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

As more builders get the hang of the Livable Housing Design guidelines, the more creative the designs. And the more we see the concept of universal design in action.  Too many people associate accessibility with ugly public bathrooms, but the pictures below show that’s not the case. They show what an accessible home looks like. 

Good examples of universal design are difficult to find. Because universal design is invisible until pointed out, pictures alone do not tell the story. 

Thanks to Taylor’d Distinction for allowing the use of their pictures. They are based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. 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 on the quest for mainstream universally designed housing

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
A stainless steel level handle.
Lever handles good for poor dexterity
Shower recess with half screen and hand held shower.
Shower recess with half screen
View into the bathroom through a wide door.
Wide doors throughout
Level access to the outdoors.
Level access to the outdoors
Light switches with large rockers.
Larger rocker switches easy to use
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 both sides for safety
A person with a four-wheeled walker rolls over the level threshold.
Level threshold gives access for all

 

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

 

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.

 

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. You can see more from the Lifemark article on usable kitchens For a more academic approach to kitchen design you can download A Systematıc Approach for Increasing the Success of Kitchen Interior Design within the Context of Spatial User Requırements.

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. 

A Useable Kitchen

View of a kitchen showing white drawers with D handles, an oven at waist height and a small breakfasr barA useable kitchen is a must and it is often the details of the design that make the difference. Once the overall working space has been thought through, the fittings become the focus.

Lifemark in New Zealand has partnered with Blum kitchen products and fittings that help make any kitchen more functional regardless of level of capability to open, grasp, or carry things. Drawers instead of cupboards are now standard in kitchen design, but storing items logically and tidily is another matter.

How to make your kitchen more usable covers workspaces and cabinetry, flooring, colour contrasting, taps and handles.

Other ideas

This item from a Todd Brickhouse Associates newsletter includes some good kitchen design ideas. Scrolling down the page, you can see a picture of a pull-out table that nests neatly under the kitchen bench and over the storage drawers when not in use. Colour contrast is mentioned as an important feature. Another idea is a dual height island bench which has multi functional use. The newsletter includes other items that are probably more specific to north America and also some disability specific items.

For a more academic article see Analysis of kitchen design to include UD. It takes an architect’s perspective.

For a product and futuristic take on kitchens see The future of kitchens

Small bathrooms and universal design

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 small 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. It’s an open access article.

Note that the image does not indicate universal design features. A free-standing bath becomes unusable if grab bar support is needed in the future. The shower cubicle is small and not step free. 

Abstract

This 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 study used the principles of universal design, observations and in-depth interviews.

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.

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