More and more clients are asking me to design baths that allow for greater accessibility and safety. People really do want to think ahead and plan for the day when everyday tasks become much harder, or when an aging parent comes to live with them. Even the most able-bodied among us can be stricken at any time with a broken leg, a debilitating illness or any variety of unforeseen circumstances.

Having a home you can live in comfortably and safely as you age, or through bouts of illness, injury, or disability, is very important. You may have heard the term “Universal Design.” Universal design simply means designing for all ages and abilities. It includes features like curbless showers, wider doorways, grab bars, taller toilets and wall-mounted sinks, among other things.

Fortunately, there is no reason for an accessible bath to look anything other than beautiful. Hand showers, bench seats and grab bars can be a very attractive part of the overall design. Here are some features to consider when planning your bath.

Wider doorways:
Standard interior doors are 30- 32 inches wide, but universal access requires 32 inches of clear space when the door is open. This allows enough space for a walker or a wheelchair. Remember, the door itself takes up space, so make sure the clear opening itself is at least 32”. It’s best if the door swings outward, rather than into the bathroom, but this is not always possible or practical, especially if the bathroom is located in a narrow hallway. If there is space, consider a pocket door, then there is no door swing at all to contend with.

Grab bars:
Some clients ask me for these, and others don’t want to admit they may need them someday. Even if you don’t think you want grab bars right now, ask your contractor to frame the walls surrounding the bathtub, in the shower and around the toilet with enough studs so that you can install them later. But why not just have them installed now? You might really appreciate it after a particularly intense workout, or a twisted ankle, or a nasty flu. And they are also great for hanging wet bathing suits! And fortunately, manufacturers have figured out that people don’t want their baths to look like a hospital, so there are many attractive styles to choose from.

 

Curbless showers:
Curbless showers are flush with the rest of the bathroom floor, so people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices have no trouble entering and exiting the shower. The shower floor is sloped toward the drain, and a glass shower enclosure or a long shower curtain can help keep the water contained. It costs a bit more in labor to install a curbless shower, as there is extra work involved. But in terms of accessibility, it is worth it.

Hand-held shower heads: 
These can be very handy for a variety of reasons, not just for accessibility. Many people like them because it makes it easier to clean a tub or shower; others like them because it makes it more convenient for bathing children or pets. And, in instances where one spouse is much taller than the other, a hand shower on a slide bar allows each partner to adjust the height of the shower head as needed.

Bench seats in the shower:
Again, these can be handy for a number of reasons. Women like them because it’s easier to shave their legs; they also provide an extra surface for shampoo and other toiletries. If your shower space is limited, a corner bench seat can be useful without taking up a lot of space. Or, you might decide it’s best to leave the entire shower clear, and plan to bring in a portable shower seat if it’s ever needed.

 

Taller toilets:
You may have noticed that toilets are getting taller. The old standard was 14-16” in height, while the new toilets are about 18” in height, which is chair height. Most people prefer this new height, as it is much easier to get up and down. Grab bars next to the toilet are also a good idea for a little extra help.

Wall-mounted sinks:
If you do need to accommodate a wheelchair, then a wall-mounted sink is ideal. With a wall-mounted sink, the person can wheel herself close to the sink and be able to use it easily. You forgo the storage that comes with a traditional vanity cabinet, but there are other ways to incorporate storage in the bath, and with the floor clear, cleaning is much easier.

Other safety concerns:
Make sure the flooring material is non-slip. Use tiles with a matte finish, sheet vinyl, or waterproof laminate. For lighting, add a recessed light in the shower, and consider a motion sensor night light for late-night bathroom visits.

There is no reason your beautiful bath can’t also be safe and functional.

These clients had an underutilized upstairs bedroom, outfitted with a small desk, a loveseat, and a TV in the closet. They challenged me to create a space where they all could be together, helping their young son with homework, surfing the internet, reading, and watching television. On their wish list: a large TV and comfortable seating area, two separate work spaces, ample storage for books and miscellaneous items, better lighting, and a space for a small microwave so they could heat up a cup of tea without having to go all the way downstairs. And, of course, make it attractive.

To make room for the large, custom U-shaped desk I designed, we removed the closet at the end of the room. The new desk features a work space at each end, with a long countertop, wall-to-wall upper and lower cabinets, and open shelves. In the center, we installed a large TV, and, while the microwave is not shown in the photo, notice the outlet in the right corner— that’s where it will go. And speaking of outlets, you’ll notice several new ones, both above and below the desk. This makes charging devices easy and convenient.

Their son’s workspace has an easy-to-reach book display, with drawers and cabinets for his school supplies. Both work spaces have their own desk light. The closed cabinets keep everything nearby but out of sight, while the open shelves provide display space.

My client loves the color orange, a friendly and energetic color (which is fitting, because she is also very friendly and energetic!), so you’ll see it distributed around the room. The accent wall is painted in a color called Winter Sunset by Kelly Moore. I absolutely love the double pocket doors also painted Winter Sunset. We widened the opening to the new den, and replaced the standard bedroom door with contemporary frosted glass French doors. This brings in more light, and adds a lot of personality. The doors are one of my favorite elements in this room.

The wall behind the new sofa is clad in wood planks, for texture and warmth. The wood wall coordinates with the wood shelves in the desk area, and the wood-look laminate countertop.

We kept the existing recessed can lighting, but added a contemporary track fixture, the individual desk lamps, and a wall-mounted reading light. Each on separate switches for maximum flexibility, the homeowners can now choose to have dimmer lighting for nighttime TV viewing, or lots of light for homework, bill-paying, and other projects.

