Universal Design

Something for Everyone

Mobility needs discreetly highlighted in bathroom design

The primary needs for the main bathroom in a home in Melbourne, Australia, were to accommodate the clients’ young son’s special needs and limited mobility and to feature a design that would be suitable for the entire family, as well as guests.

Bubbles Bathrooms – a trendsetter in Australian bathroom design – was commissioned to design this space, which required a shower space large enough for assisted showering, as well as a freestanding bathtub and seating area.

Before the design could start, the original space needed to be gutted.

“This was necessary firstly for compliance to the new building codes in Australia,” said Owen Barnes, principal designer with the Melbourne-based firm, “and secondly to properly prepare the space structurally for the modifications planned. It was completely stripped, and the space started fresh with just the physical room size, window and door locations left to dictate the design.”

Recommendations and Implementations

Barnes and his team paid close to recommendations from the son’s physiotherapist when designing the new bathroom in relation to flow and accessibility. “The layout of the fixtures and fittings was also carefully planned to ensure the caretakers’ ability to move with ease within the space,” he added.

According to Barnes, it was also important to the client that the new design be suitable for someone with mobility limitations without appearing to be a space obviously designed as such.

“We considered the clients’ needs and came up with alternative, yet functional solutions,” he said. “No grab rails are currently required.”

Pedestal basins were installed so that a wheelchair could easily fit underneath them, and reinforcements were built into the wall as a consideration for future grab rails. Bench height and possible future wheelchair access to the vanity were also considered and applied.

View Garden through bathroom The bulky, out-of-place window was restyled with clear glass to take advantage of the private garden space outside, and a large, freestanding, composite stone bathtub creates impact upon entry. Bathtub faucets are deliberately positioned for the caretakers to provide assisted bathing, as is the “perching space” attached to the vanity.

Darker porcelain tiles were used on the wall behind the tub to contrast with the lighter walls and add depth to the room, and building code-compliant, 12-volt, Edison-style task lighting was used for the vanity. Sustainable design elements were also considered and include water-saving toilets, faucets and shower heads and energy-efficient LED lighting.

“Australia has strict compliance regulations for saving water because we live in such a dry environment,” said Barnes. “Our drinking water is also some of the purest in the world, so we use special brass inside the faucets to make sure it doesn’t get contaminated.”

Lessons Learned

According to Barnes, a lot of designers miss the mark on the layout and flow of a bathroom.

“We are constantly seeing designers not properly evaluating and taking seriously the adequate flow in bathrooms for movement, safety and accessibility,” he added.

One concern with layout is positioning showers too close to an entry point, which Barnes says will cause the tracking of water and “wet” the floor in front of the door. Another issue is the location of the toilet, as from a visual perspective there should not be a direct view of the toilet from a doorway, whenever possible. Barnes says changing the position of a door swing or using a modesty screen often achieves this.

Sources: K+BB Magazine October 2013 edition

Designer: Owen Barnes of Bubbles Bathrooms, Melbourne, Australia; Bathtub and sink: Victoria + Albert; Faucets: Astra Walker and Parisi; Photographer: Paul West; Toilet: Parisi; Vanity: Caesarstone and Laminex

By Chelsie Butler