Flexibility Key to Designing Baths for the Multi-generational Home

While a few years ago it was all about the “empty nesters,” in today’s still-challenging economy, the nest seems to be staying full longer, with new family members just as likely to return as they are to leave. Indeed, the multi-generational home, once a niche area, is becoming an increasingly important segment of today’s home design market. Several factors play into this trend: an aging population; more “boomerang” children returning to their parents’ homes due to economic stressors; a scarcity of jobs that have led to adult children living at home longer, and demographic shifts in the population that have resulted in greater population increases among those from cultures that place high value on the family and keeping the extended family together.

While this impacts all areas of home design, it is particularly relevant in the bath. As the most private room of the home, and the room with the greatest potential for accidents, the bath must balance the functional, comfort and safety needs of multiple family members of differing ages, sizes and abilities.

For that reason, bath designers need to consider the following when creating bath spaces for the multi-generational family.

--Is the space flexible? Children will grow, while older people may need special accommodations as they age. Height-adjustable shower heads, easily accessed showers and tubs, softer surfaces, lighting that can be made brighter or dimmer as needed and faucets that can be turned on by either tiny or arthritic fingers should all be prioritized.

--Can multiple people use the space at once? If there is enough square footage, dividing the bathroom into “zones” will help enhance efficiency – particularly helpful when the space must be used by multiple people.

--Are safety factors considered? While safety should be a priority in any bathroom, it is even more important when looking at a space that must function for more vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly. Be sure to incorporate non-slip surfaces, anti-scald technology and angled grab bars designed accommodate people of different heights.

--Does the bath incorporate thoughtful, non-intrusive technology? Contrary to common stereotypes, older homeowners are not automatically technophobes; they do, however, want technology that makes sense. Technology should be intuitive, easy to use and effortless; if it can’t be accomplished with a simple touch of a button or a flip of a switch, reconsider whether it’s truly the best choice.

--Does the bath work efficiently? Motion sensor fans and lights can make the bathroom safer and discourage growth of mold and mildew; these also address the needs of younger family members who are less than vigilant about remembering to turn lights off when leaving the room. Keypads should be large enough to be easily read even by older family members who may not have glasses on when they use the space. Avoid remote controls that can be easily lost or misplaced. Bluetooth technology can be a great addition for music lovers, but do consider the placement of the bath when incorporating this; if the bathroom is located adjacent to the bedroom of family members who sleep late, this can be problematic unless the bathroom has soundproofing.

--Is there adequate, accessible storage? Parents bathing children do not want to be going in and out to find towels or other supplies, while older users with limited mobility will do better if everything is stored within easy reach.

--Does the space focus on comfort? Regardless of the age of the user, the bath should be a comforting space, one where users can relax and de-stress. Calming colors, clean, simple designs and natural materials will enhance this sense of comfort. Tubs that offer hydrotherapy are great for people of all ages, while chromatherapy can also enhance the bathing experience. Remember, the water experience – the sound, the sensation, the flow – has a critical impact on the sensory experience, so be sure to plan water fixtures and fittings that complement the overall look and feel of the bath – and the needs of the users.