In this transformation, SQUIRES Design & Remodeling replaced a small shower and large tub with a spacious walk-in shower designed to be not only ADA-compliant but luxurious too. It features a comfortable built-in bench surrounded by soothing, beach-inspired colors for a spa-like feel.

Toss the tub?

Story by Jamey Bradbury

Something is missing in the modern bathroom: Once thought of as a must-have, those massive, jetted tubs of yesteryear are rapidly being replaced by luxurious walk-in showers. Even standard tubs are being tossed as homeowners transform their master baths into personal spas, where massaging showerheads, wall-mounted body sprays and pebbled floors are becoming the norm. It’s a growing trend among homeowners that begs the question: What happened to the bathtub?

Jettisoning the Jetted Tub

“It used to be, buyers were looking for bathrooms that had a shower and a jetted tub,” according to Wes Madden, CEO of Madden Real Estate in Fairbanks. “But buyers just don’t look at bathtubs the way they used to. Especially up here, if you’re going to have a jetted tub, a hot tub outside on a deck so you can watch the aurora is much more appealing.”

Buyers who are attracted by the thought of relaxing in a whirlpool become owners who quickly discover the effort of cleaning a jetted tub makes using one less inviting. “It’s great when you start out,” says Anchorage homeowner Margaret Dorsey, “but then it’s so big, and you’ve got to clean it. It’s just more hassle than it’s worth.”

Giant Jacuzzis don’t leave much room for a usable shower, either. Says Dorsey of her old “pocket” shower, “If you put your elbows out, you’d hit the walls.” So Dorsey gutted her bathroom and installed a large shower – and a freestanding soaking tub.

Tubs aren’t disappearing altogether, says Jessica Dault, an interior designer with One of a Kind Design. “People often keep them for the kids, and for resale. Having a tub in the house is a benefit.” Homeowners who have two bathrooms are especially likely to hang onto the kids’ or guest bathroom tub while eliminating the one in the master suite.

Remodeling for Today and Tomorrow

Those most likely to replace their tubs with walk-in showers, says Chuck Homan of Homan, Inc., are people who plan to stay in their homes long-term. Homan, a certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, says: “The trend of ownership in Anchorage is to stay in the house longer and make it what you want.”

The attraction of spacious showers lies in accessibility: Aging homeowners may find they have trouble lifting a leg over the side of a tub or rising from a sitting position once in the bath. But showers can be tailored to future needs. “It’s all about functionally elegant design that takes into consideration how people really use their bathrooms,” says Clai Porter of NCP Design/Build.

Showers can be installed without a rim to step over, allowing easy access for people who use a walker or wheelchair. “Benches have almost become standard in master bathroom showers,” adds Homan, who put a bench in his own remodeled shower. “Even for younger homeowners, it’s nice to sit and bathe or wash the bottoms of your feet without bending over.”

Homan has been asked to install shower grab bars, too – and not just by those who are concerned with aging-in-place. “People who lead active lifestyles, skiing and such, they’ll get injured, and they find it’s nice to have the grab bar when you need it.”

MTI Elise 2
Soak in It

For homeowners who never use their jetted tubs but still want to relax in a warm bath, a soaker tub is the way to go. "Soakers can be as long as six feet, and you can completely stretch out without having a jet jamming into your back," says Stacey Dean of Grayling Construction.

Soakers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from deep, Japanese-style basins that allow bathers to be covered by water up to their necks, even while standing up, to smaller, bowl-shaped tubs, to more traditional-looking claw-footed baths. For aging-in-place, consider a walk-in tub with a water-tight door that allows for easy entry without necessitating a climb over the side.

When LB Gregory decided to remodel, a soaker was on the top of her wish list. To replace her "hulking" Jacuzzi, she chose an MTI Elise 2 (shown here), a freestanding tub with a sleek, simple design that has transformed her bathroom. "It's sort of a showstopper," says Gregory. "When you walk into the room, it looks like a sculpture. I'm very happy with the performance, too. The tub stays warm, and clean up is a breeze. Plus, I'm 5'3" and I'd never been in a tub where my feet could touch the end. This one is the perfect size."

Worried about the shower looking like a hospital bathroom? There’s no need: “You don’t have to have the ugly, institutional bars now,” says Porter. “There are all kinds of very graceful ones, and they’re good support. We even put grab bars at a lower level for the kids.”

Decadent Designs

Shower accessories don’t have to be merely practical, though. When she remodeled her bathroom, Margaret Dorsey felt like pampering herself. “We have a pebble floor in the shower,” she says, “and it’s just like getting a foot massage every morning.” Tumbled stone or non-glossy ceramic tiles can provide a non-slip surface in addition to creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.

“When you go to do a remodel, don’t skimp on the tilework,” recommends Wes Madden. Porcelain or stone tiles in neutral tones can make resale easier for homeowners who do end up selling. For those who plan to stick around, though, placing tiles to create an interesting pattern will transform the shower into the centerpiece of the room.

For the showerhead, says Clai Porter, more is better. “We do a lot of double-headed showers, one at each end of the shower, where hers is set at one height and his at another.” Showerheads with a detachable wand are convenient for bathing and also make cleaning the shower easier. Adds Madden, “There are also some pretty neat body spray showers and different heads that can give you a water massage.”

Therapeutic lights can add warmth or romance, while glass blocks provide privacy while maintaining an airy, open feel. “A nice, high-end glass door is really attractive,” says Madden, although he warns that they can have maintenance issues. For the simplest solution, homeowners can forego the door altogether and create a true walk-in shower — one with a curved wall that contains the water but won’t impede entry.

Before You Demo

Convinced to get rid of your tub? Here are a few things to think about before you do:

Water supply. “In Fairbanks, we’re predominantly on a well and holding tank system,” says Madden. “You need to know whether your water system can actually support the flow of certain showerheads. If you’re on city water, it’s less of a concern.”

Design and cost. Tearing out a tub and installing an oversized shower involves “more design than people realize,” says Porter, “because there’s just so much selection.” And even a standard bathroom remodel can put a strain on the wallet, especially if the room is gutted to studs. But Porter estimates that a switch from tub to shower is “a little more expensive, but by only about 3 – 5 percent.”

Resale value. While jetted tubs are becoming passé, most buyers still want to see at least one standard tub somewhere in the house, according to Stephanie Gamble of Prudential Jack White/Vista. She also clarifies:“If you get rid of a tub and put in a shower, that can affect resale value. But it doesn’t make that room a three-quarter bath. They got rid of that classification in our system, so a shower-only is still considered a full bath.”

The modern master bathroom is all about convenience and luxury — so whether you’re keeping your tub or tossing it to make room for a bigger shower, the key is to tailor your bathing area with an eye on what you want today, and what you’ll need in the future.

Resources: realestate.msn.com; Stacey Dean, Grayling Construction; Chuck Homan, Homan Incorporated; Clai Porter, NCP Design/Build; Margaret Dorsey, homeowner; LB Gregory, homeowner; Stephanie Gamble, Prudential Jack White/Vista; Jessica Dault, One of a Kind Design; Wes Madden, Madden Real Estate