Center of Attention

BY ELIZABETH PANDOLFI

Who knew the 1980s were lurking in so many bathrooms? If you’ve still got one of those big, built-in deck tubs, then you might be one of the victims.

Fortunately, Design on Tap, a high-end kitchen and bath showroom and a division of the Cregger Company, is well equipped to help you get the retro out of your bathroom.

One of the most popular ways of doing that these days is to put in a freestanding tub. And these aren’t your old-fashioned, claw-footed beasts. Today’s freestanding bathtubs are elegant and modern, and come in lots of designs and materials.

Ashley Hyer, the general manager of Design on Tap, says she’s seeing most customers move in that direction. “We’ve got both contemporary and traditional styles,” she says. “The contemporary have more of the clean lines and hard edges, while the traditional ones are more curvy. And there are a multitude of materials—acrylic, cast iron, composite stone.”

Hyer started the first Design on Tap showroom in Charleston 11 years ago, and the brand has since expanded to Bluffton and Greenville, South Carolina, as well. She and her staff work with clients to create their dream bathrooms and kitchens. Design on Tap showrooms carry everything from toilets and showers to tubs, sinks, faucets and more.

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They can even help you with behind-the-scenes elements like tankless water heaters, drain and shower systems, filtration systems and radiant heating systems. The only thing they don’t do? “We don’t do countertops,” Hyer says.

Over the years that Hyer has run Design on Tap, she’s seen local style develop and mature. With freestanding tubs in particular, she says: “We sell tons of transitional and contemporary styles now. Just five or eight years ago, everything was very traditional.”

Part of that change has to do with the continually growing number of out-of-towners who are either purchasing vacation homes on one of Charleston’s beaches, or moving here permanently. These new residents are giving the Holy City’s design landscape a more cosmopolitan feel—and a lot of them are coming to Design on Tap to outfit their homes. “We do a lot out at Kiawah and Seabrook,” Hyer says. “Also, a lot of our clients are of a younger generation, or European.”

Although it seems that selecting a freestanding tub would be fairly uncomplicated, since they can sit just as easily in the center of a bathroom as against a wall, there’s more to the process than one would think. Hyer and her staff generally ask customers for room or house plans, so they can get a good idea of what will fit the room and what is possible. They start with a budget, she says, then address how the project can be accomplished and, finally, what shape tub—oval or square—the client prefers. Tubs start at around $1,300 and can go up to $50,000. (One at that price would probably be hand-finished and come with quite a few bells and whistles—like an air, aromatherapy or chromotherapy system.)

Because Design on Tap is an independent showroom, they have a great deal of freedom when it comes to the brands they sell. “We have access to virtually anything,” Hyer says. They carry luxury brands like MTI Whirlpools, Victoria & Albert and Bainultra, as well as Kohler and American Standard. This also means that Hyer and her staff have no trouble mixing and matching across manufacturers. “Everything will coordinate, but you’ll get the best quality and the best price,” Hyer says.

And that’s a big part of what she loves about her work. “My favorite part of the job is to find a solution for the client. When people don’t know what they want, we can help them decide. It’s fun.”

Elizabeth Pandolfi is a writer and editor living in Charleston.