Design Notes Archive



If winter travels find you tucked away in a grand old estate or country house hotel, it’s entirely possible that you’ll come across a toilet disguised as furniture. Commonly called a thunderbox, this wooden encasement used to house a chamber pot and later remained in favor for offering a less utilitarian-style to the modern toilet.

Some, like that in Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, were fashioned rather inconspicuously as sleek wood paneled benches, whilst others, as in The Elms manor in Newport, Rhode Island, were much more ornate and designed to look like decorative armchairs. Cecil Beaton reportedly acquired a mahogany thunderbox from Wilton House for his London flat and, in a desire to make the bathroom feel properly decorated, he surrounded it with velvety red walls, artwork, silk drapery, an elaborate chandelier and covered the floor in carpet. Designer Nicky Haslam, whose work is regarded among the pinnacles of good taste, also favors a decorated bathroom and incorporated a caned armchair-style thunderbox in his Kensington flat (pictured left).  

If you are planning a mini-break this winter, try booking the Churchill suite at Beaverbrook, the 19th century estate-turned-country house hotel that was once home to Lord Beaverbrook. Perched on 470 acres in the Surrey Hills, the mansion was carefully renovated by designer Susie Atkinson with each room named after a famous guest of the late newspaper mogul. In a bedroom once frequented by Churchill, you’ll find his writing desk in the window, his secretary’s chair at the foot of the original restored bath, and a thunderbox added by Atkinson to compliment the scheme (pictured right). For similar, try the Chaise Percée from The Water Monopoly or check Lassco for reclaimed antique examples.

Or do a bit of armchair travelling and watch as Julie Montagu, the Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, traverses between grand houses and castles around the UK in her new series for the Smithsonian Channel, An American Aristocrat’s Guide to Great Estates. She pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of homes like Eastnor Castle, Newby Hall and Holdenby House, all the while gathering ideas for her own home, Dorset’s Mapperton. There, as she remarks in this video, the thunderbox loo is among her favorite features of the house. A similar style can be found through the The Remarkable Toilet Company.

Photographs © Simon Upton, Simon Brown