Many features common in homes today originated because of previous infectious disease outbreaks and concerns about hygiene, according to a recent article in Architectural Digest.


Up until the beginning of the 20th century, most clothing was kept in stand-alone furniture, such as armoires. But they were difficult to move for cleaning and collected dust, which was believed to pass along germs. The switch to clothes closets was to make rooms easier to clean and keep sanitary.

White kitchen tiles and linoleum

Subway tile, now ubiquitous, emerged in the late 19th century as people were beginning to understand how infectious diseases spread. Public buildings installed white tiles so workers could immediately spot dirt and wipe surfaces clean. Linoleum replaced hardwood floors and oilcloth as it was seen as sanitary flooring that was easy to clean.

Sleeping porches

The open-air bedrooms in Victorian-era homes became popular during the tuberculosis epidemic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before antibiotics, fresh air was the best known “cure” for the deadly disease.

Powder rooms

Half-baths on the ground floor of a house, often near the front door, emerged to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the early 20th century. It was the era of coal and ice deliveries, requiring delivery people to enter the home after being in many other homes.

A bathroom for visitors ensured that the family bathroom wasn’t used by a delivery person who was potentially contagious. A sink on the first floor made it more convenient for people to wash their hands.

Kim Palmer