Bathroom aesthetics and accessibility

A touch of universal design thinking has entered the design of bathroom design and fittings. Research from many quarters has established that people want to stay home in their later years. Consequently designers need to get on board with designs that are functional and look good too. A whitepaper from Nero Tapware updates designers on bathroom aesthetics and accessibility.

“Accessible living spaces are becoming increasingly important as the majority of Australians, both with and without disabilities, have a desire to stay in their current homes rather than enter residential aged care.”

Photo of a wall hung toilet and gold coloured shower and grab rail fittings. Bathroom aesthetics.

The Nero whitepaper discusses the many aspects of design in the context of the new Livable Housing Design Standard in the National Construction Code. However, their bathroom layout and overall style is similar to the public bathroom design. A universal design approach would use the space creatively and leave out grab rails until, or unless they were needed. That’s because grab rails placement needs to fit the individual user’s requirements.

“By modifications to our built environment, architects and designers can promote usability, participation in activities, and enable older users to live comfortably and independently.”

Shower recess from the Mecca Care range with gold coloured fittings.

It is good to see product designers preparing to align with the new Livable Housing Design Standard. However, the photographs in the whitepaper do not align with the universal design concept of the Standard. That is, each picture shows grab rails which are not part of the Standard. However, reinforcement in the walls is required so that grab rails can be added later at any placement the user needs.

Aesthetics impact wellbeing

The whitepaper nicely spells out all the issues including the importance of wellbeing. It notes that a liveable home must be multifunctional and it must feel like home. Lack of colour matching and styling options can end up looking clinical. The whitepaper argues that end users feel undervalued, neglected and uncared for.

The whitepaper is titled Aesthetics, Accessibility & Ageing: Designing Livable Spaces Without Compromising Function or Style. It was published in Architecture and Design. The full 58 page Mecca Care product catalogue has great pictures and a section on assistive living.

The Mecca range is specifically for people who require assistive living designs. While the photographs show nicely designed bathrooms, grab rails take the look and feel away from a “conventional” bathroom. But if these fixtures and fittings keep you at home for longer then at least they can look good. Wall hung toilet pans, however, are a good idea for any home.

Universal in-wall bodies

A companion Nero whitepaper is A Universal Approach to Bathroom Installation. The in-wall body is an installation that separates the in-wall body from the trim kit – the visible bits. In-wall bodies allow builders and customers to select the right fittings after tilers have finished. Customers can delay their design decision informed by the latest trends. At a later date home owners can update their fittings without affecting walls and tiles.

Images from the Nero whitepaper. This post did not receive any sponsorship and is provided as a relevant item of information.

Thinking of wheelchair users…

Lifemark in New Zealand has a handy little brochure that sets out bathroom dimensions and placement of fittings for wheelchair users. They use the term universal design because the features can be used by most people. However, they do look as if they are specifically designed for wheelchair users. And there is no need to make this look like a hospital.

Designers can still be creative and provide style with colour and attractive fittings. One thing the brochure does not mention is colour contrast for people with low vision. Contrast between the floor and the wall is important, and for some, contrasting fittings work well.

The title of the brochure is Universally Designed Bathrooms. Of course, the bathroom is only one element in a home that needs to be accessible for a wheelchair user.

Creative bathroom designs

A long black sink shaped like a shelf hangs longways from the wall. The backwall is full length window and it is difficult to see the tap. It looks very modern.Todd Brickhouse’s Newsletter has some interesting pictures of creative bathroom designs. All are wheelchair accessible and look really good. 

While these designs are great for wheelchair users, there are others who might find these designs tricky to use. A case in point is a cantilevered sink against a glass wall. Maybe in real life it doesn’t trick the eye as much. However, I wouldn’t classify these designs as universal design. The sink might confuse anyone with perception problems. Have a look and see what you think. 

What the pictures clearly show is that accessible and universally designed bathrooms can look good. There is no limit to creative design.  Pale marble tiles line the walls of this bathroom. There is one long shelf with a mirror behind. A bath with a hand held shower is fitted just above the bath rim.Of course, a custom design for your own home should work for you if not others. 

This newsletter also has a picture of a man who got a tattoo of a cochlear implant on his head to make his daughter feel more comfortable with hers. 

Todd also has a magazine. He is based in New York. 

 

Co-designing bathrooms with older people

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timberHow do you know what older people want in their bathroom design? Simple. Ask them. And have lots of Post It Notes handy. Having a more flexible and safer bathroom at home is one of the keys to ageing in place. Knowing “what’s best” is not necessarily in the hands of design experts or health professionals. Co-designing bathrooms with older people is a better option.

