Don't Mock Gwyneth Paltrow for Needing a Bathtub in Her Bedroom

Bath in the KitchenOn the one hand, Gwyneth Paltrows recent list of things she "can’t live without" in Elle Decor sort of stretches the limits on the idea of "can’t." A retro handset for her BlackBerry shouldn’t really occupy the same mental space as, like, her pancreas.
On the other hand, one of the things she lists is a bathtub in her bedroom, and she’s been catching a certain amount of flak for that. But Gwyneth is a New Yorker, and every true New Yorker has been in an updated tenement with a bathtub in the kitchen. I’d even go so far as to say you shouldn’t call yourself a New Yorker if you haven’t eaten dinner off a plywood bathtub cover.
Of course, I say that from San Francisco, but my point still stands.


Many tenements built in New York only had a little "water closet" bathroom, so the bathtub had to be put in the kitchen. Years ago, a plumber experienced with the quirks of buildings from the early 1900s explained it to me this way: Every apartment had a big pipe to get rid of waste water from the bathroom, but it was more expensive to pipe water in, and that came later -- like in the '40s. Meanwhile, people would have to walk down to the many public baths to, well, bathe.
So going from having to walk to a public bath to having to walk to your kitchen to jump in the tub was actually a pretty huge upgrade, and soon became quite common. You can find a lot of old-timers who remember taking a piece of countertop off the tub so they could soak in it (or put beers in it for a party). My dad’s best friend had one in the West Village in the 1950s and he had fond memories of it; 40 years later, my sister moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side with a nearly identical setup. We all just sat there and stared at its awesomeness for, I think, an entire evening, while watching Pieces of April, which was filmed in the same building.
You might have seen one for yourself -- like in the scene from Married to the Mob pictured above. When Michelle Pfeiffer moves into a dump after the death of her husband, her son is nonplussed by the tub in the kitchen. Dumb kid!
Here in San Francisco, they often put the shower and toilet into two different little rooms, called a "split bathroom," which is nice when you think how unpleasant it is to take a shower right after someone’s had a poop.
So when Gwyneth chose an unconventional location for her bathtub, she was just giving a nod to old New York history. I like imagining her soaking in her bedroom, then plopping a piece of wood over the top and using it as a side table. I think her dad, the director Bruce Paltrow -- born in Brooklyn in 1943 -- would also approve. It’s newfangled old-school. Why not?
Where would you put a bathtub if you didn’t have room in the bathroom?

Image via YouTube

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