When I was growing up, it seemed like every television commercial break (remember those!) featured at least one advertisement that showed people (read: women) enjoying the benefits of a bath. In the ’70s and ’80s, Jean Nate ran ads that showed a woman stepping out of a luxurious bath and refreshing herself with the popular après bath scent. And who can forget the “Calgon, take me away!” ads? The catchy slogan became a heartfelt cry for any woman seeking a well-deserved break.
But in today’s frenetic, digitally paced world, taking baths — and owning bathtubs — has, to some, become a thing of the past.
If one looks to hotels as a sign of the state of the tub, many of the newer boutique brands such as Canopy by Hilton have done away with bathtubs altogether. Instead, each bathroom is outfitted with a barrier-free walk-in shower. Gary Steffen, the global head of Canopy by Hilton, says that the company conducted years of research, which included a survey of more than 9,000 travelers, and found that its guests most valued functionality. Canopy’s rooms also feature extra storage for amenities and doorless “open” closets — also helpful for a traveler with a time-crunched schedule.
The standard rooms at the Draftsman Hotel, a new Charlottesville property that is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, also have bathrooms outfitted with walk-in showers only. But the bathrooms in suites have tubs as well as walk-in showers. The implication is that the tub signifies luxury, only afforded by those who have the ultimate luxury: the time to soak in that tub.
The no-tub trend applies to homes as well. Millerton, N.Y.-based architect John Allee says that almost all of his clients would prefer not to install bathtubs and usually do so only for resale value. When they do request a tub, it’s usually for the master bathroom only, and it’s a free-standing soaking tub (he often uses Victoria + Albert’s contemporary, sculptural Barcelona model ).
“Many of my clients are past toddler-time (except for grandchildren) and will put in a tub/shower combo only if there is a logical place like an extra guest suite,” Allee says. Even his clients with younger kids only install a functional kid-washing tub if they have three or more full baths. Allee theorizes that his clients’ movement away from installing bathtubs is a combination of our culture’s fastidious hygiene and our busy schedules. Relaxed bathing is a luxury and a therapeutic experience, neither of which seem to be interests of Allee’s busy clients.
Dolores Suarez and Caroline Grant, who head the New York-based design firm Dekar Design, say most of their clients need a tub and a shower. In their experience, it’s often a his-and-her situation, in which one prefers baths and one prefers showers, so creating a designated space for the tub is essential. And if there are children, they say, a tub is critical as it’s the safest and most fun way to bathe them.
Michael Rankin, a managing partner at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, feels differently. As one of the top real estate agents in the D.C. area, he says that his buyers still want tubs, but that they don’t necessarily need them. “Everyone is too busy, and time is short, but when you finally have a quiet moment — and that may only be every month or two — people still desire a bath,” Rankin says. He equates the bathtub conundrum to that of the dining room: “A dining room might only get used four or five times a year, but the buyer still wants a house with one.” Rankin also makes it clear that having a tub, particularly in a master bathroom, is a sign of luxury that his clients expect to see. “Free-standing spa tubs and walk-in showers with rain shower heads, handheld fixtures and numerous body sprays are master bathroom musts.”
Nancy Taylor Bubes, another top D.C.-area agent and associate broker for Washington Fine Properties, has a personal bias because she loves a bath and doesn’t go a day without taking one. But she has found that the market has changed, particularly in urban areas. “Young professionals are living in smaller places and seem to prefer the walk-in shower convenience because it’s quick and easy,” Taylor Bubes says. Plus, a walk-in shower design is low maintenance; with fewer parts to clean and fewer corners where mold can get caught, walk-in showers are a bonus for busy families.
Traditionally, Taylor Bubes says, bathtubs were always installed in the hall bath for the kids’ use, and the master bath was outfitted with a shower only. But over time, master bathrooms got bigger, and tubs got architecturally fancier. Eventually high-end buyers began to expect to see free-standing luxury tubs in master suites. “Sometimes I feel like tubs are the fireplace of the bathroom — they are the centerpiece, the focal point of the bathroom,” she says. “Many people still want both tubs and fireplaces, but the reality is that they don’t use either as often as they might think.”
“Interesting,” Taylor Bubes ponders, “fireplaces and tubs — the places we relax around — could both be on their way out?”
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”