Design for everyone

Plan from the start for life's ages, stages and challenges

By John Manzo

Sometimes the most awkward room of all is the unrenovated bathroom. It’s in the wrong place, or it’s too crowded, or it’s badly laid out. Aspects of it are not friendly for children or people with mobility issues. It’s out of date; it’s dark; it’s difficult to clean properly.

You’d be surprised how many people tell me they haven’t gone visiting or travelling because they don’t feel comfortable with the bathroom facilities or they can’t gain access. But if a bathroom is designed for every person of every age and situation, you can visit or have anyone visit you for as long as you and they would like.

In this new era of changing lifestyles, bathrooms are coming into their own. They’re so much more than they were even a few years ago. They’re perfectly suited to all people no matter what age or stage – they’re designed for children, busy adults, aging seniors.

The trend today is to use Universal Design. It means design that works well for everyone. It’s design that is well suited to people in the moment and also as they move from stage to stage in life.

John Manzo is owner of Tego Bathroom Solutions.

What does universal design look like?

A “universal” bathroom might have a shower without threshold or door, with a single slab of stone cut for the shower base, flush with the floor. I particularly like soapstone, not only because it’s exquisitely beautiful, but because it’s safe. It has great traction – it’s not even a little bit slippery when it’s wet. It’s smooth, not rough-textured, and it’s really easy to walk on. It’s easy to clean – it just needs ordinary soap and water – it won’t stain, and it lasts for generations.

One good plan for universal design is to remove a large “deck-mount” bathtub, which takes up space. You can then add a free-standing tub with a larger shower. A larger shower means you can have a bench or a seat, with tasteful, strategically-placed bars easily in reach.

Also incorporated to good universal design is shower seating. It’s great for older people and for ordinary tasks such as shaving legs. It gives you something to put your foot on and to hold on to as well.

There are some elegant grab bars that work well with universal design – for example, those by Invisia Design, an Ottawa company. They look more like sculpture than safety features. There are even grab bars that double as shelves for shampoo.

Another universal-design plan is to keep the deck-mounted bathtub, but under-mount the tub. This way an older or ability-challenged person can transfer on the tub in the way. You can also have a lowering seat for those who need it, but removed for those who do not.

An important element of bathroom design and planning, universal or otherwise, is ventilation, especially if you want to have wood cabinets or – becoming trendy again these days – wallpaper. Even the best quality of wallpaper in a bathroom needs good ventilation. That goes for wooden cabinets, too, and their finishes.

Custom wall-hung cabinets and counters are contemporary and look great in a bathroom, but they can also be a good idea if a wheelchair needs to slide underneath.
With planning, each bathroom can be specifically and spectacularly designed for anyone.

If you’re thinking of renovating your home so you and your family can stay at home more, and for a longer time, or if you’d like your parents or grandparents to visit with great comfort, a universal bathroom might be one of the first things on your list. It will be a good investment now as well as into the future.

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