Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary .
Before the introduction of indoor plumbing, almost every American home had a dry sink and a washstand or commode.
Although the early settlers must have had dry sinks and washstands, few examples made before the 19th century have survived. These utilitarian objects were easy to build and not especially decorative, and most were probably broken up for firewood once they became damaged or obsolete.
Washstands are smaller than dry sinks and have flat tops backed by splashboards or galleries. There is an open space below that is high enough to accommodate a ceramic pitcher and washbowl on a low shelf. The shelf may also incorporate a drawer.
Some of the earliest washstands date from around 1790 and are in the Federal style. They can be divided into 2 types:
- High-style examples, usually with solid tops, and
- Later country pieces, with cutouts in the top to accommodate washbowls, glasses, and soap dishes.
Some are triangular, allowing them to be placed in a corner, and a few have applied brass decoration.
By 1820, washstands began to appear in the Empire mode. Heavier than their Federal relatives, these pieces had Sheraton-style legs, which were eventually replaced by the scroll-cut legs typical of the Empire style.
From 1820-50, rural craftsmen, such as the Shakers, built plain washstands, usually of pine. These often incorporated a cupboard, and thus stand midway between the washstand and commode.
Because they have a cupboard, commodes are more practical than washstands.