These days nobody wants to end up in a retirement home. People would much rather have a smart new bathroom with a wellness tub, comfy bench and big, modern “walk-in shower”, and there are even those who dream of a make-up table complete with big mirror. All of it in wood, stone look or terracotta, of course. But what exactly does the one thing have to do with the other? A great deal – in fact, for many people, everything. But it’s not just a question of tastes: quality of life is what’s at stake here.
An increasing number of people are coming to realise that it is their bathroom that will eventually decide whether or not they can live a self-determined life well into old age. And it’s never too early to start thinking about it. In fact, it’s something that should be taken into consideration as soon as there are children in the household: the little ones ought to be able to use the bathroom independently without their alarmed mothers having to watch over their every move. And if dad wants to enjoy his power shower before he sets off for the office, he shouldn’t be driven to despair just because junior has manipulated the shower settings.
What people will be looking for in future is therefore a bathroom that can satisfy the needs of very different users. An “Easy Bathroom”, simple, practical and beautiful into the bargain. Timelessly beautiful: a room for youngsters and for old people who don’t feel their age. After all, dreams don’t come with an age limit. In the automotive industry, nobody would be surprised if a 58-year-old bought himself a Porsche. Disabilities, whatever their nature, should not be the prime concern when planning a bathroom. Instead, the ultimate goal is to omit anything that would discriminate against certain individuals. It is the art of reduction that makes the difference.
In the past, the alternatives available for planning a bathroom were called standard, period, designer or disabled-friendly. But these categories are becoming less relevant – firstly because people’s design expectations have risen enormously, even when it comes to standard solutions, and secondly because, in affluent societies, there is a growing need for “in-between” bathrooms – solutions located somewhere between an original designer bathroom and a neutral standard solution, between “barrier-free” and convenience. A straightforward, elegantly simple bathroom without too many ostentatious frills where it’s easy to feel good. But also a bathroom for the “in-between” years, when its users want to enjoy the luxury they are able to afford at this point in their lives, equipped in such a way that it enables them to preserve their independence well into old age without constantly reminding them that they are getting older.
In view of this background, the bathroom sector is developing product lines and attractive design concepts for bathrooms that permit “unrestricted” usage even beyond the customary construction standards – whilst nevertheless satisfying the highest aesthetic demands. The basic idea is a multigenerational bathroom that is serviceable for and at any age: low-maintenance, convenient, comfortable and above all easy to use. At the same time, intuitive usage is just as important as an easily accessible wash basin, shower, toilet and bathtub. Counter to the technisation process, which is turning the kitchen, living room and even the bathroom into networked and functionally upgraded control centres, a growing number of people are reflecting on the benefits of a simple life that is not made unnecessarily complicated by devices and multifunctional equipment. They want to use their cell phone to make phone calls, not to google the web for recipes. At the end of the day, life is complicated enough as it is. They expect the design of their bathroom to simplify their day-to-day life, but also to help them cope with the difficult situations life can sometimes throw at us. Good, universal design should anticipate these requirements.
Besides slip-resistant surfaces, level-access shower trays and sufficient freedom of movement, those planning or furnishing a bathroom only have to stick to a few simple rules to create a bathroom that satisfies the needs of as many people as possible and, if necessary, can be transformed into a senior-friendly or even disabled-friendly bathroom that conforms to all the usual standards. If they opt for a system of sturdy false wall elements that can withstand the forces exerted by retrofitted grab handles, subsequent adaptations are no problem.
These days there’s no need for the bathroom to look like a rehabilitation facility either. In principle, the still-dominant trend towards minimalistic furnishings and XXL showers as well as the growing desire to integrate the bathroom with the living space are certainly compatible with an age-appropriate bathroom design. Obviously a cramped alcove isn’t particularly practical if you’ve got to manoeuvre a stool, walking frame or wheelchair after an accident or in your old age; wide glass doors that open up to a level-access shower are far more suitable. Models that can be folded right back against the wall or, like the S500 shower enclosure series by Koralle, literally seem to hover above the floor, are the perfect solution for a modern, loft-like bathroom that adds a highlight to any penthouse. And nowadays anybody that isn’t as steady on his feet as he used to be can choose from a wide range of neutrally designed solutions for vertically and horizontally fitted grab handles. Keuco’s Plan Care system, for instance, is available with various finishes to match the fittings. Its simple, geometric design vocabulary means it can adapt to any setting; the vertical handle is “camouflaged” as a riser rail and the horizontal handle doubles as a mounting element for a removable seat.
Rounded edges and slip-resistant flooring or tiles don’t just protect frail people from injury, they’re safer for children too. And everybody benefits from a low wash basin with plenty of storage surfaces: it’s perfect for applying make-up and makes it easier to perform daily hygiene routines or wash squirming toddlers. Examples of the broad spectrum of variants available for a multigenerational bathroom include collections like Lifetime by Villeroy & Boch or Dejuna by Karamag. They are an impressive demonstration of the unfettered creativity that characterises modern bathroom collections for universal usage. If sufficient space is available, a bathroom with this kind of “Universal Design” can easily be adapted and made barrier-free should the need arise later on.
Even so, anybody planning their bathroom with an eye to the future should opt for a space-saving or concealed sink trap when fitting washbasin cabinets so that, if the need arises, they can be removed or repositioned in order to create space for the necessary leg room and seating. There are other useful details that the industry is already equipping the corresponding products with: grips or handles make it easier to pull things within easy reach when using a stool or wheelchair. And if the mirror is positioned sufficiently low, it doesn’t need to be tilted in order for wheelchair users or children to see themselves in it. The industry is responding to older consumers’ sometimes pronounced safety and convenience concerns with hygienic surfaces and product features such as shower toilets, heated fixtures or fittings equipped with safety lights.
More than anything else, however, an “easy” bathroom is human. It is geared towards tolerating mistakes, doing some of the thinking for its users and conveying a sense of normality. That is why even the technology is at the service of its human users. It only helps as much as it is needed before disappearing from view again. Once the settings have been made, all that’s needed is a push of a button to activate individual programmes with complex sequences. But the buttons have to be big enough and installed low down. That way, dad isn’t the only one who can enjoy a customised wellness routine: granny and the kids can pamper themselves as well.
Text: Claudia Wanninger