Should You Envy People With Soaking Tubs?


While the built-in tub, a bathroom standard since Kohler introduced it in 1911, is arguably more sensible, many designers believe a soaking tub’s sensuous, sculptural curves trump practicality—assuming you have the square footage. “A free-standing tub defines the space and adds a focal point,” said San Francisco designer Grant Gibson, who has installed 12 for clients. “The tub creates an optical illusion…as if it is floating.” To ensure that tub and bather remain afloat, be certain the bathroom floor can bear the load. “I’ve installed a big fat steel beam where my tub will be in my new house,” said New York interior designer Sheila Bridges, who noted that much lighter acrylic models exist. Since free-standing tubs lack ledges for soaps and sundries, design pros often suggest bath racks that stretch across the tub to cradle such accouterments. “It’s like a breakfast tray in a bed,” said London designer Veere Grenney, who nevertheless personally uses a separate piece of furniture. “I have a two-tiered, wooden table for oils and towels, with a large dish to keep things in when wet.”


The more-modest alcove tub appeals to décor professionals like Manhattan designer Diana Friedman Soldo, who disdains soaking tubs as “an ostentatious waste of precious resources like water, space and money.” New York designer Ann Pyne warned of the precarious height of a soaker’s sides—typically 29 inches versus the built-in’s 16: “Frankly, it’s a bit dangerous. I’m pretty athletic and I’ve gotten stuck. You cannot get in or out all in one motion.” And unless you have gangly orangutan arms, that height also makes the tub tougher to clean (and clean around) and to bathe kids in. As for looks, “It’s a challenge to find one that integrates into the overall aesthetic of a bathroom,” said Los Angeles designer Robert Marinelli. “The nicer ones tend to dictate the aesthetic.” When designer Julia von Werz gutted a London townhouse, limited space called for an alcove bath, with delightful results. “I elevated the design with bold tile and wallpaper as well as built-in shelves,” she said. The result is “a cozy little nook that you could never achieve with a free-standing tub.”

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