the walk-in wardrobes which have tended to replace them, a dressing room occupies a very specific place on the architectural plan. It sits between bedroom and bathroom. It is the archetypical ‘space between’ in which the view through, and therefore an immediate connection, is made between washing and dressing. This is a space where a man dressed and presented himself to the world. Remembering that women usually used a dressing table, placed within the bedroom space.

It is perhaps appropriate then, that our new dressing room is being carved out of what was once the washhouse. It will sit between the new master bedroom (the original kitchen and servant’s bedroom) and a new bathroom (borrowed from the old wash-house) in what was once the scullery. Because it was once one of the house’s utilitarian spaces it was lined with rimu tongue and groove – which we have recycled and used to line the walls.

Somehow I suspect my favorite  dressing room belongs to a farmer, or other rural gentleman and not to Alexander Turnbull as my misleading title suggests. The more urban  dressing room (above) I also found browsing in the Turnbull. This is clearly an earlier room (pre hot water bathrooms) but even then I suspect his wife has had more of a hand in this room, coordinating wallpapers to match the bedroom and providing a velvet cozy in order to provide hot water.  It still has that lovely sense of a subsidiary space off the master bedroom.

At the moment our dressing room is little more than that view from a one match-lined shell into another which gives you some idea why it is I’m gazing at Turnbull images. The builders are back on Monday and the room should progress quickly after that. Then I’ll be on to thinking how to fill the room up – however – the lesson to be learned from the anonymous country dweller is that the more you leave out the stronger and more complete a dressing room will be.


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