Old-fashioned outhouses represent a less hectic, more earthy and -- for some -- a truly nostalgic time. Little wonder that while most of us today prefer to forgo the dubious pleasures of an actual outhouse, creating the rustic feel of one in a bathroom can give it a distinctive one-of-a-kind look. Given the sparsity of furnishings in real outhouses, recreating this theme is not difficult and might be something you enjoy.
Anatomy of an Outhouse
Mentally break down an outhouse into its component parts to help you recreate its ambiance. Because a true outhouse is not only an outdoor room, but an independent and complete structure, the logical place to begin creating the mood for your outhouse theme is at right at the bathroom door.
An Iconic Door
Install an old plank door -- perhaps salvaged, weathered barn boards or a resized barn door fit to the standard bathroom door.
Add the iconic half moon to the outside of the door -- as a moon-shaped stained-glass ornament, a simple moon-shaped wooden cut-out or merely a half moon painted directly on the door.
Install antique or vintage hardware for hinges and door pulls.
Hand paint a sign that you can hang on the door from a string that says "Occupied."
Re-create the plank seats typical to outhouses by surrounding the toilet with a custom-fabricated wooden box with a cut-out hole in its top. Tongue-in-groove planking over a simple lumber frame is ideal and looks a bit more upscale than plywood. Install a plain oak toilet seat rather than a plastic, painted or padded one. Wood seats are more in character with the look even if you choose not to box in your regular toilet.
Alternatively, round and smooth the wood around the cut-out over the hole and fasten a simple plank cover over it. Most primitive outhouses had no other seat. You can also add a fake second seat to simulate the old two-seater, but use it as a cabinet to store extra toilet paper or magazines -- with the toilet lid as access door.
Walls and Windows
Real outhouses rarely had windows, but if you use country cottage or log cabin window treatment options for inspiration, you can't go wrong. Walls were nearly always wood -- usually planks, but there are many equally rustic and less expensive options you can use to decorate:
- hang gingham, calico and paisley curtains that evoke simpler times
- install short, cafe-style curtains or a simple valances over pull-down cloths
- use inexpensive wood-composite paneling or faux-wood paint effects
- fit real wood planks on one wall or the lower half of the walls
- install wood tongue-and-groove flooring for an authentic touch
- install galvanized roofing panels on walls for rustic or industrial appeal or
- apply nostalgic wallpapers above wooden wainscoting or tin paneling.
Purchase reproduction vintage catalogs and tear out the pages or buy genuine vintage catalogs. You can scan and print pages so as not to spoil your original. Arrange and attach selected pages on one wall -- for a focal point -- using wallpaper paste. Seal against moisture with a top coating of a clear polyurethane finish.
Use various shades of gray in decor to complement weathered wood panels and trim, or tan and brown hues to blend with natural wood tones for painted areas of the room.
Appropriately shaped twigs and branches cut to size, sanded and fastened to walls serve as rustic towel bars, clothes hooks or even toilet-paper holders. Floor model paper holders are easy to make by bolting a thicker branch upright to a heavy piece of wood or a thick log slice.
Debark raw wood from trees -- branches, twigs and logs -- and adequately cure the wood to avoid introducing termites or insects into the home. Sealing the wood with a waterproof wood sealer keeps mold and mildew at bay and protects the wood longer.
Brass fixtures offer an attractive and cozy alternative to rustic decor when you don't want to use wood. Metal hooks and bathroom hardware resembling twigs or other naturalistic objects such as acorns, leaves and antlers, make durable substitutes for the real things.
Though real outhouses did not usually include sinks and certainly not showers or bathtubs, antique or vintage fixtures such as freestanding sinks and claw-foot tubs reflect the overall character of the theme. Alternatively, copper or zinc sink basins, porcelain bowl sinks or even a bowl set in a massive up-turned log can enhance the look. Retrofit plumbing into a dry sink or commode outfitted with pitcher, bowl and side towel-holder for yesteryear charm.
Decoration and Storage
Hang old-time prints, framed antique or vintage catalog pages, postcards or primitive country scenes. Use a colorful quilt pattern, attaching loops to it and hanging it over a clear vinyl curtain for a country-look shower curtain. Vintage household containers such as coffee pots, canning jars or ceramic bowls can hold cotton swabs, toothbrushes and other small items.
Barn wood or other salvaged lumber makes solid frames for artwork and gives an authentic wood touch to the room when wood paneling is not in the budget. Store linens and extra toilet paper in wooden crates bolted -- bottom against the wall -- to the studs in the walls or use a vintage cupboard as a combination medicine cabinet and linen storage. Small oak barrels or rustic baskets can store washcloths, soaps and toiletries or be used as waste baskets.