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How to Design a Bathroom That Will Age As You Do

Your Guide to Stylish “Forever” Bathrooms


For those of us building new homes and outfitting our baths, it’s easy to think only of cabinet and wall colors, countertop finishes, faucets and fittings, or hardware for drawer pulls. Very few of the design catalogs and showrooms are focused on elements that are easily accessible for wheelchairs or designed for someone who isn’t steady on their feet. But this seemingly “less glamorous” side of new home construction is becoming a reality for many baby boomers as they build their forever homes.

According to a study of boomers who are building or remodeling their bathrooms, 56 percent address the current or future needs of aging household members. The study, conducted by Houzz, found that nearly half of builds or remodels re-arrange the bathroom floor plan and more than a third remove the tub for a large walk-in shower with grab bars, nonslip floors, no or low curbs, and seating.


The Forever Bathroom

Designing your home to accommodate you and your family members as you age may not be top-of-mind today, but it’s easiest done in the new-construction phase. After all, during the home-construction process you’re considering elements that will complement your lifestyle as well as designs that will stand the test of time, which includes those golden years, right? We think they should for a number of reasons!

Some of the more obvious home-wide design choices include master bedrooms on the first level of the home to avoid stairs or door openings and hallways that can accommodate those needing walking assistance. But the room that will be most severely affected by special age-related needs is – more often than not – the bathroom. Because these spaces are usually smaller in size and have the added hazard of water and slick floors thrown in, baby boomers should keep in mind the needs that they have both today and will likely have in the future aas they consider bathroom design ideas.

Spare, modern bathroom with standalone tub, nonslip floor surface, and roomy shower

This spare, modern bathroom could be used at any stage of life. The standalone tub is easy to enter and exit; the floor surface is all nonslip; and the shower is roomy with a flat, no-curb entry. The addition of grab bars and a wheelchair-accessible sink/vanity would complete the room (Plan #202-1015).


Aging CAN Be Glamorous

New-home-construction bathroom designs that take in the current or future needs of aging baby boomers, who make up 53 percent of the housing market, can still be as glamorous as every other home design decision you make in your project. And these strategic decisions aren’t just reserved for baby boomers – younger homeowners who want to gracefully age with their forever homes are considering design choices that would otherwise mean pricey renovations years down the road.

Bathrooms designed with every age in mind are no longer considered cold or hospital-like. Small, smart decisions in your design project can mean the difference between a space being usable and beautiful for years to come – or not. Some of these simple changes won’t adversely affect the aesthetic in the slightest but will prevent having to use a cumbersome space or requiring a complete gut job in the future. And why not do it now if it won’t compromise the usability or appeal of your new bathroom?

Sleek, modern bath in a 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath Contemporary style home

Theres no reason why a bathroom like this sleek, modern bath in a 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath Contemporary style home couldnt serve throughout ones life. The no-barrier shower is luxurious at any age, and grab bars and the like can be added at any time with minimal bother and cost (Plan #202-1019).


Stall Now, Pay Later

If you don’t consider the alterations you may have to make in the future during the construction of your new home, you could be up against some pricey changes in the future. According to Houzz, only 3.5 percent of housing units in the U.S. have single-floor living, a no-step entry shower, and extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate a wheelchair. And the bathroom is an easy place to plan for the future, in addition to being one of the more expensive to change later.

But it’s not just baby boomers who should be paying attention. While parents think about their young children in the design of their home, it’s becoming increasingly important to consider grandma or grandpa. The increase in popularity of next generation homes with extra space for elderly parents or grandparents is evidence of the growing need to house elderly family members who may not be the head of the household.

By considering these family members during the critical design phase of your new-construction project, you’re avoiding costly renovations later. It’s not just a shower seat here or a sink install there, it can mean tearing down walls and expanding hallways – easier said than done.


Smart Tweaks

So what are some of the most important bathroom decor elements to change or update in your new-construction bathroom project?

1. Toss the Tub?

One of the most obvious includes those choices made when it comes to your tub or shower. Tubs can be challenging for those with mobility issues to step into and out of. They can also get quite slippery during a bath or shower and pose danger for those who aren’t steady on their feet. You might want to get rid of the mater bathroom tub entirely – an increasingly popular choice these days – and devote the space saved to a larger shower. If youre inclined to keep the tub, use a freestanding one. That has two advantages: freestanding tubs are trending popular among bathroom ideas these days, and they are easier to get into and out of than inset tubs.

