The bathtub isn't just for soaking these days -- it's for showing off.

In many master bathrooms, tubs are moving away from the wall and taking center stage. And they're getting the star treatment with fixtures, finishes and accessories befitting a focal point.

Today's tubs have "great style, like a piece of sculpture," said Lynn Monson, designer/owner of DreamMaker Bath and Kitchen in St. Louis Park. Shapes and styles range from replicas of the classic clawfoot ("but in acrylic, so you don't get cold") to modern "space-age designs. You can pretty much design your own tub," he said, adding furniturelike details including ornamental legs; frames of teak, copper or concrete, and distinctive faucet finishes, from oil-rubbed bronze to highly polished nickel.

Tubs are becoming "more integral to the design of the bathroom as a whole," said Annie Larson, designer for Hendel Homes' recent $3.9 million Parade of Homes "Dream Home" in Shorewood. The master bath's freestanding two-person tub is "literally the centerpiece" of the room, surrounded by a heated marble deck accented with curved wood panels and gold-leaf detailing. A crystal chandelier, a wall-mounted plasma TV and a view of Christmas Lake add to the ambience. The tub also boasts 12 hydrotherapy jets and chromotherapy lighting that lets a bather adjust underwater color according to his or her mood. "It's an experience," Larson said.

Monson predicts that technology-enhanced tubs will drive shower-loving consumers -- particularly aging baby boomers -- back to the bathtub. He's seen prototypes that incorporate aromatherapy as well as hydronic and infrared technology that envelops bathers with heated waves of water that feel like massage. "It's almost like a sensory chamber for relaxation."

And while not everyone has the budget for the latest bells and whistles, even a simple tub can become a focal point with eye-catching tile work, Monson said. "It's more economical, and you can still make it look like a million bucks."