Bathrooms and laundries

Few 1940s and 1950s bathrooms and laundries will remain in original condition.

Most houses built in the 1940s-60s had a separate bathroom, toilet and laundry. These rooms were generally grouped together to reduce plumbing costs.

The back door often opened into the laundry.

By the late 1960s, some houses had a small en-suite bathroom off the main bedroom. It also became more common for a second toilet often located off the laundry to be included.

Original details

Bathroom fixtures

Bathrooms in the 1940s and 1950s typically had a built-in cast iron bath, a porcelain hand basin, a wall-mounted medicine cabinet and a towel rail. Some had a shower over the bath.

Bathroom fittings such as taps, soap holders, toilet roll holders tended to be metal (brass) with a chrome finish.

By the 1960s, bathrooms contained a vanity unit, and separate showers started to appear. A wider variety of fittings became available, such as enamelled steel or plastic baths, plastic shubs (a high sided shower tray) that could be used as a bath for small children, fabricated or pressed stainless steel shower trays, plastic laminate finished hardboard shower linings, and sliding aluminium framed shower doors.


The toilet was generally located in a separate room adjacent to the bathroom, but in smaller (one and two bedroom) state houses may have been located within the bathroom. Flush toilets were generally by means of a cistern fitted on the wall behind the toilet and operated by moving a lever.
By the late 1960s, plastic wastes and toilet cisterns were being introduced, replacing china cisterns.

Laundry fixtures

The laundry typically contained two concrete tubs. Single stainless steel tubs became more common later in the period. In the mid-1950s, around 40% of households still used copper boilers for washing clothes. By 1966, however, 88% of New Zealanders had access to a washing machine.

Wall and ceiling linings

Kitchen wall and ceiling linings were generally hardboard finished with enamel paint.

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Common modifications


Bathrooms are unlikely to be in original condition in houses built early in the period, although those of the 1960s may still be in sound condition.

Alterations to bathrooms may have included:

  • installation of a new hand basin or vanity with some storage
  • installation of a new shower cubicle, bath, toilet and cistern
  • replacement of wall and floor linings
  • improved heating and ventilation systems such as a wall-mounted, electric fan heater, heated towel rail(s), underfloor heating and an extract fan.

Original 1940s and 1950s hot water cylinders are likely to have been replaced, usually with another low pressure system unless major bathroom renovations have been carried out. Any original cylinders are likely to be in need of replacement.

In some houses, an additional bathroom or en-suite may have been added.


Laundries that were originally fitted with a copper and double concrete laundry tubs are likely to have had the copper removed to accommodate a washing machine.