With room for everyone, this inviting multi-purpose room has become a favorite hang-out spot for the whole family.

As long as I could remember, blue has been my favorite color. I love all shades of blue, but in particular, I love deep, intense blues like navy, royal, and cobalt. Blue is an amazingly versatile color, perhaps because it is the color of the sky and the ocean, which coordinate with just about every other color around. Throw on a pair of blue jeans, and you can wear any color top with them. So imagine my delight when the Pantone Color Institute, a very influential company in the world of color and design, selected Classic Blue as the color of the year for 2020.

In color psychology, blue is the color of stability, order, and reliability. It exudes feelings of serenity, calmness, and tranquility. An intense color like Classic Blue, however, can also evoke feelings of energy and strength. Blue is described as a favorite color by most people. In selecting the color of the year, Pantone and other color forecasters look thoughtfully at global societal influences such as art, media, entertainment, socioeconomic and political conditions, travel destinations and technology.

According to the folks at Pantone, “We are on the precipice of entering into a new decade and are desirous of a stable and strong foundation to help us go forward. Yet at the same time, many around the world are feeling unsure and as though the ground beneath them is continually in flux. Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue, expresses trust, faith and constancy, as well as offering protection—qualities that provide us with the reassuring presence and feelings of calm and confidence we crave as we cross the threshold into this new era.”

Maybe it’s the feeling of strength and stability, or maybe I just like the color. But whatever the reason, I have blue running throughout my own house, and have also used it in a few of my design projects. The selection of Classic Blue as color of the year means you will be seeing it all over the place; in fabrics, wallpaper, home furnishings, clothing, even in consumer goods like electronics and appliances. If you like blue as much as I do, consider using it in your home as well.

For some, Classic Blue will be too intense to use as a wall color, but I challenge you to try it. Note the bedroom that features Navy as an accent wall behind the bed. And take a look at my headshot on the “About” page of this website— notice the blue wall behind me? That’s actually my own kitchen! I had it painted several years ago, and I still love it!. I also have Cobalt Blue glass tiles on my kitchen backsplash— in 15 years I have never gotten tired of them. I recently added some smoky blue glass tiles to my fireplace, and I love those too.

Another way to bring in deep, rich blue would on your countertops. Search on Google for a Cambria Quartz countertop called Hadley. Hadley is a gorgeous Navy Blue— I have not used it in a project yet, but I am dying to. Bala Blue is a brighter, more fun and energetic blue, shown in the bathroom photo below.

For many people, it will feel more comfortable to use Classic Blue in smaller doses. Try pillows, or an area rug, or a new sofa or chair. Or look for bedding, draperies or artwork. Blue is a classic color that does not go out of style; a versatile color that works equally well in traditional, transitional and contemporary styles.

With this first column of the year, I thought I’d share with you four of my favorite design projects from 2019, and what I like most about them. They all came out beautifully, capturing the needs and wants of the clients, and each space has its own unique personality. Perhaps they will inspire you for your own projects in 2020.

Sleek and Modern Master Bath

What I love about it:

  • The contrast of colors and textures: Note the smooth, polished white countertops contrasted with almost-black wood grain on the vanity cabinet. Also note the embossed wavy, linear pattern in the white shower wall tiles, contrasted with the randomness of the black pebbles on the shower pan and backsplash. Strong horizontal and vertical lines are softened by the round mirror, and wavy curved lines in the tile.
  • The clean, minimalistic aesthetic: Contemporary design tends toward minimal ornamentation, thus the slab-front cabinet doors and drawers and sleek countertop. The custom-designed vanity, featuring six good-size drawers, will help keep visual clutter to a minimum.
  • The pop of red: I could have used just about any accent color in this bath, given the black and white backdrop. But I chose red, for a burst of energy and fun.

Soft and Pretty Guest Bath

What I love about it:

  • Great use of space: The original bath had an old, shallow tub, and a very dark and claustrophobic separate shower stall. To remedy this situation, we turned the tub area into a large walk-in shower, and converted the former shower into a spacious linen closet. The result is a very open, functional, light and bright new bath that meets everyone’s needs.
  • The color scheme: My favorite color is blue, and I’m always happy when I can incorporate it into a design. I love the combination of the soft blue walls, the blue mosaic accent tiles, and all the crisp white and gray. It’s a very peaceful bathroom to walk into.

Large and Open Kitchen

What I love about it:
Expansive new layout: This kitchen started out as a small U-shaped kitchen, with minimal counter space and storage. By eliminating the peninsula and using the entire length of the walls, we were able to greatly expand the storage capacity and workspaces. Two cooks can easily and comfortably work in this kitchen now.

The color scheme: The dark gray lower cabinets provide an unexpected pop of rich color to the kitchen, and the crisp white upper cabinets keep it light and bright. The tile backsplash very successfully ties the two colors together. And the warm wood tones on the floor prevent all those grays from looking cold.

Warm and Welcoming Kitchen

What I love about it:
Great use of space: Removing two walls and creating a new entrance from the front door made all the difference in the world. It enabled us to add a huge new island, and increase the storage and workspace. And the best part is that this new design looks like it was meant to be this way all along. It blends seamlessly with the adjacent rooms, and provides a spacious, yet welcoming, space for family and friends.

The materials and colors: I love the beautiful wood grain on those gorgeous cherry cabinets! (Also note the matching cherry pantry door.) Paired with the cream, rust and reds present in the counters, backsplash and walls (and even the front door), this warm color palette creates a very inviting ambiance.