Small bathroom design and UD

picture of a free standing bathtub with a shower behind in teh cornerHome design magazines now feature larger bathrooms with larger fittings, such as freestanding bathtubs. The room has gone from being a purely functional space to one of relaxation and wellbeing. Consequently the design of smaller bathrooms is somewhat ignored. Designing for Small Bathrooms by Sivertsen and Berg, of Oslo and Akershus University of Applied Sciences, Norway, seeks to address this. Their research question was how to achieve the same sense of wellbeing in small bathrooms using universal design principles. This article requires institutional access or it can be purchased for a small fee.

AbstractThis paper will focus on how to design a series of bathroom products that work well for small bathrooms using the principles of universal design. In home culture research, Quitzau and Rřpke has studied bathroom transformation from hygiene to well-being. Bathrooms are one of the rooms in apartments that do not have good solutions for small spaces. This is unfortunate since it is the bathroom that has the least amount of space in urban apartments. This leads many people to have too little bathroom space due to furniture, toilets, showers, etc. In today’s society, the bathroom is no longer just a purpose room. It is used for relaxation and wellness. This has led to a trend where large furniture, such as freestanding bathtubs, dominate today’s market. This in turn allows the few solutions that exist for small bathrooms to remain poorly conceived. The research question was therefore how to create solutions for small bathrooms to get the same sense of well-being as in larger bathrooms through universal design principals. The principles of universal design, observations and in-depth interviews were used in the study. This study can help to create a greater understanding of how to design small bathrooms. It will be relevant in a cross disciplinary field, including for professionals in plumbing, product design and technical solutions. This will also increase the well-being of users of the bathroom.


Analysis of kitchen design to include UD

Stylised drawing of a kitchen, somewhat 1950s style with pink and blue coloursSeveral Australian developers are claiming that apartment living is now the top choice for older Australians who want to either downsize or have a home with level access in the front door. However, it’s arguably no real choice if all you have to choose from is a retirement village or an apartment. While apartments usually provide a level entry, the internal design of the dwelling may not in fact support people as they age. Apartment kitchen design is an important consideration and is tackled in an article from Korea. Although many older people will not need to use a wheelchair at home, the design parameters are geared around wheelchair circulation spaces. The article includes several drawings of different sized kitchen layouts based on the analysis of user reach range and other capabilities.  

They conclude that there will still need to be specialised housing designs for people with specific limitations: “But a better alternative is to make common housing more accessible, usable, and universal for the highest number of people with varied capabilities…”.

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to suggest designs for apartment kitchens without major redesign for the elderly or the disabled, who are a fast growing population in Korea. According to the concept of universal design and the need to support various users as much as possible, five criteria for analysis were developed based on research on the mobility of wheelchair users: clear floor space, work flow, universal reach range, area for later use, and safety. Using the criteria developed, the accessibility and usability of five kitchen subtypes were investigated through the analysis of architectural documents. The result shows that kitchen layouts in Korean apartments are typically difficult to navigate for wheelchair users. Modification of the locations of the refrigerator, sink, and range was mainly required for appropriate clear floor space, work triangle, and countertops. Moreover, alternatives to five unit types were suggested without the need to increase the current kitchen size. For application of universal design to kitchen design, considerations for not only the size, the shape of the kitchen and its appliances but also for clear floor space, work triangle, countertop, reach range, and knee clearance formed by the location of each appliance are required.

KY Kang, KH Lee, Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering.


4 Myths of Home Accessibility

Picture of a paintbrush and chisel acting as handles on cupboard doorsDeborah Pierce writes that any construction project is a daunting endeavour, but illness and injury complicate everything. Ageing can be full of surprises, but asking others what to do can cause confusion when everyone has different advice. Also there are a lot of myths floating around and she addresses these well in the article:

  • Myth 1: Accessible equals institutional
  • Myth 2: Accessibility is expensive
  • Myth 3: Accessibility takes up space
  • Myth 4: Access upgrades detract from re-sale value

The article is by Deborah Pierce on It includes design ideas and includes informative pictures.

Picture shows a paintbrush and a chisel being used as cupboard handles. Good for people needing extra grip, but maybe confusing for someone with dementia – editor.



Small but accessible homes

Floor plan for a 52 sqm homeDeborah Pierce has written a great book on accessible homes. It is an American publication with an emphasis on wheelchair users, but the ideas are useful for anyone trying to re-think how they design homes to be more inclusively designed. Also good for anyone planning renovations in preparation for later years. One of the myths is that small can’t be accessible. Deborah puts this to rest with this 52 square metre design shown in the diagram. She notes that because ramps take up more space than steps, the assumption is that everything has to be bigger. Not having a ramp is of course part of the solution, but so is minimising corridor and hall spaces and having fitted storage and furniture where possible.

