What’s the Origin of the Clawfoot Tub?


Bathroom renovations aren’t necessarily all about the modern style, especially when it comes to the historic houses in and around the Isle of Orleans. Because the past plays such a large part in the present, many homes in the New Orleans area are tailor-made for retrofitting vintage luxuries, such as freestanding clawfoot bathtubs. Once de rigueur and cast in heavy iron, new models are crafted from lighter fiberglass or acrylic, which offer additional options in color and style. Clawfoot tubs lend a 19th-century touch of class to any bathroom and a sense of indulgence to each bath.

The Talk of The Tub

Today’s clawfoot tub trend is rooted in the history of leisure. Before indoor plumbing first graced elite life in the early 1800s, bathtubs were filled by hand. A freestanding tub allowed servants to attend to the bather on all sides, and its opulence and size became status symbols.

Cast-iron clawfoot tubs with enameled interiors, initially marketed in 1873 for use with livestock, became popular for people by 1885 and remained the style of choice until about 1930. These decades saw the height of the clawfoot craze in the US, a period when many of the historic houses in Uptown New Orleans were built.

The Source of the Style

Aside from providing ample comfort, the feet are the defining characteristics of these tubs. The original 1700s Dutch ball-and-claw design recalls the traditional Chinese motif of a dragon’s paw clutching a pearl. Later iterations used a lion’s paw, popular among European furniture makers, and an eagle’s claw or talon, which American craftsmen favored. As freestanding tubs grew in popularity, so too did attention to the ornate cast-iron feet. Four common styles emerged: the clawfoot or talon, the lion’s paw, the armada, and the cannonball.

After 1930 many feet were melted into weaponry during WWII. After the war notions of the American home, luxury had changed. The lower, double-walled modern bathtub fixture was preferred over the heavier, freestanding clawfoot, in part for ease of cleaning. Today, however, the comforts of a great home again include bathrooms with character and style, which explains why clawfoot tubs are now so popular in bathroom renovations.

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