March 24, 2010

A couple of months ago my friend Kaysie re-did her bathroom, and part of that gut renovation was a new, fancy, sleek toilet.  Getting that toilet, all of it, in all of its varied new, fancy and sleek pieces, turned out to be an ordeal of such proportions that we took to calling the entire project Toiletgate.

I’ve been hinting at great drama with the toilet seat on this renovation, and the best way to sum it up is simply to share the voicemail message that I left for Kaysie about 3 weeks ago.

“TOILETGATE LIVES ON.  Call me back.”

From the very beginning of this project I was intent to save as much as I possibly could.  Refinishing, not replacing.  In the end I can sadly say that not much was able to be refinished.  Most of this job was a gut quite unlike anything that I had anticipated, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  One of the first things Chris and I discussed was what could be saved in the bathroom.   We both agreed that the tub was a huge save, but he said immediately that I should replace the toilet, and I said immediately that we could keep it.  Quick recap on toilet – original, still working, suits the age of the building and a great place to save a few hundred dollars.

Chris nodded his head that day and said ok, but it was clear over the next few weeks that this bothered him – every few days he would casually drop in a mention of the toilet, “so we should replace the toilet, yes?” “No.” “I think maybe the toilet should go, it’s old.” “No.” “It’s leaking.” “No.” And then I’d be all patting myself on the back for my adherence to the vintage vision, and lack of a contribution to our nation’s landfills.  Good job me.

not nice

I was pretty much the only one who had this vision, however.  Everyone else thought I was nuts, including the upstairs neighbor Yusef who came in for a visit to see what was by then an 80% completed bathroom.  I asked him to vote on the toilet debate.  Note, at this point the toilet was sitting in the middle of the living room covered in filth, where it had been deposited when the bathroom was gutted.  Yusef took one look, raised an eyebrow and said, “oh girlfriend, get rid of it.”  He had a point.  Dirty…already ripped out…sitting on a trash bag in the middle of the living room because even now that it had been disconnected from the plumbing, it still dripped water.  At that point my resolution wavered and I told Chris to throw it out.

“It’s too late.”


“I’ve already closed the wall and tiled around the pipe.  If you want a new one I need to open the wall back up, re-do the pipes for a modern toilet, and re-tile.”


“What do you want to do?”

“I want to say fuck.”


At this point I had no choice.  Chris and I took a good look at it and decided that some bleach, elbow grease and a brand new pipe set might yet save this toilet, and I crossed my fingers we could get to the source of the leak.  Two weeks later, all those things came to pass and we had a beautiful toilet.  I returned to patting myself on the back.



I went back to Home Depot, my new home away from home, a veritable Cheers of home improvement, and I bought a toilet seat.  There are two standard kinds of toilet seats – one for round bowls, and one for elongated bowls.  This bowl is most definitely round, and all round toilet seats are 16.5 inches long from middle of the screw to the front of the bowl.  I’ve learned this.  I brought the toilet seat over to the apartment.  It didn’t fit.  Not even close.  Too small.  Huh.  This must be an elongated bowl.  I took the toilet seat back.  Elongated bowls are 18.5 inches long.  I bought one.  I brought it over to the apartment.  It didn’t fit.  Not even close.  Too big.  I have the Goldilocks of toilet bowls. I got out the tape measure. 17 inches.

I went to 3 more hardware stores.  Nobody in Chicago carries anything but the standard sizes.  Let the google searches begin.  I spent HOURS googling toilet seats.  Paula sat right next to me one night and googled with me.  It was insane.

“vintage toilet seats”

“american standard toilet seats old”

“non-standard toilet seat sizes”

“toilet bowl too big”

“toilet seats for antique toilets”

I just couldn’t figure it out – this is not an unusual toilet.  There are a million old apartments in Chicago with this same toilet, and I’m pretty sure they all have toilet seats.  I even called up Katie Mac and left her a message begging her to see if her toilet seat had a brand name on it.  Still, no luck.  What the hell?  Also, no one else seemed to be searching for this issue, because no one else in the entire history of the internet has even posted so much as a hint of this problem.  For days I was consumed by this issue – I could be making supper, but part of me was thinking about the Toilet Seat Issue.  I could be in the pool – half of my brain would be swimming and the other half was most decidedly working on the toilet seat.  Making the bed?  Toilet seat!   Reading?  Toilet seat!   Driving?  Toilet seat!  You get the picture.

I called my sister a few weeks ago, several days into the Toilet Seat Issue.  I explained the problem.  “I just keep looking at toilet seats and none of them fit.”

“Well, why is this an issue?”

“Because they don’t fit!”

