A Certain Lack of Focus

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bathroom Oddities

mirrorsHave you ever noticed that some bathrooms don't have the mirrors in front of the sinks? This is most common at service stations along the Ohio Turnpike but you sometimes see it in Airports as well. It's something I've noticed before, but never really thought about much until last Friday. Emerging from the restroom at the Mahoning Valley Service Plaza, I said to Matt, "I wonder why they separate out the restrooms like that?"

"What are you talking about," he asked me.

"You know, there aren't any mirrors in front of the sink," I said. He shook his head, looking bemused, so I continued, "They put them in front of the doorway instead."

"Really?" And then he had to go check because we thought he might just never have noticed, but it turns out this is a trend unique to Women's rooms. mirrorsIn the Men's bathroom, there were small mirrors lined up in front of the sinks as usual. This got me thinking of possible reasons for this weird design change.

Women's bathrooms have been a problem for designers, at least conscientious designers, for ages. I remember my annoyance when I went to a football game with my father, I must have been about ten years old. Although the crowd was probably eighty percent male, it was the Woman's room that had a line out the door. But this has to do with the fact that women physically take longer to use the bathroom, it's solved easily by adding extra stalls, though the number of toilets may never catch up to the speed that lines form in Women's bathrooms. A problem I hadn't considered is the second congestion that often occurs in Women's bathrooms. That's right, in front of the sink.

I'd like to think that people are considerate enough to not screw with their hair when people are waiting behind them to wash their hands. Alas, if I did, I'd be showing regrettable naivety. Women often linger, using the excess water from their recently scrubbed hands to squish, flatten, and fluff their hair. I've seen women who don't bother to wash their hands bend over the sinks to play with their hair or re-touch makeup. And of course, some women go into the restroom for the sole purpose of looking into the mirror. No mirror equals less congestion, people washing their hands can get to the sinks more easily, and will leave more quickly.
mirrorsThis is bound to be less of a problem in the Men's room. Aside from the fact that men are less likely to primp, I have serious doubts as to how many of them actually bother to wash their hands.

Moving the mirror near the doors is actually an intelligent solution, though I have to think it causes a fire hazard. Not a major one mind you, for I'd like to think even the most engrossed primpers would move away at the sound of the alarm, but by having the mirror near the entrance, congestion near the door is almost guaranteed during high volume use of the service station. I think this concern is minimal however, for by moving the mirrors away from the water, primping is less desirable. In addition, by placing it in the pathway of the door, people are more likely to feel foolish and in the way, and are therefore more likely to pass by quickly. The open space does not invite people to stay and look in the mirror.

Curiously, I've not seen this design as frequently in newer travel stations. This service plaza was one of those older, probably mid eighties buildings that all look kind of the same: you know, one "restaurant" such as McDonalds or Hardeys, a giftshop, restrooms and some vending machines, but not much else. Maybe a map and some video games. Everything seems to be brown even if it's painted a different color. The newer service stations tend to be larger and brighter, lots of blue colors and shiny metal fixtures. These bathrooms do not have separated mirrors, instead they have an enormous bank of sinks with smaller mirrors like in this Men's room. The actual toilets tend to be garrisoned off into labyrinth like segments that can be opened and closed as needed. I've never really noticed a problem with congestion in either type of bathroom, though I haven't necessarily traveled much during high volume weekends. I certainly prefer having more sink space to having missing mirrors, but I wonder what made them decide to change?mirrors

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