A Glossary of Tub Terms for Bathroom Renovations


Bathroom renovations are one of the most intensive and meticulous rehab projects for both you and your design team because fixtures need to be built into floors and walls, and water needs to be kept separate from electrical components (not to mention avoid costly leaks). Sometimes, additional water lines need to be installed. Additionally, heavy materials like ceramic, porcelain, cast-iron or brass tend to be more costly to move, install and repair. A quick and simple guide to some of the product terms that you may come across during your research or schematic design phase for your modern bathroom update (today’s focus: tubs; last time’s: showersfollows. Happy rehabbing!

A clawfoot tub is a freestanding tub with serious vintage vibes that would send anyone with the slightest hint of design nostalgia swooning. If you’ve also got a shower in there, you’ll need one of those wraparound curtain liners. But more seriously, you may need to check how much weight your floors can take. Some truly old school clawfoot tubs are made of cast iron and porcelain and weigh a TON—well technically nearly half a ton, according to Boston Standard Plumbing. If your bathroom is on the second floor, or you’re a penthouse occupant, take extra special care when carting in one of these bad boys, as the floor may not be designed for such a heavy load in one small area.

Besides all the logistics of actually owning one, clawfoots are obviously a classic for a reason. Their balanced shape and clawed feet scream Victorian-era elegance and they add an instant anchor to a bathroom that needs some style direction. Some dim lights, vintage gold taps and crown molding could bring the bathroom squarely into a design language that is both of the moment and timeless. And don’t forget you can paint clawfoots for a resonating pop of color! You’ll definitely need an appreciation for plumbing —clawfoots don’t hide a darn thing. Oh, and as with open showers, consider your climate and how well insulated your home is. Clawfoots made of cast iron can take a long time to heat up—no fun when you just want to luxuriate in a warm tub on a winter’s eve.

This style of tub is for the serious bath aficionado. You know, the kind of person who purchases a teak tray to hold their book above sea-level during a soak (leaving space for a glass of wine, of course). The raised edge is perfect for reclining comfortably in as the hours pass you by. More of a style of tub-rise than a structure, a slipper tub can be made of acrylic (mercifully lighter for a second or third story bathroom) and can come in cast iron with clawed feet, or be footless, modern—the choice is yours. There is even a double slipper variety for those who want more options. Perhaps one day you’d like to stare at a painting and the next out the window at the trees outside.

This freestanding tub at our West Loop Loft project is a great example of how you can add an industrial edge to a loft bathroom

The two types of tub we mentioned (clawfoot and slipper) tend to be freestanding. But a freestanding tub simply means a tub that isn’t attached or mounted to an adjacent wall. This style of tub has a rather dramatic look and feel, and turns what was a ho-hum tub/shower combo into an almost sculptural centerpiece. A freestanding tub has some special considerations, such as needing line-in and drainage to be in the floor instead of the wall, exposed plumbing, and extra space requirements, but they do the lion’s share of the bathroom decorating just by being themselves. Check out our freestanding tub at Melrose House below, which swapped out a drab and cluttered shower/tub combo for a free standing one that was ultra-modern to go with the slate colors and sumptuous shower stall.

The subtle rise on this sculptural slipper tub is divine

An alcove tub occupies a little nook, or alcove in the bathroom, making it ultra efficient at saving space and maximizing square footage. Although this type of tub isn’t usually as dramatic as a freestanding or clawfoot tub, it makes up for this in practicality and versatility and its ability to conform to most any budget. This type of tub is probably the most familiar to a lot of people, and it resembles the tub in many Chicago apartments.

Similar to the alcove tub, but requiring just a little more finesse. Whereas an alcove bathtub bumps up against the walls of the bathroom, a drop in tub is a sleek, finished shell, housed in a surround of one’s choice. This is a great opportunity to express one’s individuality by using a natural wood or a favorite tile or finish.

Another vintage-inspired tub, this tub can be made of cast iron and is on a base that complements the shape and style of the tub.

If you could only update one thing in your bathroom, making it the fixtures would be a safe bet. Something about a sculptural, striking fixture just pulls a room into the 21st century (or the 16th, if that’s more your style). They are like the bangs of the bathroom. The dazzling assortment of options available may overwhelm you but fear not; If your heart falters in a few years, you can always update them again. Consider metal (bronze, silver, gold, copper), finish (patina’d or shiny), overall style direction (period movies are a great resource for this as the set designer’s entire job is to match the set to the era in a believable way) and dynamics. Have you ever tried to turn on a super minimalist sink, only to find you can’t quite figure out which way is hot and which increases water pressure? If kids are using the bathroom, it might be easier to have two taps.

Make sure to check out our primer on plumbing too! And if you’re ever curious what type of tub is best for your home and needs, feel free to contact us.