Mary Graham on the virtues of a bathtub and how to choose one

Mary Graham – one half of Salvesen Graham – details everything you need to know about choosing a bathtub for your house

The bath is a focal point in this bathroom in Colorado by Salvesen Graham

The bathroom: a room containing a bath, a place to bathe. So, surely, the most important place to start is with the humble bathtub itself ? At Salvesen Graham, we have installed our fair share of baths over the years and, having recently redecorated my own bathroom, I feel as though I have refined my opinion on the subject.

Let’s tackle the awkward question first. Bath or shower? Or the two combined? Of course, it comes down to personal preference, but there are certain things to consider when planning a bathroom. It is worth thinking about future use (and even the eventual resale of the house). A bath is essential for those with small children, but a shower might be much more appropriate for a smelly teenager. A busy professional might only have time for a shower in the morning, but weekend guests might enjoy a leisurely pre-dinner soak. As a rule, most people would expect to have at least one bath in a house and in the country, the bias would be towards more. Personally, I am happy with a shower/bath combination if that is all your space allows for; you can get baths with square ends specifically to make using them in this way more comfortable. In a country house particularly, I think baths are more attractive from an aesthetic point of view, as a modern shower enclosure can look incongruous.

Assuming I have convinced you of the merits of a bath, the next choice to make is material. From acrylic to marble, with a myriad of options in between, the defining factors are cost, weight and, of course, look and feel. I don’t enjoy the feeling of a marble bath and although wooden baths can be amazing, they are only suitable for a niche bathroom experience. In a classic English bathroom, a cast-iron bath is heaven. Solid to climb into, good at retaining heat and easy to clean. Typically, they are freestanding in design and work especially well in period houses. However, they are expensive and heavy, which is why a steel bath is often a great alternative. We use steel baths on most of our projects and I have chosen one for my own home.

In terms of bath shape, I am terribly conventional and think that a classic single-ended bath is ideal. I cannot bear a half bath/ hip bath (you are better off just having a shower) and anything too big and boat-like takes an age to fill up. Call me British, but I think double-ended baths can be reserved for hotels.

A marble-clad bath in a Mayfair apartment by Salvesen Graham

Chris Horwood

The question we get asked all the time is, ‘Freestanding or built-in, which is best?’ If you opt for a built-in bath, you open up a wonderful world of options for surrounds and splashbacks – tiles, marble, glass, antique mirror glass, slate, timber, etc. It is also a great way to optimise storage and conceal pipework. On the other hand, freestanding baths can look and feel glamorous. However, they can end up costing more to install – from the tub itself to expensive taps with exposed pipes. Freestanding baths can also create awkward areas to clean. And, with no surface on which to place anything, you can feel you just have to buy a luxurious nickel trolley from Soane for your glass of wine to sit on…

Regarding location, a lot comes down to the type of building that you are dealing with. In a historic or period house, especially those with original panelling and listed building restrictions, the middle of the room is appropriate (and maybe even necessary), so as not to disturb the fabric of the house. However, my personal preference is to always have at least one side attached or close to the wall. I think there is something rather exposing about having a bath in the middle of a room.

Baths in bedrooms is an absolute no-no for me unless it is in a hotel. Even then, does the average naked body really enhance the look of a room? It is best to confine bathroom activities to the bathroom. The exception is a hand basin. I am all in favour of having them in bedrooms and would like to start a campaign to bring them back. They are so useful for teeth cleaning, make-up, contact lenses, a glass of water before bed. I feel like a lawyer standing in defence of the simple rectangular steel bath. Thank goodness there isn’t space to start on why I don’t like mixer taps or en-suite bathrooms.