Safe Spaces

by Autumn McGarr

When it comes to master bathroom renovations, clients today are looking beyond beauty alone, to spaces that are comfortable and safe.

“A lot of clients are bringing comfort and safety to the forefront, whereas in the past, they just wanted a beautiful space with beautiful things,” says John McClain, principal designer, John McClain Design, in Los Angeles, CA and Orlando, FL. “Now, more people are staying in their homes longer. They are thinking about the future, and for those who haven’t thought about it, we encourage them to consider how we can design their new space in a way where they can be taken care of as they age. A lot of that discussion involves features related to comfort and safety. However, we don’t want to forego aesthetics. Some people think they don’t all marry well. But comfort, safety and beauty can definitely work together, it just takes more planning and knowledge.”

This curbless shower, part of a guest suite renovation designed by John McClain for his clients’ parents, is designed for easy entry and includes a movable teak bench. Plumbing fixtures are located within easy reach of a wheelchair, with an adjustable handspray that can be reached from the bench.
Photos Stephen Allen

Tanya Mitnik, president, Cabinets and Beyond Design Studio, in San Francisco, CA, agrees. “Comfort and safety have become very important for people, especially for those who want to retire in their homes,” she stresses.

For Michelle Lauren, designer, Change Your Bathroom, in Atlanta, GA, comfort and safety are sometimes the catalyst for the remodeling project. “Over the years, comfort and safety have become increasingly more important to clients,” she remarks. “And oftentimes, they are the reason for choosing to start a remodeling project. This is largely due to the availability of products on the market. Plus, technology has come a long way in the last decade.”

With a younger clientele, typically those in their lower 40s with children under the age of 10, Charleene Doverspike’s clients are most interested in features related to comfort. In particular, floor heat is popular, with an estimated 60 percent of her clients requesting its installation. The designer/owner of Charleene’s Houses in Baltimore, MD can also attest to its comfort level first-hand, having installed it in her own bathroom about five years ago.

“We built an addition over the garage,” she says. “It’s our main source of heat in the winter [for that space]. I just love it!”

Another common comfort-related request from her clients is for handheld showerheads complemented with built-in shower benches.

“Everyone used to want rainheads and body sprays in their showers,” she states. “Now it’s all about hand sprays. I would say about 90 percent of our clients now request a hand spray. They can use them to clean the shower, and to wash their pets. It is about comfort, but it’s also about ease.”

Mitnik agrees, noting that, in addition to handshower systems, her clients also enjoy other in-shower comfort luxuries such as ceiling-mounted rainheads and jet columns as well as built-in benches and toiletry niches for soap and shampoo. “More than ever before, people see their bathrooms as a sanctuary and spa,” she continues, adding that sometimes clients remove their bathtubs and allocate the extra space to a larger walk-in shower.

Michelle Lauren selected the floor tile used throughout the vanity area, shower area and into the laundry room of this pool house bathroom for its high slip-resistance rating. For added safety, the shower is curbless. For enhanced comfort, she added chromatherapy as well as a heated towel rack. Photos Change Your Bathroom

Additional comfort features Mitnik’s clients often express interest in include televisions, smart toilets/washlets, fireplaces and wall-mounted towel warmers.

Lauren’s clients also appreciate heated towel racks. “They are a seemingly simple luxury, but there’s something comforting about a warm towel after a shower,” she notes. “Plus, they dry the towel after use.”

Another simple, yet comforting product that Lauren’s clients often request is a built-in, fog-free mirror with integrated lights for use in their showers. “Being able to shave and do facials in the shower not only saves time, but it also offers comfort,” she continues. “It’s one of those conveniences like heated seats in a car…once you have lived with them, you can’t live without them!”

Detailed comfort

Several designers, including Doverspike, Lauren and McClain, note an uptick in requests for steam showers.

“Being able to use steam after a long workday is not only comforting, but people find health benefits as well,” she reports. “I have one very young client who has hip issues, and her doctor indicated that steam might help her.”

For Lauren, the last four steam showers she has designed have been for clients in the medical profession. As a complement, she often includes digital shower valves that can be controlled directly by an interface in the shower or remotely via a smart phone or Alexa.

Michelle Lauren designed this curbless steam shower for a doctor, and included a digital shower valve – which controls the steam, shower functions, sound and lighting. It can be operated directly by an interface in the shower or remotely via a smart phone or Alexa.

“We design bathrooms to be ergonomic and streamlined, so products that we can incorporate to make our clients’ lives easier are always a consideration,” she observes. “Digital shower valves are one of those conveniences that make morning routines smooth and enjoyable.”

In some showers, even those without steam, Lauren adds aromatherapy and chromatherapy for added benefits. For example, she recently designed a pool house that features chromatherapy in the shower.

“My clients can choose from a number of different settings, such as sunsets and sunrises, clouds, thunderstorms and beach days,” she says, adding that additional comfort features for this bathroom include a heated towel rack and bidet toilet.

A recent bath project designed by McClain includes aromatherapy and chromatherapy for his clients’ steam shower and bathtub, which can be controlled remotely. “This is their ‘forever’ home, and these clients intend on staying long term,” he explains. “She has some health problems, and he wanted their bathroom remodel to be amazing for his wife so she can have a respite for recuperation.”

