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For Tub Aficionados, Free-Standing Bathing Beauties.

Bath Tub

There are plenty of rational arguments against bathtubs: Bathing takes more time than showering, and tubs require more horizontal real estate, use more water and are off-putting for aging homeowners because their sleek, curved surfaces look like a ticket to the orthopedist.

And yet local architects, bathroom designers and dealers report a conundrum: For all the clients who want to tear out old built-in tubs and replace them with high-style showers, they see plenty who want to install new razzle-dazzle, free-standing models.

Often, professionals suspect, many of these new tub installations will be functioning as art rather than as places to scrub-a-dub-dub. Tubs are becoming, in essence, the bathroom equivalent of the powerful commercial ranges that plenty of non-cooks covet for their kitchens.

Free-standing bathtubs - we're talking about the eye-catching models that show up in children's books, starlets' suites and romance novels -- have never been offered in so many guises.

Domestic and foreign manufacturers and designers are producing modern takes on classic claw-foot tubs that range from the therapeutic to the sculptural to the humorous. Their prices, naturally, go way beyond the standard $350-or-so tab for the enclosed, recessed oblong that has been common in American homes since the 1930s.

Washington architect George Stavropoulos is partial to one that he's installing in a client's home in the District. It's from Lacava, a Chicago-based company with Italian roots. The tub, which costs about $7,500, is an elegant half-eggshell set in a black rectangle.

Stavropoulos mentions another Italian newcomer, the Wet LTT from Lavabo. It has LED lights inside that make it glow phosphorescently in blue, green and other colors. These he calls "Liberace tubs." The Wet LTT retails for $1,500 to $2,500.

Still, there's lots in between the claw-foot tub of yesteryear that Kohler Co. made in 1883 by attaching legs to a hog scalder/watering trough and tubs that glow like alien life-forms.

For example, the Porthole is a claw-foot from the Water Monopoly in London. It has, yes, portholes in its sides. Stone Forest of Santa Fe, N.M., sells $10,000 to $16,000 tubs carved out of solid granite or marble. The Natural Stone tub, carved from a granite boulder, looks very much like a huge baked potato.

American Standard's Porcher line includes the Draped Bathtub (starting at $2,100 ), a modified claw-foot that rests on an ironwork base (about $1,100) and appears to have a cloth casually tossed over it - but the cloth is molded of the same acrylic as the tub.

The Canadian firm BainUltra says its Amma model (about $6,000) has conquered engineering problems that arise from incorporating jets into free-standing tubs. It has air jets on its bottom and features optional chromatherapy with three colors of lights that some people insist improve their mood.

And anyone with $36,750 burning a hole in her pocket can have a double-walled, hammered-copper tub designed by Chinese artist Robert Kuo to resemble an ancient Han Dynasty cup. It's a product of the Kohler-owned company Ann Sacks.