Myth: Universal design means sterile handicap bathroom with ugly metal grab bars.
When clients hear the phrase “universal design” they often jump to the incorrect conclusion that their bathroom will look like one straight out of a hospital room. In truth, universal design accommodates all users. They are typically spacious, uncluttered, and user-friendly rooms for every age and ability.
There are a number of elements you can incorporate into any bathroom project to adhere to universal design principles. When we are universally designing a complete bath remodeling project in San Jose, we focus on doors and doorways, grab bars, shower features, fixtures, and wall mounted sinks.
Doors and doorways. Though standard doorways are 30-32 inches wide, that is a bit tight for wheelchair access so we recommend a doorway of at least 36 inches. Another option, if space permits, is the addition of French doors to a master bath. They create an impressive entrance and are always wide enough. Otherwise, pocket doors are a great choice too.
Door handles in a universal design are easy to grasp and turn. Paddle handles are the most common choice. Drawers and cabinets are easier to open with pulls rather than small round knobs.
Grab bars. Today’s grab bars come in a variety of styles and finishes and are not at all institutional-looking. Even if you are not quite ready to install grab bars near the toilet, tub, and shower, you can still prep those areas for adding them in the future. Your remodeler can add ½-inch plywood over the framing before completing the walls. That way, if and when the time comes to add a few grab bars, you can drill through tile and install them rather than destroying your beautiful tile work.
Shower features. A curbless or zero-entry shower makes the most sense for universal design purposes because there is nothing to step over to enter. Frameless glass doors help keep the entry point clear as well. However, if space allows, a doorless shower is a great alternative. Both styles give a spa-like feel to the bathroom. Built-in seating and a hand-held shower head are two more recommended features, which work beautifully for anyone, regardless of mobility.
Fixtures: As I mentioned with door handles, consider the shape of your water faucets and how easily they can be maneuvered. Arthritic hands cannot grasp well, especially first thing in the morning. Toilets should be tall (16-18 inches in height) with slow close lids. Frankly, tall toilets are so much more comfortable, that is what we install for most clients these days.
Wall-mounted sinks. Though a cabinet sink provides storage space, true universal design requires a wall-mounted sink, which provides wheelchair clearance. Your remodeler can usually add storage elsewhere in the bathroom. There are so many incredible wall mounted sinks to choose from, most homeowners have no trouble finding one they really like.
Whether you are in your 20s, 40s, or 60s, it is never too soon to consider at least a few universal design applications when you remodel your bathroom. Today’s hardware and fixtures give you plenty of design-appropriate options for building the bathroom of your dreams. It will serve you well now and far into the future. Contact your local home remodeling company when you are ready to plan your project.