The Livable Bathrooms for Older People Project investigated and evaluated all aspects of bathroom design, fixtures and fittings. The report details how the project was conducted, the role of participants in the process, and the outcomes of the research. There are many explanatory pictures demonstrating the process. The report is available on ResearchGate, the UNSW Library list, or can be purchased from Google Books.

The Co-Design research was carried out by Associate Professor Oya Demirbilek. The Co-Design Sessions Lead Investigator with assistance from PhD Students Alicia Mintzes, Steve Davey and Peter Sweatman. University of New South Wales. 2015.

Note: The picture is of the renowned public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It would be very confusing for someone with perception issues.  Editor’s photo.

Toilet design for Western and Muslim cultures

A Western style toilet with a shattaf installed.
Western toilet with shattaf

Western toilets are designed for sitting. But this is not the preference for all cultures. Squat toilets are widely used in Asia and are considered better for a healthy bowel system. However, they are not great for Westerners and people with physical disability. Water for cleansing is rarely used in Western countries, but it’s considered more hygienic than paper. So, can universal design solve the differences in toilet design for Western and Muslim cultures? 

Zul Othmann wanted to find a toilet design solution workable for both cultures. The first step was to recruit Muslim families that had adapted their home toilet. Seven families participated as case studies. The experiences ranged from happily using a Western style toilet, to making adaptations to an existing toilet. In some cases both water and paper are used. Some families have adjusted to Western toilets, but visits by family members and friends also need to be considered. 

Design recommendations

The article discusses the family experiences and concludes with some recommendations for designers. Products such as bidets and shattafs are available in Australia, but their installation needs some preparation. 

Toilet converters or squat/step stool for Western sitting toilets need stronger toilet seats for safety. Wall mounted toilets might need additional supports to take the additional weight.

Careful consideration for drainage systems is the main concern. A stand-alone toilet closet in a typical Australian home does not have a floor trap. So finding ways to keep the floor dry when using the shattaf is essential. The paper needs protection from the water if using the toilet in both modes.

Othmann closes the article with comments about vaastu shastra and feng shui. Some designs need to be reversed or mirrored because both teachings originate in the Northern Hemisphere.

The title of the article is, Towards more culturally inclusive domestic toilet facilities in Australia. It provides yet another aspect of inclusion and universal design and the family experiences make interesting reading. Photographs and diagrams highlight key points. 

See also the work of Katherine Webber and her study of toilets around the world. It has more background about the differences in toilet habits. 

Toilets and tourism

Logo for Universal Design ConferenceToilets are not the same the world over, but they all need to be accessible  as Alaa Bashti points out in her conference poster presentation: “Accessible public toilets and restrooms from an Islamic perspective”.

Alaa Bashti poster presentation PDF

From the abstract:  

The tourism industry has become the most successful service sector, one of its leading job-creators and foreign exchange-earners. Behind this success lies a fascinating understanding of people needs taking into consideration the variety of people abilities and religions. One such group of people who have special requirements when it comes to using restrooms are Muslims, who make up 1.5 billion, or one quarter, of the world’s population.

In Malaysia and most Islamic countries, it is important to understand the ‘Islamic toilet manner’ as it can have direct implications for the design and planning of toilet facilities as Islam advocates for matters of cleanliness. Among the most crucial problems to be solved is whether one is sure to find a toilet one can comfortably use outside of home. 

This paper highlights what might be ideal standards for toilet provision, toilet design according to the Islamic principles and emphasising the importance of public toilets in creating accessible cities for everyone. In designing a public toilet, some elements should be stressed particularly on the understanding of users’ needs.

There is a need for a universal design of a public toilet that is always clean, comfortable and safe as well as relaxing. The Department of Standard Malaysia (SIRIM) has initiated the publication of Malaysian Standards as guidelines for designers; architects, city planners, landscape architects, interior designers, and others who are involved in the construction of the built environment with universal design. Four standards on public toilets are to be developed.

 

What an accessible home looks like

Good examples of universal design are difficult to find. Because universal design is invisible until pointed out, home viewers might not spot it either. Thanks to Taylor’d Distinction Building Design, here are some pictures to show what an accessible home looks like.

Looking forward to the day when there is no need to have a separate section for “accessible housing”. It should be considered mainstream. After all, how many of us can invite a wheelchair basketballer into our home? See more posts on the quest for mainstream universally designed housing

Basic access features are now in the 2022 National Construction Code. However, we are still waiting for states and territories to adopt the Livable Housing Standard. Queensland will lead off in October 2023. 

Kitchen with white benches contrasting with the light brown floor.

