Age-in-Place with This Bathroom

A recent project we completed entailed a bath remodel for our empty-nester clients who were planning to stay in their home long term, or as they say in the language of Universal Design, “age in place”. As part of the planning of this project, certain items of functionality and safety would be necessary to address in order for that to happen! Our goal was to combine these needs with simultaneously producing the beautiful space pictured above.

Spacial Dimensions:

The entrance door was only 30″ in width, not wide enough for a possible future wheelchair; the door also had to be closed on the interior in order to access a very narrow linen closet (left photo below).

The toilet area measured less than the minimum 36″ width necessary to accommodate the current building code and ADA requirements.

The existing shower enclosure had narrow sliding doors which would not, again, allow for any possible future accessible use via a wheelchair (right photo below).


The clients wanted to shift from the existing bathroom vinyl sheet to tile, so the type of flooring specified would need to meet slip resistance requirements for safety. Low maintenance was another desired characteristic.

Plumbing Fixtures:

The existing two-handle lavatory faucets and round shower faucet knobs are a little more cumbersome to use when hand and arm mobility are compromised.

The toilet needed to be replaced with a comfort-height model, and there were no grab bars to render assistance if necessary.


The number of light sources needed to increase for future evening vision.

Cabinets & Hardware:

Eliminating the narrow linen closet would call for a need to create other, more accessible storage options.

Not only were there functional issues that needed to be reviewed but aesthetic items to address as well:

Glass Block Sidelights:

The existing bathroom had two glass block accent windows located on the vanity wall which provided wonderful natural daylight into the space during the day but didn’t allow for the double vanity sinks to line up with accompanying mirrors (left photo below).

Angled Ceiling:

The angled ceiling created a slightly spacious feeling with the height of the room but didn’t help the shower and toilet usable area seem adequate sized. (Right photo above).

Dated Finishes:

The oak cabinets/woodwork, laminate counters with drop-in sinks, and vinyl flooring displayed the age of the bathroom.

The design solution for this Bathroom entailed addressing the elements listed above in the following fashion to achieve the clients’ goal of best utilizing the space as they “age in place” in their current home and give it the luxury feel they were looking for:

  • A new 36″ wide pocket door was installed to accommodate future wheelchair access as well as eliminate the interference of the door swing. A unique ADA handle was added to the pocket door to enable easy opening and closing.
  • The narrow linen closet was removed to allow for an enlarged shower space with a set of swinging double glass doors for improved accessibility with or without a wheelchair. A new adjustable teak shower bench was included to provide seating flexibility when bathing. And plumbing fixtures entailed shower valves with levers and a handheld shower with an easy-push button to change the different spray modes for future mobility issues. Grab bars were added to both sides of the shower enclosure, with a wall blocking added on the perpendicular wall to install additional grab bars if needed in the future.
  • Electric heated flooring was added not only as a luxury item on all of the flooring including the shower but also to provide a minimal temperature change walking from carpet to tile and add a soothing effect on the feet should one be experiencing such conditions as neuropathy.
  • A new comfort-height toilet with a skirted trapway for simplified cleaning was installed along with the addition of an automated bidet seat that provides ease in self-hygiene. A grab bar was installed here, as well, along with additional wall blocking if another one is needed in the future.
  • Additional light sources to the existing vanity sconces and recessed ceiling lighting included LED mini-recessed fixtures over the new cabinet tower storage units for better views of the shelved items, and LED linear lighting under the new vanity toe kick to provide guidance to the toilet area during the night. Toggle switches were changed out to rocker switches with a color difference between the rocker and the receptacle plate for easy use and identification.
  • The new vanity design included top-of-counter cabinet storage with adjustable shelves along with under-counter drawers of various sizes. Having drawers reduces the bending and reaching that can be difficult as a person ages. The new vanity cabinet hardware consisted of longer 7″ metal pulls to provide more reach space for future finger coordination and mobility issues.
  • The glass block sidelights were integrated with the vanity wall tile design that incorporated a glass mosaic tile and opaque glass trim. Keeping the glass block allowed for the continuation of daylight into the space, which also reflected light upon the rest of the room’s tile surfaces. It also saved the client an additional expense of having to replace siding and structure on the exterior wall if the sidelights were removed.
  • By placing large format wall tile to an 8′ height around the bathroom, the space visually appears larger and the focus on the empty angled ceiling space is minimized.
  • The marble-look porcelain and glass mosaic accent tiles, the painted vanity and architectural trim, the polished chrome plumbing fixtures, and the clean white minimally-patterned quartz countertops created the blend of finishes resulting in a new, updated, modern bath that focuses on the clients’ future needs.

To see more photos of this bathroom, click here to view them under our Portfolio.

If you have a bathroom remodeling project you’re thinking of doing, why not schedule a
discovery call with us to talk about it!

Karen Lee Johnson, interior designer in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Hi, I’m Karen!

I’m the Founder/Creative Director of Karen Lee Johnson Interiors, a residential design firm working with clients seeking a professional, innovative and collaborative approach to design. We partner with you to creatively and meticulously translate your dreams and visions into reality. Learn more about our services or book a call to tell us about your project!

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