Accessible bathroom with easy-to-get-into tub and roll-in shower

Standalone tubs like this are trendy and more accessible than tubs recessed into a wall. Even better is a design like this, which angles outward at the top, making it easier to step into the tub or sit on the edge and swing your legs into it. also not the roll-in shower, with no curb at the door. (Photo: Sidekix Media on Unsplash).


2. Shower Power

A walk-in shower without a curb but with a stylish seat or a bench allows homeowners to accommodate those who can’t stand for long or to go as far as accommodating a wheelchair in the future. A large space with lots of glass – or perhaps no door or glass at all – is at once luxurious, practical, and safe for all.

Accessible shower in a modern bathroom

Theres no curb to trip over – or to stop a wheelchair – in this shower. In a larger floor plan, you woulld be able to do away with the glass surround and door, too. (Photo: Sidekix Media on Unsplash).


3. Slip Sliding Away – Not

It’s easy to keep your bathroom looking modern and beautiful while still making your bathing options more safe for the future: Stay away from marble and the like! Nonslip floors come in stone looks and wood grain, like petrified lumber. Using these floor in the shower as well as on the rest of the floor ensures no accidents from unsteady feet, whether young or old.

Wood-grain porcelain tile in bathroom and shower with nonslip finish

Wood-grain porcelain tile in the bathroom and shower has a nonslip finish so it provides adequate traction even when soaking wet. The shower has glass doors but no curb to trip over (courtesy of Tile Redi).


4. Fab Grabs

A stylish grab bar not only helps those a bit unsteady due to age or illness but may be helpful with smaller children as well. Grab bars that match or complement existing fittings can actually punch up your bathroom decor, and they are useful as temporary hanging spots for towels or clothing and for occasionally helping anyones balance. They must be attched to firm blocking or studs in the wall, and for sure theyre not just for hospitals and nursing homes anymore.

Modern shower with stylish grab bar

Grab bar that matches bathroom fittings

Top: A handsome grab bar is a smart, stylish addition to anyones shower and may come in handy in unexpected ways (Photo by Jose Soriano on Unsplash). Bottom: Grab bars that match your bathroom fittings up the style quotient a notch while serving a practical purpose (courtesy of Kohler).


5. Super Sink

A sink and vanity with space underneath for a wheelchair or walker doesn’t have to look like it belongs in a hospital. Stylish sink legs, free-space vanities, and wall-mounted sinks have become a trendy element of modern bathroom design, and adding a slightly higher vanity – with sink plumbing tucked out of the way – will change almost nothing about the aesthetic of your bathroom. In fact, it will be a bit easier to bend and wash your face, and you can use a stylish chair now for grooming with the possibility of pushing a wheelchair under it in the future if necessary.

 Bathroom that's stylish but accessible to disabled and aged

At first glance, this bathroom looks nothing like what youd expect an accessible bath to look like. But the large sink has space (where the cushioned seat is) for a wheelchair if necessary; the faucet has easy-to-use lever handles; and the freestanding tub has a grab rail around its perimeter and is easy to enter and exit for all but the extremely aged (courtesy of Vanities Depot).


6. Elbow Room

Try to make the bathroom as large as possible – within reason – with open space least 5 feet in diameter to turn a wheelchair and a 36-inch-wide entry door that either has a lever handle or is a slider. A wide-open flat-floor shower that can accommodate a wheelchair is a valuable bonus.

Floor plan of mater bath in house plan #175-1131

Floor plan of master suite in house plan #175-1090

Top: This master bathroom in a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath luxury Florida style home is roomy enough for wheelchair maneuverability and has an oversize shower with easy access that can be fitted with grab bars and bench seats (Plan #175-1131). Bottom: This massive shower in a luxury Mediterranean style home has two entrances/exits (arrows), and maneuverability couldnt be easier in the shower, bath, and wide hallway area (Plan #175-1090). 


Resale Advantages

These design decisions aren’t just about your future self or those family members who may need to move in to your home in a few years. Homeowners who have incorporated them are few and far between, and even if you decide to move on before anyone needs to take advantage of these smart design decisions, you could significantly benefit from that scarcity at resale. Many of these design elements are rarely seen on a home listing description.

Regardless of your reasons for considering the accessibility and usability of your bathroom, almost everyone can take advantage of a smarter space. Whether it’s a younger family member who has critical recovery time after surgery or a broken bone, a grandmother who wants to move in with her younger grandchildren, or a buyer looking for that hard-to-find floor plan when you’re selling your home – there’s no downside to making some small changes in the construction of your new bathroom at the time when it’s easiest to do so.

Make these decisions early on during the construction phase of your forever home, and you’ll sleep easy knowing you’re ready for anything that might come your way in the future.

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