Contrast between floor and benches

Kitchen island bench with timber finish giving colour contrast.
Timber finish contrast with kitchen bench

Bathroom design with dark tiles and floor and white bath and vanity bench.
Vanity bench has easy access

A white Labrador dog lays at the opening to the level access alfresco.
Level access alfresco – less trip hazards for all ages

A stainless steel level handle.
Lever handles good for poor dexterity and when hands are full

Shower recess with half screen and hand held shower.
Shower recess with half screen which can be removed later if necessary

View into the bathroom through a wide door.
Spacious bathroom and wide doors througout.

Level access to the outdoors.
Level access to the outdoors for seamless transitions

Light switches with large rockers.
Larger rocker switches easy to use with fingers, wrist or elbow.

Laundry with white fittings. Washer and Dryer raised up.
Raised washer and dryer good for all backs

A view of the kitchen showing the bench height over and access to another room.Circulation space and bench height oven

Timber staircase with handrails both sides.
Handrails on both sides for safety and no see-through risers to cause visual distortion

A person with a four-wheeled walker rolls over the level threshold.
Level threshold gives access for all occupants, visitors, paramedics, and furniture deliverers

 

Universal design in the kitchen

Picture shows a kitchen in timber tones. There is an island bench with an induction cooktop. Drawers replace cupboards. Universal design in the kitchen.
Universal design in the kitchen

The Center for Real Life Design at Virginia Tech renovated two kitchens to incorporate many universal design features. One was designed for a multi-generational family, including an older grandparent and a child with autism spectrum disorder. The other was planned as a multifamily kitchen. These examples show how to do universal design in the kitchen.

The Center’s webpage has an article that explains the design features, and several pictures illustrate the outcomes. The first part of the article is about the Centre, and the second part has detailed explanations.

Julia Beamish also published an academic article on this project that can be accessed from Ingenta Connect: Real Life Design: A Case Study in Universal Design. You can also access on ResearchGate and ask for a copy.

A related article by Sandra Hartje, also available through Ingenta Connect, is Universal Design Improves the Quality of Life for Individuals, Families and Communities. It’s about why it is important for families and communities to design universally rather than how to design.  

Kitchen lighting

A modern kitchen with a bowl of fruit in the foreground and a stove and microwave in the backgroundLighting is of particular importance to anyone with low vision. And people who wear glasses also need good light to see what they are doing. And more light isn’t always better if it produces glare.

Doug Walter writes in ProRemodeller magazine about research in kitchen lighting. He says, “Most kitchens are woefully underlit. Lighting is often an afterthought, yet even when it’s carefully planned, designers and lighting experts often don’t agree on which lamps work best in particular fixtures and where those fixtures should be located.”

In the absence of any standards, the kitchen designer or the homeowner to have to work it out for themselves. The article offers practical and technical advice about lighting the kitchen. 

The title of the article is Recessed Kitchen Lighting Reconsidered. Doug Walter also wrote The Right Way to Light a Kitchen

 

Bath Tubs: Fashion vs Function

A bath tub sits in int he middle of the room. It is taller than the standard bathtub and sculpted into a shape with high ends with thin sides. A case of fashion vs function.The current bathroom trend is freestanding bath tubs. But the glamour of this kind of tub is washed away when you can’t use it or have an accident doing so. The transcript of a podcast by the Universal Design Project discusses the pros and cons of these bathtubs. Here are a couple of pertinent snippets from the discussion:

“A lot of times when someone is curious about universal design or accessibility, they’ll do a quick Google search to see what they can learn about it. Usually, they’ll search for pictures too so that they can get a better idea of how someone might have implemented universal design features in the past. But we’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design and it’s very possible that architects and builders will see these pictures assume the design works for everyone, and run with it, and that might not be the best thing to do, especially in bathrooms.

“Most of our design advisors agreed … that they are dangerous and not functional. … [One of]the biggest flaws of this tub is that the sides are way too tall, the edges are way too narrow and it’s way too deep. These three flaws have a huge impact on how someone is able to get in and out of the tub. 

The podcast goes on to recommend some design improvements, but that “we really needed to go with a regular tub set up”.

Freestanding tubs are meant to stand away from walls. There are two problems with this. The tub is usually near a wall but not near enough to put a steadying hand on the wall or access a grab rail if needed, but not far enough away to make cleaning easy. In situations where the shower is over the bath as well, a grab bar is probably essential.

The best part about this fashion is that free standing bath tubs are usually set in larger bathrooms. This has to be a plus for accessibility, bathing children and for helping someone in the bathroom. 

Freestanding tubs, are they safe? is part of The Universal Design Project Good Fit Bad Fit series, and you can access the podcast as well as the transcript.  

Stylish bathrooms with UD

A step free shower with a glass partition.The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.

Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.

