Bathroom trends may come and go as much as other home design changes do. Many of the Jacuzzi™ and whirlpool tubs that captivated homeowners back in the 1980s and ‘90s faded in popularity as the piping became troublesome to clean.
“A lot used them for extra storage,” says real estate salesperson Stephanie Mallios of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Short Hills, N.J.
Then, it was onto big walk-in showers with oversized “rainfall” heads and multiple controls lining walls. Sometimes, there were so many that occupants felt they had entered the equivalent of a human car wash. This trend also faded as it became clear that nobody needed so much space to shower and few couples showered a deux.
The latest bathroom design to spur interest is an updated version of the old-fashioned claw-foot tub, though usually without feet, except in certain geographic markets and in older homes.
These freestanding tubs are manufactured in large oval, egg-shaped, slipper and rectangular shapes and a host of materials from acrylic to cast iron, concrete, stainless steel, copper and resin composites. When they first showed up in hotels and resorts, their stylish presence gave high-end guest suites immediate cachet and signaled relaxation.
Home stagers took note and found them ideal for helping to set a luxurious mood that might sway buyers, who felt it important to have at least one bathtub in their house for resale.
Kristie Barnett, whose design firm the Decorologist in Nashville also trains professional stagers and paint consultants, says many of her clients, especially females, love the idea of having a separate freestanding tub.
Julia Buckingham of Julia Buckingham Interiors in Phoenix also sees the upside of these tubs, which she compares to the equivalent of a beautiful piece of jewelry because of their sculptural forms. And although it may be counterintuitive, she prefers to place them in a smaller master bathroom where they become the focal point rather than in a large room where they could get visually lost.
Though these tubs may be today’s buzz when it comes to thinking about bathroom choices, some wonder if the trend soon might be passé?
Even professionals are among the cohort who question the longevity. Jessi Lowry, showroom sales and marketing assistant at the N&S Supply and Bath Classics Showroom, a company with four locations in upstate New York, says her firm has sold them primarily to families with children whose parents both work. “They view them as a way to escape and unwind,” she says.
Others, she says, like to look at them, but adds, “I’m not sure if they use them. You have to wait for them to fill and then you need to have the time to sit in them.”
Barnett also thinks they’re not a great solution for those aging in place. “Climbing over a ledge that’s usually 24 inches high to get in and later get out can be a problem. They’re more for younger people in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” she says.
Another naysayer is real-estate salesperson Mallios who thinks the tubs that appeal more to buyers these days—especially families wanting to bathe a young child in them–is a built-in model with ledge that offers a place to rest a towel, soap and “whatever,” she says.
So, might these freestanding tubs that look stunning yet aren’t frequent—if ever—used be a repeat of the kitchen trend of noncooks installing the latest equipment, only to end up ordering takeout? Designer Sharon Gosselin McCormick whose eponymous firm is based in Hartford, Conn., thinks “maybe.”
But there are some reasons that they may not completely disappear. While some of those made from the most expensive materials are very pricey, others may not be any more expensive than nice built-in designs. And installing the faucet, valve and hand shower in a wall near the tub rather than into the floor as some have done can also cut the cost and space needed. Furthermore, there are a large number of choices, given all the companies that manufacture them, including Waterworks, BainUltra, Kohler, Porcelanosa, Victoria + Albert, Duravit, Kallista Jacuzzi Luxury Bath and Maax.
Like other home-related choices, the decision should come down to whether homeowners or other family members love taking baths, have the space to accommodate one, and like the artistic look, says Chicago designer Rebecca Pogonitz of GoGo Design.
Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer (www.barbaraballinger.com) based in the Hudson River Valley of New York and author of several design and real estate books, including The Kitchen Bible and The Garden Bible (Images Publishing).