The Return of the Tub: Traditional Bathtub Typologies into Contemporary Bathroom Design

Bathrooms are an essential space in residential architecture. However, practicality has been a major factor in ignoring the many design possibilities for bathrooms. The bathroom was originally designed for privacy. Modern design objects like the tub have helped to create a more open and comfortable space.

The shower became more popular as a practical and useful option for bathroom design. The tub fell into disuse with less demand and was a luxury that only those who had more money and space could afford.

The tub is a popular choice for modern bathroom interiors in today’s environment. The tub provides more privacy and comfort that shower stalls and is one of many elements in an assemblage that gives the bathroom an open, meditative feel.

Here are five examples of different bathtub types and their potential applications in modern bathrooms:

Alcove Tubs

This classic bathtub is a timeless design that can be used in many different applications. The term “alcove” refers when the bathtub is installed in a recess within the bathroom. This means that these tubs often have three walls joining them or are placed within a pocket alcove. Modern designs have only two walls, or a large window to eliminate the restrictive nature of this method. Alcove tubs can be positioned within three walls so that only one side of the wall needs to be completed.

Container House / McLeod Bovell Modern Houses. Image © Ema Peter

Corner Tubs

Similar to alcove tubs they can fit in corners and still have enough space. Corner tubs can be used in modern design to maximize the space available and allow the bathroom to flow smoothly. These tubs can also be used to accommodate elderly and children.

Dancing Trees, Singing Birds / Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP. Image Courtesy of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP

Freestanding Tubs

Contemporary bathrooms are flooded with freestanding tubs. They are a popular choice for large bathrooms, where they can be a focal point of the design. Traditional models have claw feet, while modern styles are either on a block base, or have a straight line without a base.

Forest View House / Shinichi Ogawa & Associates. Image © Shinichi Ogawa & Associates

Drop in Tubs

Drop-In bathtubs can be placed in a frame, or surrounded by a rim and outer structure that can then be finished with any material. Drop-in bathtubs are more flexible than alcove tubs and can be placed in any bathroom. Drop-In tubs come in an enclosure custom-built and have a ledge that surrounds the tub. This creates a unique style for every application.

Sebastopol Residence / Turnbull Griffin Haesloop. Image © David Wakely

Undermount Tubs

An undermount tub, which is perhaps the most versatile, is installed below a rim. This means that the area around the bathtub is covered and the floor underneath supports it. The casing of an undermount tub can be made from the same material as the tiles or stone used for flooring. It blends seamlessly. The tubs can be placed anywhere in the room, and the large rim makes them ideal for storage.

Refuge Lieptgas / Georg Nickisch + Selina Walder. Image © Ralph Feiner