A commode is often assumed to be a euphemism for a toilet.  Originally it referred to a chest of drawers or cabinet used for storing personal items. The name derives from the French word meaning convenience or suitable. French furniture makers in the 18th Century fashioned highly decorated cabinets topped with marble. These were fitted with gilded doors and cabriole legs and stood about table height.

Some early versions were curved and intended to stand against a wall. Behind the doors of the cabinet might be a porcelain chamber pot that was emptied by a chambermaid.

Gradually, a commode came to refer to a box or other item of furniture that enclosed a chamber pot. These reached heights of ingenuity in Victorian England, disguised as chairs or steps. Some were transformed into washstands complete with marble top, mirror and a closed cabinet below in which to keep the chamber pot.

The commode, once an extravagant piece of French furniture in an upper-class boudoir evolved into a more prosaic version in the homes of the working class. Towards the end of the 19th Century the commode became an item of convenience largely for the invalide and elderly as the advent of the flushing toilet inside the home replaced the need for an outside dunny.


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