Deborah is featured on the website where there are otheFront cover of the book The Accessible Homer useful resources.   You can find out more about Deborah and her book, which has many ideas and pictures.



Designing homes for people with dementia

Heading for the Dementia Design GuideThere are many causes of dementia and it affects different people in different ways. Also, some people may have good physical health while others might be experiencing the effects of ageing. Common experiences are:

  • impaired rational thinking and problem solving
  • difficulty with short term memory
  • problems learning new things
  • fear and anxiety and increased sensitivity to the environment

The Universal Design Guidelines for Dementia Friendly Dwellings published by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland provides several key points to cover in design:

  1. Participatory design
  2. Familiar design
  3. Personalisation
  4. An environment that is easy to interpret and is calm
  5. Safe and accessible outdoor spaces
  6. Distinct spaces
  7. Unobtrusive safety measures and technology
  8. Good visual access.

The Guidelines are comprehensive covering many situations with drawings and illustrations to help designers either build from new or modify an existing dwelling. 



Bathroom design with dementia in mind

hewi dementia bathroomDr. Birgit Dietz explains the background thoughts in the development of the age and dementia-sensitive washbasin, which she designed together with HEWI. She is a visiting lecturer in the Hospital and Health Sector Building department of Munich’s Technical University and has her own architectural firm in Bamberg.

Dietz claims that qualitative studies show that the colour red is most easily perceived by people with dementia. Red is also the most easily registered colour for people with age-related vision impairment or inoperable eye diseases, for example, macular degeneration. The dementia washbasin is therefore also suitable for people with low vision. Go to the Hewi webpage for more designs.


Inclusive Housing – a pattern book

Steinfeld Inclusive Design and UrbanismProf Ed Steinfeld’s keynote address at the ACAA/UD Conference in Melbourne included an outline of the rationale for his inclusive housing pattern book. The book covers both home and urban design elements as well as architectural elements. He argued that in the same way that we transitioned from barrier-free to accessibility, we now need to move to more inclusive and universally designed built forms.  Download the PDF of his presentation here. (2.5 MB)


UN-Habitat – Accessibility of Housing

Accessibility-of-Housing-280x400This publication, A Handbook of Inclusive Affordable Housing Solutions for Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons, is part of the activities of the Global Network for Sustainable Housing (GNSH) managed by the UN-Habitat Housing Unit. The handbook presents practical solutions to outgrow accessibility barriers for persons with disabilities and older persons in the contexts of slum upgrading, reconstruction, large-scale affordable and social housing programmes. 

This handbook aims to bridge the existing gap between the needs and rights of persons with disabilities and older persons with slum upgrading, reconstruction, large-scale affordable and social housing programmes. Through the provision of concepts, major policy approaches, practical information and technical tools, the handbook intends to build capacity regarding designing and implementing accessibility in identified contexts. Likewise, it brings into light the implication and the global importance of developing accessibility of sustainable human settlements.


NSW Apartment Design Guide

NSW Apartment Design Guide coverThe NSW Department of Planning has published a new Apartment Design Guide. It includes a small section on universal design. On page 118 it defines universal design as, “… an international design philosophy that enables people to continue living in the same home by ensuring that apartments are able to change with the needs of the occupants. Universally designed apartments are safer and easier to enter, move around and live in. They benefit all members of the community, from young families to older people, their visitors, as well as those with permanent or temporary disabilities.” While the definition implies that universal design only applies to housing design, it is a good step forward as it allows councils to request developers to include UD features.

In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability), but continues the reference to a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently this becomes specialised housing which is what universal design is seeking to eliminate in mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard also continues to be referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code. 


Keeping the ‘home’ in home modifications

a blue glowing house icon is held in the handsMaking a home accessible is often associated with making it look institutional. No-one wants that. And there is no need for it either. But when a person needs specific modifications to enable independence, experience and advice from an occupational therapist is often called for. The video below shows the benefits of involving an occupational therapist (OT) in designing a home for specific disabilities. First hand stories explain the importance of all design features. The emphasis for the clients is on keeping the sense of ‘my home’ in the design. These case studies are based on money being available for a new build or extensive rebuild, but not everyone will have that luxury. Consequently, we must still consider basic access features in all new and extensively modified homes. 

Video courtesy Liz Ainsworth