Tango of toilets in capital's noble places

Source: Visit Estonia

Tango of toilets in capital's noble places


Piret Malv
Visit Estonia, News Editor

Let us first make it clear that the following will not be a depiction of envious glances stolen of a mink coat on a slender lover of a noveau riche man, or of a historical image from the legendary Parisian Cafe de Flore, where, in the art deco atmosphere created by countless mirrors, mahogany and red velvet seats, it is hard to take one's eyes off of a lonesome beauty, famous writer or artist.

Notke's arrangement in a restroom

Bernt Notke's "Danse Macabre", which is the most famous Estonian historical painting, reminds us that everyone is equal before death; the design of the restroom in Piano Bar on the Sauna street in the Tallinn Old Town can be seen as an arrangement of that idea. Celebrities on the john can be quite an unexpected sight. This is an image of George Clooney on the door of the men's room.

Photo by: Piret Malv

Taking a leaf from Zola's book, we should speak of the "Belly of Paris". However, Zola's novel deals with the edible world, whereas this little article focuses on design solutions that people have created for that stage where edible matter is rendered powerless before the laws of physics and separated into energy and waste.

But this is not of any importance, one might claim. Trash cans are hidden under sinks, shameful documents in safes, stitches on the wrong side and skeletons in closets. But think back to all the times you had to use lavatories built almost like an afterthought – where, after having sat down and closed the door, you couldn't help but to wonder what sliver of your body could be hidden behind the half-metre board remnant that the interior designer (or lack thereof) had used to mark the place where one would have expected to see a proper door.

Practical luxury

Luxury and practicality tend to be mutually exclusive concepts, yet somehow they have been intertwined in the restroom of restaurant Pegasus. The functionalism of the building's exterior on the one hand, superb lighting, a space-enhancing mirror, well spread out seats and an inviting chair on the other, form a rarely found combination of practical virtues and luxurious comforts.

Photo by: Piret Malv

A restroom can be seen as reflection of the spaces surrounding it. Although rare, it is not unheard of that cosy and welcoming bathrooms, where one can feel right at home, yet still enjoy pristine surroundings and convenient facilities, can be found in public places as well. Restroom in widely visited areas, such as gas stations, bus stations and airports, tend to be a little worse for wear. Places like this are filthy and off-putting at worst, functional and extremely clinical in looks at best. In any case, they give off a bleak vibe. It is also rather bleak to charge people for using the toilet. In most cases, fees like this are not accompanied by elevated cleanliness levels or improved aesthetics, quite the contrary. But this is common in situations where a sense of honour or shame is replaced with a one-sighted desire to make money. Not to mention that the job of collecting money at a lavatory is likely one of the saddest jobs out there – embarrassing and annoying for loo-goers, more destructive and demoralizing than the job of a toilet cleaner; not unlike the post of a ferryman over the Styx.

Messing up such details shows that it is not just the main values in life, but its small periodic manifestations as well, that play an important role in a person's feelings of well-being. In real estate valuations, the comfort, looks and cleanliness of a bathroom is often treated as a litmus test; buyers are much more mellow about disorganised living rooms than they are about displeasing toilet.

A water closet in a "dry earth toilet"

Estonians have been rather creative in their experiments with composting toilets. A little over ten years ago, interior designer Kristjan Holm caused quite a stir with his project "Time Out Architecture", which took a very eco-friendly message to the Venice Biennale. In Tallinn, traces of the composting toilet aesthetics can be found at the restroom of the medieval restaurant Olde Hansa (it should be added that the facilities function as modern restrooms ought to).

Photo by: Piret Malv

Tell me what your bathroom is like and I will tell you who you are. Just like in any other city, Tallinn still has some drinking joints, where upon entry, you get a whiff of coffee and beer mixed with underlying sewage currents, a sure sign of countless overcrowded party nights. Trying to eliminate places like this is as hopeless as trying to remove old blueberry stains from a white shirt.

Another important aspect of a restroom is separation of spaces, both visual and auditory separation, with emphasis on the latter. Japanese washrooms implement recordings of flowing water sounds, the equivalent in Europe is the blaring of hand dryers. It is a relatively poor solution as the dryers are switched on and off at random. Separation can also be provided by a sufficiently distant location from the main rooms and adequate background music.

Time goes by so slowly for those who wait

There is a humorous saying about the duration of time being dependent on which side of a restroom door you currently are. Only a few restrooms have been designed keeping the aspect of waiting in mind. The wall at Tai Boh inspires with its seemingly endless photo collage. F-Hoone offers an informative solution, so that queuers can wait at a wall covered with posters for various culture events.

Photo by: Piret Malv

A great restroom does not draw attention to it, but shines when you take a closer look. Just like a truly wise person at a dinner party – they do not strive to stand out, but when they have something to say, you can be sure it's something worth hearing. So far we have gone over hygienic factors: separation from other rooms, a floor-to-ceiling door, sufficiently large mirrors and wash basins, sufficient space to move around without hitting yourself against something, as well as enough light to powder your nose. From here on out, restrooms will go against one another in categories of aesthetics. It is noteworthy here that the cultural side of lavatories is not limited to the "underside of the belly", but also includes restrooms as a location for dramatic events depicted in various works of art: the revolutionary Marat in a bath, spies and their enemies sorting out affairs in the privacy of a restroom and not without a fair share of elegance in doing so.

Indoor graffiti

Wine restaurant Peps mixes elegance with vulgarity and makes visitors in search of the washroom stop in puzzlement, wondering what is real and what is not.

Photo by: Piret Malv

This selection of the unique and memorable restrooms at Tallinn's cafes and restaurants is a testimony to the creative streak of the establishments' owners and is sure to inspire visitors. Some of these washrooms could be sufficiently fancy to host stylish conflicts between James Bond and the likes. Many influential publications, including Lonely Planet and National Geographic, praise Estonia for its abundant nature and beautiful Old Town. This is great, but we should also pay attention to areas that are a bit more unexpected; this could place us on lists that focus more on creativity.

Living room in the restroom

Tops, which is a beloved favourite in the hipster district Kalamaja, offers visitors a chance to relax in a little green area in front of the loos. Queuers can take a break in comfy chairs while listening to music, as the space is located right behind the DJ-stand.

Photo by: Piret Malv

Last updated : 22.04.2021

In category: Tallinn, Food & Drink & Nightlife