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Island | House


In house design, an Island is most often either a bed or a bathtub.


The Island archetype is either found alone in a room or surrounded by furniture that is pushed away towards the walls or built into the perimeter of the space. Other than stealing attention from the archetype, the surrounding furniture accentuates its importance by facing it and framing it. Its implied isolation, as an island, suggests its relevance to the room occupied by determining the functionality of the space. For instance, the bed indicates the room is for sleeping as well as the bathtub indicates the room is for bathing.

Symbolically, Island is reminiscent of the sacred altar which is isolated and focally positioned for its value. The bed as an altar is for Hindus as the Vishnu, “an archetypal image of the cradle, the cosmic ship of life on the primordial ocean” that supported “Brahma, the Creator.”1 “Whenever Brahma opens his eyes, a universe is born; when he closes his eyes, a universe dissolves.”2 In the same way the cradle embodies life, the bed, the place for being born and dying, awakening and sleeping, also does and therefore becomes the most important and only feature in the bedroom. According to Webster’s dictionary, a bedroom is “a room or apartment intended for the bed.”3 Furthermore, Island as an altar suggests ceremonial attributes to the space. According to David Hicks, “[t]he bathroom is a functional room above all else, but it is also a private room, a room in which to perform certain rituals and in which to relax.”4 Historically, the bedroom and the bathroom have been routinely overlooked in terms of aesthetics and comfort of its furnishings while special attention is paid to the public areas of the house. Carl Larsson, in his 1909 house, accurately attends the problem by isolating the bed and enclosing it within curtains adding an intimate sacred meaning to the space. Moreover, to emphasize the Island as a space to dwell, he attaches an overhead shelf and a side table to the bed prolonging the bed time ritual through activities such as reading and eating. He also incorporates a step to reach into the bed that has been raised to highlight its importance and presence in the bedroom.

Similarly, David Hicks, best known for introducing the centered bathtubs in the 1970s, in his own country house bathroom surrounds the centered tub with side-furniture that appears to serve the bathing-user ritual needs: two chairs for hanging the clothe and towel, a table stand for the telephone and various cleaning utensils, and an over shelf for reading while bathing. The auxiliary and movable furniture, accentuates the bathtub as an anchored and permanent object in the space as well as the paneling with which Hick dresses the tub to match the walls’ covering. Furthermore, Hicks pushes the idea of the Island as lasting and indispensable for the room design, as the tub becomes the nucleus around which the decoration of the space revolves. In an 18th century country house, Hicks positions the new bathtub to be centrally aligned with the existing fireplace on one side, the window on the other, a cabinet in front, and a chandelier above, making it appear as though the bathtub was always present in the interior.5 Thereby, without the tub, the room looses its core, its purpose of being and its worth.

Although the historical attributes to Hicks as the pioneer of the centered tubs, bathtubs as Islands were previously present in the Baroque, Victorian and Edwardian periods. It was during the Baroque era that centered tubs were introduced, providing several advantages according to Hicks: “Other plumbing facilities and furniture can be placed against the walls, cleaning is easier, and from an aesthetic viewpoint the room is given immediate symmetry and form.”6 The reason why baths were isolated during the Victorian era was that when the mistress of the house was asked where to place the tub, she would request its location in front of the fireplace but not too close to avoid discomfort.7 As the innovation and manufacture of plumbing and bathroom fixtures became more affordable, people started incorporating with more frequency bathrooms into their houses and Edwardian bathrooms recalled attention among several. Edwardian tubs were designed and incorporated as a center piece into a vast room which constituted the bathroom.

With modernism and later minimalism, Island detached itself even more from its environment. Not only by separating itself from the walls, but by negating any type of auxiliary side-furniture or decorative allusions to its surroundings that would make it seem dependant. Instead, Island becomes and independent fixture in the space while still remaining the essence of it. Furthermore, it acquires a rectilinear bold geometry that delineates the Island as a separate space within the space, in which the corners are perceived as area boundaries. In 1973, Connecticut architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen accentuates the island space and its geometry by placing a squared rug under a platform bed.

While, for Island, the 1980s represented a retrogression with the 19th century wooden daybed alluding to the Vishnu cradle, the 21st century through form and material experimentation represents the start of a new form of Island--island as installation--an organic form as a spatial sculpture freely occupies the space as being dropped into it or pertaining somewhere else. Island becomes an experience in itself, in which the user not only feels physically exposed but is introduced into an extraneous object that provokes sensorial allusions, such as bathing in a bar of soap. The “soapbath”, a tub island with the form of a giant bar of soap, was recently created by Marcel Wanders and promoted as a luxurious “milky-way” experience.8 The selection of an island tub in 2006 and 2007 as the Best of Year Product according to Interior Design,9 denotes the continuous evolution and future growth awaiting for the “Island” archetype.10

end notes

  1. 1) Anthony Lawlor, A Home for the Soul: A Guide for Dwelling with Spirit and Imagination (New York : Clarkson Potter, 1997), 103.
  2. 2) Lawlor, A Home for the Soul, 103.
  3. 3) Elizabeth Collins Cromley, “Sleeping Around: A History of American Beds and Bedrooms: The Second Banham Memorial Lecture,” Journal of Design History 3, no.1 (1990): 9.
  4. 4) David Hicks, David Hicks on Bathrooms (England: Britwell Books Limited, 1970), 6.
  5. 5) Hicks, David Hicks on Bathrooms, 49.
  6. 6) Hicks, David Hicks on Bathrooms, 10.
  7. 7) Hicks, David Hicks on Bathrooms, 10.
  8. 8) Marcel Wanders, “Bisazza Soapstars,” Marcel Wanders Studio,
  9. 9) Cindy Allen, “Best of Year Bath Fitting & Fixture,” Interior Design (Dec. 2006): 132, 150.
  10. 10) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Island as a house archetype was developed from the following sources: 1970 Ralph Schwaikert House [1973] Hugh Newell Jacobsen Architect; Salisbury, CT; in "Record Houseds of 1973," Architectural Record, Record Houses 1973 (May 1973): 57; PhotoCrd: Robert Lautman; Child's Bedroom [1977] Jay Hollenburger and Carol Zimmerman of The Design Collaborative in Anonymous, "A House to Remember: Houston's Designer Showcase," Interior Design 48, no. 6 (June 1977): 174; PhotoCrd: Rick Gardner; 1990 Vacation House [1997] Donato Savoie and Antonio Morello of Studio Morsa; Nevis Island, West Indies in Eddie Cohen, "Paradise Found," Interior Design 68, no. 5 (Apr. 1997): 176; PhotoCrd: Antoine Bootz / 2000 Nickerson-Wakefield House [2001] Anderson Architects; Catskill Mountains, NY in Raul A. Barreneche, "With the Nickerson-Wakefield House, Anderson Architects Updates the Country Shack," Architectural Record 189, no. 7 (July 2001): 180; PhotoCrd: Todd Eberle; Sao Paolo House [2003] Alberto Pinto; Sao Paolo, Brazil in Nadine Frey, "On a Grand Scale," Interior Design 74, no. 2 (Feb. 2003): 162; PhotoCrd:.Giorgio Baroni; Tubs from Advent Design International and Stone Forest [2006] Advent Design International in "Best of Year Bath Fittings and Fixture," Interior Design 77, no. 15 (Dec. 2006): 150; PhotoCrd: Advent Design Internationa; Stone Forest.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Mendez, Marta. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary House Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 34-43.