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What are Commode Chairs?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated: Jan 23, 2024

One of the more practical inventions of centuries past was the commode chair. Considered a very practical item by polite society during the 18th and 19th centuries, commode chairs are still with us today, although the exact mode of usage has changed a little. Here are some interesting facts about commode chairs, then and now.

While many early Colonial homes owned a chamber pot, it was not at all unusual for wealthier homes to also include commode chairs in guest bedrooms and also in common areas, such as the parlor. It is important to remember that often when a member of the household was enduring a long illness that one of the front room on a bottom floor would be outfitted as a sick room. Chamber pots, while handy and workable for healthy people, were not always practical for someone who was weak. The commode chair, with its lift-up seat and recessed receptacle underneath, allowed the individual to sit in relative comfort while using the facilities. When finished, the lid could be placed back down and the receptacle could be removed later and prepared for the next use.

Commode chairs of the era were not just practical. Often, they were also handsomely crafted pieces of furniture. For example, an 18th century Queen Anne commode chair would likely be constructed of the best wood, perhaps oak or hardwood pine. The chair would be styled with high back featuring a yoke inspired crest rail. Graceful arms and legs would encircle a wide seat on secreted hinges. Underneath the seat, a pewter chamber pot may reside. When not in use, it would easily fit into the décor of a gracious room.

For a time in some levels of society, the commode chair had another use that was not associated with illness. The chair would be set behind a screen at one end of a room, allowing guests to slip behind the screen and relieve themselves. As a practical way to continue participating in the conversation or not get behind in the parlor games, it was quite successful. However, chances are this application would be less than desirable these days.

The commode chairs of today tend to lean more toward the practical. Available from discount stores and medical supply stores alike, today’s commode chairs are often constructed of stainless steel and hard resin plastics. Some models are made to fit over an existing toilet, allowing patients that are somewhat ambulatory to use the same facilities as the rest of the family. Most designs require that you leave the stool portion of the toilet in the upright position and close the stool off by lowering the lid on the chair.

Because modern commode chairs weigh very little, other residents of the home can easily move it to one side. Other models are akin to the commode chairs of days gone by, in that they include a pot or receptacle that can be used in any room of the house. This is normally housed in what is called a close-stool, or a box like structure with a seat and also a cover. Typically, the cover on the close stool is a tight one, helping to keep the odors down to a minimum in between cleanings.

Of course, one can still obtain reproductions of the commode chairs that graced so many homes in centuries past. These reproductions are usually available in a number of popular designs and can be fashioned in such woods as oak, pecan, walnut and hardwood pine. While the cost may be prohibitive, commode chairs would certainly be a conversation piece in just about any living room.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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