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HOME DESIGN : Affluent Drawn to Big, Brazen Bathtubs in All Colors, Shapes

February 17, 1990|SHERRY ANGEL | Sherry Angel is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Myth No. 1: Real men don't take showers.

Myth No. 2: Real women are small enough to submerge all their parts in a standard-size bathtub.

Bathtub manufacturers have finally figured it out: People want bathtubs big enough for at least one adult--preferably two. Including men. And they want their baths to be as soothing as a massage or an afternoon nap.

So manufacturers are building bigger and better bathtubs that include whirlpool systems and come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. And Orange County's affluent homeowners are making them the centerpieces of master bathrooms that are as big as many bedrooms.

"People have discovered the bathroom as an erotic area where you can become human again after the stress of the day," says Hans Rindfleisch, owner of Eurobath and Tile in Costa Mesa.

The Atlantic magazine recognized the trend in a recent article in which Philip Langdon observed: "By the early 1980s the plumbing manufacturers, aiming at an increasingly leisure-oriented public, had succeeded in associating the bathroom with sensual pleasure."

Before oversize tubs became widely available, designers began meeting the demand for bigger bathing areas by building Roman tubs--made entirely of ceramic tiles. They were beautiful--and big--but hard to keep warm and acutely uncomfortable, Rindfleisch says.

"The era of the ceramic tile tub has finally ended," he declared.

Ironically, luxury bathtubs hit the market after the sexual revolution, but they arrived in plenty of time to capitalize on the fitness craze.

In many households with whirlpools, the bathtub is just a few steps away from the home gym, and the master bathroom includes a sauna or steam shower as well as a tub, says Karen Myers Ziccardi, owner of Interior Design Development Inc. in Costa Mesa.

She says luxury tubs are also part of the cocooning trend: "People are using their own homes as an alternative to a mini-vacation."

Rindfleisch has seen the demand for luxury bathroom products grow as the county's real estate market has softened. When people were able to turn a quick profit on a home, "they didn't want to spend any money," he says. "People have become very quality oriented because they're staying longer in their homes."

There has even been a demand for the ultimate whirlpool tub--American Standard's two-person "Sensorium and Ambiance," which has such sophisticated electronic gadgetry that you can talk to it by phone. By dialing home and entering a code, you can program it to be filled at the desired temperature by the time you get there.

The Sensorium also has a stereo system and a one-way video camera so you can see who's at the front door if guests arrive while you're bathing. You can even unlock the door--and control lights in the bathroom and other parts of the house--without leaving the tub.

The price: $28,000.

Hal Gardner, marketing manager of New Jersey-based American Standard, said sales have been small but steady, even though the Sensorium was created as a marketing tool--"to demonstrate the full-bore capability if we applied all the bells and whistles available in the market."

He couldn't identify any Orange County customers, but many of those "bells and whistles" have become de rigueur in the county's luxury master bathrooms.

"The market is inundated with tub manufacturers. The range of colors and configurations is enormous," says Mike Perry, vice president of Penn Pipe, a distributor in Stanton.

The variety of choices on the market is evident in Eurobath and Tile's showroom, where customers are encouraged to sit or lie in whatever tubs strike their fancy.

Each has different contours, including curves and seats to provide back support, so finding the right fit is as important as color and design, Rindfleisch says.

The tubs in his showroom--which range from $1,100 to $3,000--are round, oval, rectangular and square. (A 7-by-4-foot oval is the most popular, Rindfleisch says.)

For those who don't want room for two--the average oversize tub takes 70 gallons of water to fill--a deeper-than-usual standard-size whirlpool tub is available for $1,300.

Extras for luxury tubs include head rests, which can be placed at both ends; grip bars for safety, and waterfall spouts, which fill the tub faster than regular fixtures--and really sound like waterfalls.

Buyers can decide how many whirlpool jets they want and where to place them, and the jets can be adjusted to make water pressure soft, medium or hard.

Rindfleisch says the traditional cast-iron tub has given way to acrylic, fiberglass and excyte, a crushed marble that has a solid feeling but looks like porcelain.

Tubs come in such bold colors as black, pink, maroon and blue--with matching sinks--and are usually surrounded by a tiled ledge for towels, plants or decorative objects--or placed in a large tiled platform with steps leading up to the tub. Popular accents include hand-painted tiles, elegant fixtures, mirrors, and even fireplaces.

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