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A bathroom worth the 30 year wait


I cleaned my bathroom for this photo.

I weeded the fig in the pot.  I hung the maroon towels because they look much prettier against the dark aqua wall than the torn barbie doll beach towel.  I threw out the old luffa. Cleaning done.

Oh how I love love love having a bathroom you don’t have to clean.  The moss growing in the corner of the shower is supposed to be there.  The floor never needs mopping.   I put dirt in little crevices in the rock walls to plant ferns and tree orchids.  The late afternoon sun even has an angle that directly hits the towels hanging on the wall so they smell like they’ve just come off the clothes line.

Free hot water, orchids and maidenhair, a fat green frog, a bath that stays warm for hours with a view of the stars, candlelight playing on rocks, and plugholes that take the water out to bananas and mulberries. But really high up on even this list is that I finally, after all these years, have a bathroom that isn’t just not cleaned, it’s not in need of cleaning.


This is one of the two kinds of orchids in flower now, misted with overspray from the shower. I’ve never grown orchids before.

There’s a problem with bathrooms. They are one person rooms, which tends to mean small. They are private, which tends to mean lack of  sun or air. People are naked in them, which tends to mean they are kept warm. They are wet, which tends to mean perfect for things like mould that like a warm, moist, enclosed, unventilated, dark environment.

It’s a basic permaculture notion that you cannot empty an niche.  Where there is a niche, a lifeform will live in it, and aything you do to try to kill that lifeform will harm humans too, and all the other creatures that live in all the places where water goes after it leaves the bathroom. Once upon a time there was a lot of “all the places” and our puny measuring capacity meant we could pretend the killing stuff disappeared.  Nowadays the accumulated total of several generations of bathroom cleaning is showing up in male fertility rates and antibiotic resistant bacteria and fish full of microbeads.

Triclosan, phthalates, butoxythanol, microbeads – there are some really nasty chemicals in bathroom cleaning products.  Homemade lemon oil cleaning vinegar has been my go to alternative, but in a bathroom vs cleaning vinegar match-up, the cleaning vinegar needs to have frequency on its side.  Not fun.

My partner tells me, sometimes with admiration, sometimes with frustration, that I am the stubbornest person.  For all this time I’ve refused to settle on the matter of bathrooms.  But hey, it’s worth it.

Our new bathroom has a hugely efficient, smokeless rocket stove that heats a bathful of water with just a big vase full of eucalypt sticks, picked up anyway to reduce fire hazard.  The chimney leads under the bath to keep it warm for as long as you like. There are little candle crannies in the rocks all around and a view of the stars.

The shower has hot water from the slow combustion stove boosted solar hot water system. The basin is a really old cast iron one with “patina” that matches the old mirror rescued from the dump.  The copper plumbing is all exposed in a kind of steampunk style that bemused the plumber who connected it all. The drain leads out to another bathtub filled with gravel and water plants to filter it, and thence to a clump of bananas.

The room has an alsynite roof that lets light through to give photosynthesising lifeforms an advantage over mould and fungus forms, and means I can fill it with hanging baskets of ferns and orchids and pots of figs and palms.  It has a floor of smooth pebbles in a grid mesh over sand and gravel, which means drips just soak through and I can plant the edges with elephant ears and lillies.  It has rock gabion walls to various heights on three sides – waist height around the bath for a view of a garden in the daytime and the stars at night, but head height round the shower, with a gap to the roof to allow for ventilation and tall, dense native ginger plants around the outside for privacy and breeze protection.  There’s a passionfruit vine too that in time will cover the outside of the gabion wire. The forth side is a full height timber wall to the house with hooks for towels and some lovely old art-deco light fittings we found at the dump years ago, retrofitted to 12 volt.

I shall write another post about the rocket stove construction, because that was a mission of research and trials and invention and building and rebuilding by my partner Lewie worth a post to itself.

Worth the wait.

rocket stove

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • bebe March 6, 2016, 5:25 pm

    Sigh! How lovely.

  • Marijke March 6, 2016, 7:36 pm


  • Jackie Galleymore March 7, 2016, 12:43 am

    Sounds heavenly, what a sensible bathroom……………..I have a bucket under the basin and shower with a bucket as well, in order to recycle the water. This does not make for a desirable bathroom but I do not care as I value my plants over capital investment. You are very lucky. Enjoy.

  • Dingo March 7, 2016, 1:02 am

    Love love love it.
    And Linda, are those gabion walls quite enough to keep the pesky python at bay, or are there plenty of other watering spots he can loiter around?
    We have 500mm rainfall, so the snakes (and wombats and every other creature) would all be in the bathroom with us 😉
    Really looking forward to the post about Lewie’s construction genius on the rocket stove and all those lessons learned. Thanks!

  • Jude March 7, 2016, 6:33 am

    Love it, and now I want a bathroom like that.

  • Katie March 7, 2016, 7:14 am

    W O W!!!! I dream of bathroom with a lot more air flow as it is a losing battle against the mould. This is amazing and so beautiful. I love gabion walls anywhere and to be surrounded by all that greenery while you lie in the bath…… sigh. I love the bathrooms in a lot of the traditional Balinese hotels where there is often a semi open roofed area to let in air and light and loads of pebbles. Feel free to post a hundred more photos….

  • Linda March 7, 2016, 7:16 am

    Hi Dingo, there are plenty of other watering spots, but the python wanders in and out of our house at will. I’ve learned over the years that there is no keeping pythons out.

  • Silvia March 7, 2016, 2:48 pm

    Since reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” I have wanted an outdoor toilet and bathroom, and your post has been inspiring.
    Looking at your bathroom it seems to transcend our concept of a bathroom by blending sustainability, nature, function and aesthetics creating a tranquil place just to be.
    My heartfelt pleas is that you are able to post some more photos of your bathroom showing some of the aspects that you describe in your post.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Jane March 7, 2016, 6:05 pm

    WOW! Congratulations on your beautiful, new, low maintenance and non-conformist bathroom. Love it!

  • Angus March 17, 2016, 11:39 am


    I’m looking for ways to improve my 1970s bathroom. One of the things I plan do to is try and access the shower/bath waste and divert it from the sewer to the garden — perhaps using a sump/pump if necessary.

    We try to run on unboosted solar hot water as much as possible, and a great idea is to put a “lid” on the shower. This makes the shower more like a sauna and is much warmer. It also greatly reduces the amount of moisture in the air (since the air in the shower cubicle quickly becomes saturated, less water vapour goes into the air). This has two benefits:
    1. warm humid air in the shower feels a lot warmer on cold winter days
    2. the rest of the bathroom is kept dry. We don’t even run an exhaust fan.

    This doesn’t compete with your beautiful bathroom, but is an easy and cheap retrofit 😉 I’ve got details of this, and other retrofits on my blog.

    Cheers, Angus

  • Kym August 28, 2016, 11:06 am

    This is lovely. You are inspirational!

  • Siobhanne September 14, 2016, 6:38 am

    We discovered permaculture when a German man recommended your book to us in Laos in our early 20s. 10 years later our copy is so dog-eared and well-loved it might be time for another! Spring is presenting itself here in NZ and we are looking forward to using the materials gathered over winter to build a rocket stove bath this summer. We have done a bunch of research but would love to hear how you and Lewie problem-solved the tricky bits!

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