Stand out

15 Jun, 17

Philippa Turrell looks at how coloured tubs, petite models and a wider choice of material use is now defining freestanding bath sales

A symbol of luxury, the freestanding bath has long been a coveted look for the bathroom and remains a sought-after style of cleansing. While showering may be the most convenient, therefore the most popular method of cleansing, the freestanding bath not only echoes opulence in interiors but indulgence in time by soaking in the tub. Marketing director of Victoria + Albert Baths Jonathan Carter points out: “A Zoopla study published recently showed that a freestanding bath made it to the list of top 10 features that helped to sell a home. We know that a freestanding bath is widely seen as a desirable design statement.”

And now with more homes having multiple bathroom facilities, it has allowed the main bathroom to become the natural habitat for relaxation. Managing director at Thomas Crapper Paul Dywer explains: “Freestanding baths add to the luxurious aspect of bathroom design and the move towards homes with second and ensuite bathrooms, where comfort really is paramount, has had a positive impact on sales.” 

Sales growth

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And industry experts all agree sales of freestanding tubs are on the rise. Marketing director of Victoria + Albert Baths Jonathan Carter points out the popularity of freestanding bath tubs has been for some time: “Victoria + Albert has seen year-on-year growth since our founding over 20 years ago.” Fast forward two decades and this trend shows no sign of waning. Marketing manager for Laura Ashley Bathrooms Helen Shaw states: “Since we introduced our collection of freestanding baths at KBB Birmingham, sales have continued to go from strength to strength.” And her view is re-iterated by marketing services manager of Utopia Sam Ball who comments: “The market is certainly on the increase. At Utopia, we introduced our first freestanding bath – the Sensuelle – last August. We were amazed at the reaction to this bath, which continues to see growth month on month.”

Modern classics

The market has opened up for freestanding bath sales, as the variety of designs on offer allow for more creativity than simply specifying a slipper or roll-top model. Sales and marketing director Michael Sammon of Frontline Bathrooms adds: “Though commonly associated with period interiors, freestanding baths with traditional roll top designs have evolved over the past few years to include contemporary twists.” And in fact, the modern-style baths are just as popular as the more classical shapes. Jonathan Carter of Victoria + Albert says: “In the UK, we see a fairly even mix of modern and traditional baths in our sales figures.”

It has seen the advent of metallic cladding baths, painted or coloured models and even a tub with a waterproof fabric surround. Head of marketing at Bette Sven Resinghoff continues: “There have been some big changes in freestanding bath design recently. We recently launched two of our most innovative freestanding baths to date. “It has introduced the fabric upholstered BetteLux Oval Couture and Loft Ornament with geometric embossing.” But speaking about the advent of more colour in the bathroom and its growing importance, Resinghoff states: “We believe that colour will become more important in the bathroom, but will feature in a subtle way for most bathrooms. In addition to the option to add colour through the enamel, Bette is providing other ways to add colour, such as the six colour choice in the steel frame of the BetteLux Shape freestanding bath.”

Material mix

But it’s not simply a growing palette of colours and textures that has widened the sales opportunities, developments in material have also enabled designers to cater for an array of tastes. In terms of design and meeting a variety of budgets. Managing director of Duravit UK Martin Carroll points out the advantages of cast mineral material: “The material used for bath tubs plays an essential role. Precise edges that are normally difficult to achieve by thermoforming are easy to complete with DuraSolid.” He continues: “it stands for durability, high stability and slip resistance.”  

And along with a choice of materials, it has seen the freestanding model no longer restricted to just top-end budgets. Sam Ball of Utopia explains: “As the material that the baths are made from moves from traditional cast iron to rigid acrylic, it becomes an option for the middle market.” In fact she says the look is now even available at entry-level prices. “Freestanding baths have also now entered the entry level market. But buyers beware, these cheap baths tend to be manufactured from cheaper acrylic, which not only feels less sturdy, but loses heat very quickly, ultimately a false economy.”

Technological advances

In addition to a variety of materials, technological advances in freestanding baths have also paved the way for luxurious bathing experiences. Sven Resinghoff from Bette points out: “The latest developments in technology have also led to changes in freestanding baths. An example is the out-of-sight water drainage and overflow system BetteSensory.” He continues to explain how it was developed to meet the need of its specific BetteLux Shape tub: “The ‘exposed’ design of the bath meant that we could not have a visible overflow system and the new development ensures that, even without an overflow hole, the bath cannot be overfilled. We have now added this option to other baths in our portfolio.”

Small suitability

But, arguably, the biggest trend to affect freestanding bath design and sales is the constraint of the typically small British bathroom. It has seen the development of reduced length models, alongside their large-scale counterparts. It means that designers may be able to specify freestanding models for spaces that were previously unsuitable with baths measuring 1500mm in length. Michael Sammon of Frontline Bathrooms says: “For smaller bathroom where space is at a premium, a freestanding bath can still be a viable option.” And he continues: “We anticipate seeing an increased selection of petite models to cater for every bathroom size.”

While some will suggest freestanding baths are space hungry, Jonathan Carter counters “contrary to popular opinion, freestanding baths free up wall and floor space, creating the illusion of more room – so they can be an intelligent design solution.” Designers can also replicate the freestanding bath look with back-to-wall models with two or three open sides. In fact, Victoria + Albert has just launched its first back-to-wall tub. Jonathan Carter comments: “Our star launch of 2017, the Eldon bath, is designed by Conran + Partners and it is the first back-to-wall design we’ve launched. It features all the practicalities, such as a full width tap deck to conceal the plumbing, and a tile upstand, yet the bath still has the appealing lines of a freestanding bath.” 

Correct scale

Whether designers opt for a freestanding bath or a model which offers a freestanding look, manufacturers advise to check the scale of the model is appropriate for the space. Sven Resinghoff comments: “It is important to select the correct size of bath for the room, so that it has enough space around it.” And Jonathan Carter agrees, commenting: “Think about the scale of the bath in the space, so it’s proportional.” However he adds: “Also think about where the taps will go – a double-ended bath is rendered single ended if a tap is mounted at the end. If the homeowner wants to use it as a double-ended bath for two people, ensure the taps are mounted in the centre.”

Cementing sales

Seemingly the freestanding bath has cemented its iconic reputation in the bathroom, and therefore it is believed sales will continue on their trajectory. Sven Resinghoff certainly believes that sales will continue to show positive growth in the near future. He concludes: “We anticipate that sales of freestanding baths will continue to be strong over the coming years. While the shower area is more frequently used and has developed into a more luxurious space, the bath provides a very different experience and look. Consumers will want exceptional baths to take centre stage in the bathroom and provide a high level of luxury – both in terms of design and experience.”