McClain indicates that, in general, people are spending more time in their homes and are planning to stay in their homes longer, making them more interested in upgrading current spaces with comfort features. “A phrase that is often on the tip of everyone’s tongue is that they want to have a hotel experience in their own bathrooms,” he says. “They want their bathrooms to feel like a spa. Especially now, with the pandemic, people are at home. They can’t travel and they are remembering those times when they could. In fact, I recently had a client recall a trip to Tokyo and we designed a lot of the aspects of their bathroom around the comfort they felt in their hotel’s penthouse suite.”

As it relates to comfort, McClain also focuses on details that might get overlooked, such as the height of a vanity or the feel of a plumbing fixture handle or cabinetry knob.

“We do a lot of custom pieces,” he offers. “That gives us the ability to customize vanity height to a person’s height. We actually measure our clients’ heights to determine the most comfortable height for their vanity.

Charleene Doverspike indicates that an important part of comfort is ease of use, so she designed this concealed washer and
dryer, hidden within the vanities, to make laundry easier for her clients.
Photos: Plaid Photography, Justin Tsuculas

“We also encourage clients to visit the [plumbing] showroom with us so they can touch and feel the fixtures and handles,” he continues. “They will be using them daily, so we want to make sure they are ergonomic and comfortable. It’s something they might not think about because it’s easy to be enamored by the beauty of a faucet or tub filler.”

The same approach applies to cabinetry hardware as well, McClain indicates. “I want clients to wrap their fingers around knobs and slip them behind pulls so they know which size and style is most comfortable for them,” he says.

Ensuring safety

Designers also focus on selecting materials, products and design features that ensure safety for their clients.

Lauren indicates that some, such as a grab bar in a bathtub, address both comfort and safety. “Bathtubs make a large impact in the bathroom, not only space-wise but also for the therapeutic benefits they offer,” comments Lauren. “Many of my clients request features such as air jets, chromatherapy, aromatherapy and heated backrests for comfort, but the most important safety feature they request is for grab bars that are integrated into the tub so they have something to hold on to as they get in and out.”

Likewise, grab bars in the shower are also an important safety consideration and topic of discussion. “I like to use more decorative and less industrial styles that blend with the bathroom,” says Lauren. “Some manufacturers offer beautiful grab bars that coordinate with other towel bars and fixtures in the bathroom.”

Similarly, McClain stresses the value of grab bars to his clients. And, like Lauren, he encourages them to, at the very least, install the supportive backing needed for their installation, even if they aren’t part of the current renovation.

“Before we install tile on the bathroom wall, we’ll line it with ¾” plywood so, if down the road they need to add a bar, we have a substantial substrate already in place,” he reports. “It costs very little versus retrofitting the bathroom down the road.”

Other shower safety features include discussions about the value of curbless designs. “They offer freedom and security to individuals with limited mobility as well as for homeowners who want to age in place,” explains Mitnik, adding that incorporating built-in benches addresses both comfort and safety.

McClain also often brings up the subject of Universal Design and the benefits of zero-entry showers. “I encourage clients to include at least one shower in their home that doesn’t have a barrier to entry,” he remarks, adding that when he discusses it with clients, he indicates that a curbless shower isn’t always related to aging. “You never know when someone will break a foot or leg, so I approach it from the aspect of anyone can have an accident. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with aging.”

Creating a spa environment is a frequent request for Tanya Mitnik’s clients, especially those who want to retire at home, and some of the comfort/safety/spa elements in this bath include a towel warmer, jet shower column, lights underneath the vanity,
a shower bench seat and stones around the tub and inside the shower.
Photos: Cabinets and Beyond Design Studio

Designers also note the importance of selecting an appropriate tile, with several recommending non-slip tile for the floor. “I like to use large-format tile that integrates seamlessly from the bathroom floor and into the shower,” says Lauren. “Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also easier to clean and maintain with less transitions to fail over time. However, at the same time, there are fewer ‘grab’ joints from grout lines, so we want to make sure the tile isn’t slippery.”

McClain agrees, adding that, given the current era of COVID-19, cleanability also factors into tile selection since clients are focused on sanitation, with some foregoing natural stone in favor of antimicrobial porcelain.

“We search within the commercial-grade category because the slip coefficient is so great,” he says in response to slip resistance. “If it is suitable for a hotel with a high turnover for a variety of guests, it should be suitable for a client who will use it with his or her family.”

Several designers also reference the value of proper lighting, with Mitnik and McClain both mentioning the use of motion-activated lighting and under-vanity lighting that can serve as a nightlight.

For select clients, especially those who are older or those with young children, Lauren encourages a conversation about ‘soft’ edges, such as those related to countertops, plumbing fixtures and cabinetry hardware. “When I’m designing a bathroom for a client, I not only take into consideration how the bathroom will be used, but also who will be using it,” she says. “For older clients or clients with young children, I use softer edges, not only on pulls, but also on countertops, faucet handles and shower glass handles. Some styles, especially modern styles, have particularly sharp edges.” ▪

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