By Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS
As designers, when describing an exquisite bathroom, we may not always include the word safety. Likewise, when we see references to bath safety, our expectations may not include positive aesthetics. But of course these must go hand in hand.
Recently I worked with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on a bath design Webinar, targeted at people in the 50-64 age range. The content offers this chance for a review of a few of today’s concepts and products that can help us put beauty and safety in our bath design efforts.
Beginning with the entry, safety calls for a generous opening, and beauty and privacy require that we handle it with care. Sometimes the desired privacy can be created by the arrangement of the space with no door necessary, but for the many times that a door is required, two options are pocket doors that disappear or barn doors that strengthen the design statement. They eliminate the need to clear the door swing and allow easy entry from either side should someone behind the closed door need help.
For those wishing for a large doorway into the smaller bath, the pocket doors can be split, using two French-style pocket doors, and obscure glass can allow light to pass through while providing privacy. To meet the challenges associated with opening and closing these doors, we now have attractive hardware that is easy to grasp when opening or closing the pocket door.
The Toileting Area
In the toileting area, size, shape and characteristics of the user and the fixture impact safety and aesthetics, as does the support provided. With these issues in mind, today’s designs often include reinforcement in the walls to allow for the addition of support when and where needed, and there are some wonderful options in decorative support.
We are seeing more comfort-height toilets and more wall-hung toilets, which can be placed at the right height for any given client. They are also a good choice when space is tight, as they offer a net savings of 4" to 5" in depth, but the change in plumbing can be a significant cost.
From child-size seats layered into the cover to integrated washlet or bidet systems, there are unlimited features and accessories available today. My favorite may be the integrated night light that glows to help guide the way for safe nocturnal visits.
Trends, concepts and products are making it hard not to attend to safety and beauty in the vanity area. The trend toward open knee spaces makes it easier and safer for most to operate at the vanity, especially when dual vanities are placed at varied heights. Whether it’s storage for the step stool for a child or seating for a grooming station, a knee space adds flexibility.
Lighting is a major issue in this high-task area, and in the past, custom design concepts were often the best way to get lighting without glare or shadowing. However, thanks to innovations in LED and other technology, there are now vanity mirrors that provide non-glare, no-shadow lighting that projects from behind the mirror.
The most universal safety challenge with the tub is, of course, getting in and out. Providing a deck, whether through the design of space or by specifying a fixture with built-in seating, greatly reduces the risk of falling. If the deck is on the room side of a built-in tub, it doubles nicely as a place to sit while bathing a child, or for a book or glass of wine for a long soak. Another step towards ease of entry is the explosion of tubs with doors, a product worthy of a design column all to itself.
Whatever the style and installation of the tub, this wet area calls for support for safe use, so reinforcement throughout the walls is a minimum step. And, we have some tubs today with integral support that truly fits the subtle aesthetic many are looking for.
Safety and beauty combine perfectly in the no-threshold shower, a look long popular in Europe and catching on here, thanks in part to the products that have come on the market to make it easier to design and install. One example that comes to mind is the trench-style drains, which eliminate the need to pitch the floor in two directions, making it easier to maneuver from a safety standpoint. This allows for the use of larger format floor tiles in the shower, an aesthetic benefit. Of course these larger tiles would need to be slip resistant, and we’d add seating and support, which would bring us closer to that goal of safe and beautiful showering.
These are just a few thoughts about current design practices and products that may help reinforce the combination of beauty and safety in your bath design work. You might be interested to know the questions that came in from the bath Webinar. After the always-asked questions regarding cost, most questions focused on where to get the grab bars that were shown and how to do a no-threshold shower, with and without steam. I take this as a positive change in attitude.
If this brief overview and teaser regarding safety and beauty in the bath has captured your attention, you’re welcome to take a closer look at the Webinar. You will be able to find the Webinar online at www.aarp.org/homewebinars.
AK Complete Home Renovations is a certified CAPS remodeler. (Certified Aging In Place Specialist) Whether you're remodeling due to a disability or just planning for the future, keeping safety and accessibility in mind is always AK's policy. You can read and learn more about safe bathroom design, universal design and aging in place on AK's website: