Sacramento, CA — For Cynthia Shull, true design stems from a very simple belief: Discover the need and then fill it.
That is how Shull, an Obesity Design and ADA Specialist, has used her position with Kitchen Mart, based here, to help what she terms ‘bariatric’ clients achieve grand kitchens and baths – and create a unique voice for herself, and her firm, in the industry.
“People dealing with obesity have become my concentrated area of design as their need for special help with bathroom projects is often overlooked,” she explains.
She notes that extra attention needs to be paid to product choices, as standard plumbing fixtures may not be suitable – and may even pose safety issues – for obese clients.
She offers: “Universal Design topics are also prevalent in these issues as well, especially as we see each of the generations aging, but not losing weight as in past generations.”
She concludes: “Until obesity in America takes a downward trend, there won’t be a shortage of people needing special help with their bathroom projects.”
A Quick Study
Shull found that little information specifically aimed toward those who are of a larger size, but are still mobile, was available on most ADA guideline Web sites. So she began her own research in ergonomics.
“It took me months of steady research to investigate not only what products are available, their constraints and individual uses, but also the construction restrictions that apply to the ergonomics of an obese person,” she explains.
She adds: “This opened up a new understanding in viewing my bathroom design work in a new light, not only for the obese, but the aging obese person. In blending these two worlds of design together, I have definitely set myself, and this firm, apart from the generic bathroom designer.”
What she also found was that accommodating size did not mean sacrificing style.
“Obese homeowners may think they have to have a bathroom that looks like something out of a hospital – with utility-style safety bars and fixtures that would scare anyone from entering!” she says – but this just isn’t true.
She adds that stylish new products that accommodate the needs of larger-sized clients consist of walk-in tubs, specialty toilet seats, decorative grab bars and more.
“We have a tile shower with bench seat in our Rocklin showroom with a decorative safety bar installed. Both showrooms will soon be retrofit with new displays,” she says.
The Rocklin showroom will also be showcasing a vignette with a walk-in tub and specialty toilet, “giving not only the bariatric population, but also the aging bariatric population, an example to ‘test drive’ it.”
Shull adds that the materials “often depend on the weight and shape of the person.
“These variables will dictate the products that I suggest,” she says.
Shull institutes a personalized sales process – based on the client’s comfort with the situation.
“Our design and sales processes are quite different from a ‘standard’ design process in that there are certain criteria that are very important. Although every client is given dignity with respect to certain bathroom function questions, some of [our larger-sized] clients can be sensitive to discussing hygiene,” she explains.
For instance, she often needs to ask clients how much they weigh or assess their arm reach limitations – topics that must be handled delicately.
This is critical, as it will tell her how much space will be required for them to sit, which is important information when choosing the right toilet seat or shower bench seat.
She explains: “The depth of the vanity cabinet can be impacted by a person’s size. I might be more inclined to use an 18" cabinet rather than a 21" cabinet, for better clearance. A round toilet bowl might fit in the space better than an elongated bowl, but a 400-pound person may have difficulty sitting comfortably on a round toilet.”
She notes that some kitchens have clearances built right into the designs with 36"-wide aisles generally found, while the initial size of the bathroom tends to limit the designer to working within those parameters.
Shull is also in contact with several organizations with the hope of educating consumers and designers more about her firm’s design specialties.