 

Latest bathroom trends include universal design

Front cover of Houzz bathroom trends study 2021.Renovations are an important part of the home building industry. In the United States there’s a push for older homeowners to consider designs for staying put as they age. And it appears this is working – but usually well after the renovations are needed. The latest bathroom trends are moving to larger bathrooms and a desire for comfort and function.

The 2021 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study updates their 2018 report. Buried within the 2021 report is a section on renovations for “special needs”. However, homeowners are not planning in advance and then leaving it too long before committing to the renovation. Increasing bathroom size was another important trend. 

“More than half of homeowners (54%) say the bathroom renovation is addressing household members’ special needs.”

“Nearly three-quarters of renovators (71%) report that those special needs had developed one to two years before the renovation.” 

“One in 5 homeowners (21%) increased the size of their bathroom either somewhat or significantly, and 6% changed their bathroom location altogether. Half of all renovating homeowners (50%) increased their shower size.”

Both the 2021 and 2018 studies have information on other aspects of style, such as incorporating plants, soaking tubs and natural light. Bidets are also increasing in popularity along with other premium features.

The 2018 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study is a comprehensive report that has some interesting statistics about the age at which people might start thinking of their future needs and doing something about it. It also shows what they are actually doing in terms of renovation design. An interesting and easy to read study which supports the idea that these features should be designed into the home in the first place. It also features bathroom products and fittings.

Accessible bathroom fittings

hewi dementia bathroomHewi is a company based in Germany has a range of bathroom fixtures and fittings that are accessible and good looking. Their aim is to design for comfort and convenience. They have a range that has a focus on dementia. More accessibility solutions are available on the Hewi website

Reece omvivo essential basinReece, Caroma and Hewi have updated their catalogues to online only and the dementia options are no longer listed in a separate catalogue. 

Bathroom fittings are under regular review and fashions change quickly. Search under keywords such as “care” or “support” for assistive designs.

 

The future of kitchens

A kitchen with white cabinetry and a bar extension showing two place settings and chairs. The future of kitchens
The future of kitchens is changing

It is often quoted that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and that probably won’t change in the future. But what people might doing in the kitchen could change significantly. A blog on a product website lists five key design features for the future of kitchens: connectivity, sustainability, ease of use for all, and the rise of professional products. 

Below is a video where researchers and designers from around the world were asked how they thought kitchens will evolve. Their ideas on the future are worth looking at. There are some neat ideas at the end of the video. You can choose English subtitles in the settings.

The techno kitchen

Much has changed with electronics entering this design space. The soft touch openers for drawers and cupboards and height adjustable work benches and sinks are just the start. And they make the “techno” kitchen easy to use for everyone regardless of height and dexterity. Indeed, a universal design approach. As these easy to use fixtures appeal to all it won’t be long before these features are standard. The video below shows some of the latest. However, motorised adjustable benches can be a trap for fingers. You can see the potential for this in the video too.

Kitchens for all time

Picture shows a long island bench with white drawer cupboards and a timber benchtop. It has a low section attached to the front of the bench with a knee hole with two child sized bar stools. The knee space could just as easily suit a wheelchair userA well designed kitchen is essential for all members of the household. Participating in food preparation is important part of everyday life in many cultures. So anyone who wants to join in with meal preparation should be able to do so.

While the Consumer Report website article was published in 2015, many of the ideas are still current. Storage, work spaces, sinks and taps, lights and power outlets, flooring, doorways and handles, appliances, cookware and utensils are all covered.

With a growing trend to update kitchens every 12-20 years, renovation time is the best time to think about the usability of the kitchen into the future. 

Kitchens for later life

3 pictures of kitchens used in the study. One shows a china cabinet, the next a step ladder and the third an ironing board More than any room in the house, the kitchen needs to be a place where tasks can be done easily and efficiently. Kitchens are also an important area for social interactions during meal preparation and clean up. As people age, more thought needs to go into kitchen design to overcome issues such as reaching, bending, grasping and holding. However, this should not mean a complete kitchen renovation if these issues are considered in the original kitchen design.

Kitchen Living in Later Life: Exploring Ergonomic Problems, Coping Strategies and Design Solutions is the result of research from different disciplines in the UK. As an academic paper there are some technical references, but the reports of the interviews with older people are quite revealing.  Reaching and bending caused the most problems, as well as grasping and lifting. Lighting was also an issue, especially for reading the small print on packaging. The article proposes solutions, some of them related to rearranging things for ease of use.

Ironing proved to be the most difficult task. An interesting study, particularly as we can all relate to both good and bad kitchen design and fitout. This is especially the case with, say, a broken wrist, or slipped disc, which can happen to anyone at any time.

A related topic is the work at the University of Cambridge Inclusive Design team and their online Inclusive Design Toolkit. 

Accessibility Toolbar