At the Inform Interiors store in the Denny Triangle, there are nose prints on the window. But not in front of the cowhide recliner, or the angular Bellini chairs. The lustful smudges are reserved for the spot where passers-by can ogle an ovoid ice princess of a bathtub called the Agape Spoon XL. At $15,236, the Spoon XL costs as much as an economy car, but it won’t take you anywhere—except wherever your mind wanders while you’re soaking in it, up to your nose. Formed of quartz and resin, the tub can hold 610 gallons of water and looks as though Maya Lin might have designed it as a small monument for the Washington Mall.
In rainy Seattle, surrounded by bodies of water, it seems residents still crave full immersion in the wet stuff. “All I can tell you is that when people buy these and then move, they come back and get another,” says Inform design consultant Stephen Dooley. “It’s love.”
At Keller Supply Company in Interbay, Bob Cameron says his customers—more women than men—seem to like the instant mood shift that soaking offers. “It’s about changing the way you feel about yourself and your environment,” he says. “You close the door and you escape.” Which is easy enough if you have the Kohler Purist ($6,000–$11,000), a gigantic drop-in acrylic tub that offers groovy underwater chromatherapy lights, the color of which can be changed with your mood.
Escape from the daily grind is part of the tub allure, but studies also suggest that soaking—even solo—offers health benefits. Although the U.S. is more of a shower-taking society, in Japan, where soaking (usually in communal tubs, or onsen), is considered a necessity, a recent study by the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine and the Japan Health Research Institute found that those who soaked more frequently reported better health and sleep. Cameron says his customers with medical problems buy tubs in search of exactly those therapeutic benefits. In SoDo, Innovative Walk-In Bathtubs offers custom-made (non-walk-in) Japanese soaking tubs hewn from fragrant Chinese cypress for healing thyself indoors or out ($1,200–$4,000).
These days, shoppers commonly bypass standard, 5-foot models in favor of tubs that will turn their bathrooms into veritable spas. Luxury tubs can range from about $1,000 for a 6-foot acrylic tub to $8,000 for a therapeutic air-jet tub with heated sides. The Bain Ultra Amma ($4,200) has a heated backrest, air jets that shoot up the sides of your spine, and a raised platform on which to rest the weary backs of your legs. The much less common stone tubs, like the Agape Spoon, can be made of such materials as granite or Carrara marble, cost as much as $32,000 and sometimes require delivery by crane.
One early decision soaker seekers need to make is where to position the tub. Will it be freestanding, recessed in an alcove, dropped in a frame, above floor level on a platform, or sunken? Most freestanding tubs require taps that come up through the floor, so if there aren’t any of those in place, plan for some serious renovation. Also, a full, large tub with two people in it can weigh more than 500 pounds (1,800 pounds for Carrara marble): Find out if your floor is sturdy enough to support it.
Another variable is bathtub size. Some architects and designers recommend getting a deeper rather than a wider tub, to immerse chilly limbs without the expense and waste of heating extra water, but tubs intended for use by two or more, whether adults or children, should likely be wider. Most tubs are 19 to 20 inches deep, but can go up to 22 inches. The freestanding Duravit Starck tub ($4,000–$8,000) is an ideal, modern one-person tub—at 31 inches it’s about 4 inches narrower than the average bathtub, but it’s 21 inches deep for a satisfying soak.
When considering materials, think of them a bit like the pots and pans in your kitchen: Each conducts heat differently, and each has its strengths. Aside from the common, but generally less desirable fiberglass tub, most soakers are made from acrylic, cast iron or the common-to-Europe porcelain on steel, like the Kaldewei Dyna Set No. 626 ($1,786), which holds the heat longer because it doesn’t radiate as much. Both that and the acrylic tub heat faster than cast iron, which absorbs heat. But a cast-iron tub will feel hotter longer. Stone tubs like the Stone Forest granite bathtub (about $15,000) also offer long-lasting heat, but are generally even harder to warm up and work best in bathrooms with heated floors.
Finally, for those with Roman bath aspirations on a shower budget, a capacious and economical option is one of the many clawfoot tubs that have been rescued from demolitions and remodels by Seattle’s salvage stores. The inventories change daily, but that’s part of the fun. On a recent visit to The ReStore in Ballard, several salvage tubs—ranging from 5 to 6 1/2 feet long ($100–$800)—were in stock and ready to install after a good scouring, while some others would require refinishing (in-home tub-refinishing companies are plentiful in Seattle). Some, but not all, salvage tubs come with fixtures.
And some of them could dwarf the Spoon XL. Not long ago, the ReStore was selling an 8-foot-long, two-person-wide bathtub ($2,000). It went fast.
South Lake Union
2032 Eighth Ave.
3209 17th Ave. W
Innovative Walk-In Bathtubs
902 1st Ave. S (immediately west of Century Link Field)
Dawson Plumbing Co.
1522 12th Ave.
4129 Stone Way N
The Re Store
1440 NW 52nd St.
7953 Second Ave. S
3447 Fourth Ave. S