Designing a Smarter Bathroom

What is Universal Design?

A smart bathroom design incorporates safety, efficiency, and usability for all potential users, while bringing efficiency and beauty to the hardest working room in the home. Universal Design is so named because the goal is to create spaces that can be used across generations and abilities.

Bathrooms are particularly useful places to think about designing for more than one group of people: children, aging adults, those with disabilities or illness all have needs that can be addressed in smart bathroom design and planning.

Don’t limit your bathroom design to your current family’s needs. Consider everyone who visits your home: relatives, future family members, renters, and people who you host. Universal design also allows families to adapt to changing lifestyles while staying in the same house.

A perk of universal design is that targeting the needs of specific people still benefits everyone who uses the space. For example, grab bars might be primarily designed for the elderly, but they also provide safety for children and convenience for adults.

Easy Updates for Existing Bathrooms

While some Universal Design elements must be planned for before construction, there are simple improvements that can be made to existing bathrooms even outside of a remodel:

A shower or tub bench eases access to the tub for any user, and can be hinged to fold away when not needed.

A hinged glass shower shield instead of a track door provides easier access to shower and tub controls. Adding a hand-held showerhead makes bathing easier for everyone from kids to adults to the family dog!

Medicine cabinets can be lit from the inside for easier access to contents, and can include refrigerated compartments for storing medicine.

Door handles and cabinet pulls can also be selected for easier use: a small knob may be hard to grasp, but a bar pull allows more leverage.

Pull-out storage drawers are easier to access than the deep recesses of cabinets. This not only helps those who have trouble bending over, but makes it easier to keep bathroom supplies organized and quick to reach. Drawers can often be added to existing cabinetry behind the cabinet doors.

Smart Choices For a Bathroom Remodel

Some Universal Design changes require planning or more extensive remodeling to incorporate. When planning for a remodel, consider the following in your bathroom design:

Bathrooms are often underlit – but placing the lights is as important as adding more light. Adding light to the shower area as well as around vanities improves safety and usefulness of the bathroom. Night lights can also be incorporated for safety.

Curbless showers are difficult to retrofit into an existing home as they require extensive changes to manage the water and drain. However, designing wider showers, swinging shower doors, and low shower curbs are easier ways to facilitate showering when remodeling an existing bathroom.

Even if you aren’t ready for grab bars now, install the blocking behind your drywall while the construction is going on – you can add the bars later and have a secure way to install them already in place.

A bathroom remodel should be planned not only for today, but for the life of the house and the family living there. From simple updates to more extensive planning and remodeling, a bathroom planned for universal design will function well for everyone.


Ask the Expert 2022 – Matt K.

MAK's own Matt K. was featured this year as SacTown magazine's construction expert. Read an extended version of his expert advice here!

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