Bath and Kitchen Design for Life

I recently attended a fascinating seminar that featured Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, who is an award-winning kitchen and bath professional. Cheever is well known for promoting kitchen and bath design in response to the human life cycle. Because this concept is so compelling, I am spending a second column discussing how good design should be thought of in response to “Designing for All” (or Universal Design). To read my first column about this concept, see the March issue.

Many architects equate Universal Design with accessibility. They are not the same. The foundation for accessibility is the prescriptive standards that are prevalent in government codes and regulations. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a set of rigid rules and regulations exclusively aimed at those who have disabilities. In my opinion, accessibility is only one piece of Universal Design; it also should take into account a full range of human characteristics (young/old, height, stage of life, small/big). We need to keep varying abilities in mind as we design better environments for the mind, heart and body based on a philosophy of compassion and inclusiveness.

How do remodelers, architects and designers create these better environments? It starts with a commitment to design that recognizes and accommodates the changes that our customers experience during the human life cycle.

Cheever refers to this approach as life-span design. It includes the following concepts:

  • Going beyond the traditional scope of Universal Design
  • Embracing the full spectrum of the human life cycle
  • Addressing the changing life phases and corresponding living arrangements that are prevalent today

By designing based on this approach, people can live comfortably and safely in one place for their lifetime. They won’t need to deal with the emotional and physical upheaval of moving. And, in the long run, this leads to a more stable neighborhood and higher property values.

How can we put this approach into practice? Here are some rules to follow:



  • 36-inch counter height
  • Lavatory mounted within 2 inches of front counter edge
  • Knee clearance for seated users
  • Counter and storage space within reach
  • Lighting positioned correctly so a person can actually see what he or she is doing


  • Avoid walk-in/walkout tubs and sunken tubs
  • Bathtubs should be under-mounted, never over-mounted
  • Mount handles and spout on the front but off to the side
  • Grab bars located close by
  • Nonslip flooring


  • Curbless showers
  • Hand-held shower units with a glide bar to adjust height
  • Anti-scald thermostatic mixing valves to distinguish between hot and cold
  • Nonslip shower pan surface
  • Bench seating if possible
  • Grab bars for stability


  • Avoid small toilet rooms
  • Elongated bowls
  • Toilet/bidet combinations
  • 18-inch off-wall centerline
  • Grab bars for stability


  • Accessible storage, including tall storage cabinets, base cabinets with rollout shelves and interior drawers with accessories
  • A cooking center that incorporates easy to see and use controls, electric cooking, proper appliance design and location
  • Ample countertop space for landing, safety and working
  • Elevated dishwasher and accessories at varying heights
  • Kitchen faucets that can be used and understood by everyone (distinctive hot and cold)
  • Integrated countertop and full-depth appliances
  • French-style refrigerator that allows greater access for everyone
  • Gathering spaces and seating at various heights (42, 36 and 30 inches)
  • No sharp edges or corners
  • Nonslip flooring
  • Task lighting
  • Don’t forget to build in the flat-screen TV (LOL!)