“So why don’t you just measure the toilet and buy one that does?”




“um, ok, crazy, call me later.”

Then, finally……dawn.  A lightbulb.  I don’t have a residential toilet.  I have a COMMERCIAL toilet.  Where have I seen these toilets?  In rest stops and restaurants and gyms and stores.  This toilet may not have been commercial in 1935, but it sure as hell is commercial now, and it’s still being sold.  I googled “commercial toilet seats” – boom! 17 inches!  17 INCHES PEOPLE. And they’re available HERE! and HERE! and HERE!  A word to Chicago hardware stores – buy some of these.  We all don’t have modern toilets.

Look what arrived today:

I called Paula and told her that if this toilet seat doesn't fit I'm going to kill myself.

Love the font.

This box is fantastic.  I particularly like “toilet seat – toilet seat – toilet seat.”  Katie Mac once told me that she likes to put lots of exclamation marks in her emails and that pretty much what she does is hold her finger down on the key until she feels her point has been made emphatically enough.  LIKE THIS:

Toilet Seat - Toilet Seat - Toilet Seat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



  1. You’re brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!! Never in my life would I have thought “commercial” in connection with “toilet seat – toilet seat – toilet seat”. And I’m very glad you didn’t have to kill yourself.

  2. Your mother and I roared with laughter when we read this one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Oh, thank G-d. I thought I was going to scroll down and there’d just a mop of red hair in a swirling toilet and a sign reading “Goodbye Cruel World.” I’m thrilled it fit, and so glad you’ll live!

    Also, the geek in me loves this story, how thinking differently about the taxonomy of toilets changed everything! !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. And I love that the geek in you uses the word “taxonomy” ’cause now I’m gonna have to dig out the dictionary. Not every day does someone use a word that I have to look up – job well done.

    Make that, job well done!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Girlfriend, I swear I remember suggesting you keep the toilet. HA!

    Maybe I’m loosing my mind. Anyway, it looks good–we have the same toilet upstairs and I love the vintage-ness.


  6. LOL – dude, you totally said ditch it. And I remember looking at it, in all of its disgusting filthy drippy-ness and thinking “oh he’s so right.”

    The kitchen has gone in now, you must come down and check it out, now that I’m used to have cabinets and appliances in there I LOVE it.

  7. HA HA HA!! See I lost my mind (I still like our toilet though). I saw the posting on Craigslist–can’t wait to see it in person!!

  8. I don’t believe that at the time I actually called you crazy. But now that you mention it….

    Congrats on the toilet seat. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

  9. Since it is a commercial toilet seat, maybe you can request your tenants save money by spending a penny every time . . . .
    Good work. The seat is of plastic? If it is commercial can a really fat guy sit on it and tie his shoes?

    • Yeah, that toilet seat feels about as cheap as it’s possible for a toilet seat to feel. No really fat men please. And don’t stand on it to change a lightbulb. Sigh. I saw wood ones for $100. At the beginning of this project we would have had the cadillac of toilet seats. Now that we’re at the end, with my checkbook and my exhaustion begging for mercy, I’m going down the “who cares if it’s cheap, at least it fits” road. Huzzah.

  10. Did you think you would be able to avoid the immutable law of the universe, namely the Three Trip Rule (TTR)? Why? Because you’re young? Smart? Pretty? Bull pucky. Every0ne is subject to the three trip rule. Things work out on the first attempt? Somewhere in your Karmic future lurks the Five Tripper. Never gloat. Don’t despair. Just soldier on. By the way, even Toto toilets are unique to particular toilets. Anyone who thinks these things are pedestrian, ordinary or not worth speaking of is missing out on some pretty important info. Also, remain advised for all time that the hardware store within three miles of your home rarely or never stocks the needed item. Accept it. Embrace it. Keep renovating. Merely as an aside, might I add my name to the propective tenant list? I have adequate references. There was just that one place in Alhambra, Ca that I laid waste to , and it may well have been justified.

  11. Don, you should definitely come rent it, you would be an ideal tenant! When would you like to sign the lease? I will overlook Alhambra, I’m sure it was a learning experience.

  12. I’m having a similar toilet seat issue you were having in March. If you could send the model number of the seat you bought, that would help me out in finding it on the links you provided.


    • Hi Jim, happy to help – here’s the exact toilet seat I bought. It’s made by Beneke and sold through Vintage Tub & Bath online.


      It’s plastic and felt a bit lighter than I would have preferred, but it appeared to be sturdy enough and by the time it arrived in the mail I was happy to take what I could get. It also looked fine once it was on. Unfortunately these toilet seats appear to be a bit more expensive than the standard ones.

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