The finishing touches: Disguise and distract but beware the clutter.
Part 6 of my adventure into making a house a lifetime home.
Read time: 20 minutes (strap in!)
Before you read this, please note my bathroom is an incredibly average-non-Instagrammable-cleaned only when visitors come-does the job, sort of bathroom. I could have PhotoShopped it or chosen not shown you the toilet in all its glory, but then this whole exercise wouldn’t be truthful and where’s the point in that? This is my actual bathroom and this experiment is very much a warts ‘n’ all kind of affair. It isn’t manicured (though I did give it a special clean for you all), this is real life. So I hope you enjoy and get some ideas to try out in your own homes (but please don’t judge my bathroom too harshly!).
As a renter, I am limited in what I can realistically alter in this house – caught somewhere between what the landlord allows us and the constant nag that you may only be in the place for a year before you get turfed out, so what’s the point in spending huge amounts of time and money on something you really love only to move out again? So instead we have to make do with what we’ve got – that’s to say the landlord’s taste when they put it up for rent combined with a series of tweaks made by the churn of tenants before us. The result for us: 90s bathroom, fair bit of mould, fixtures and fittings do the job but nothing to write home about – but then if the boiler breaks it’s not my problem, so you win some, you lose some, I guess. And with a bit of careful ‘disguise and distract’, combined with putting in a few bits we really love, it’s all good.
Beware clutter though! Plants, nice towels, baskets and things are all great for putting your stamp on a place quickly and cheaply, but try to keep it to a minimum. Clutter is easy to gather but it is the enemy of accessible design. I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to collecting knick-knacks, but in terms of getting around your home safely and freely all the little trinkets are really just extra obstacles to negotiate, trip hazards and visual confusion, as well as extra things to keep clean. But of course it can also be what gives our homes individual character and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So this is just to say – be a little careful with your clutter: always make sure things are out of the way and you have good clear pathways through your home and even floors. Another tip is to imagine you are a visitor in your home who has never been there before – they don’t have to like your taste in decor, but would it be easy to find the essentials or are your toilet rolls literally hidden beneath a pile of kitsch? (I secretly really want one of these ostrich crochet toilet roll covers, but imagine how confusing this could be for someone with dementia who may rely on visual clues to make sense of the world around them, for example.)
Bath mats are some of the worst offenders for cluttering a place up and causing people to trip – especially on those midnight expeditions to the loo or for people who shuffle, wheel or use crutches or frames. However, I personally love a bath mat because it feels nice and cosy underfoot as well as soaking up rogue drips which can be just as dangerous. They are also a really quick, cheap and easy way to update a bathroom. I have used the Toftbo from Ikea to bring a bit of interest to our very unremarkable vinyl tile-effect floor, as I loved the luxury look of this rich midnight blue but a super affordable price.
We all make our own choices about what risks we are happy to take and what is important to us at any given time. At the moment I am happy to accept this potential health hazard in return for its other benefits. Luckily, there are many ways to jettison the bath mat if you ever need to though. You could of course only use it when you’re showering, but that requires bending to pick it up and put it down (not nice on the back). If you are ever lucky enough to be entirely refitting, consider putting in underfloor heating under non-slip tiles which makes it warm to touch and dries the floor quickly. A cheaper option are these clear non-slip stickers. Or at least look for thin, low-pile mats with non-slip coating on the back.
Top of my list of things to disguise in our bathroom is the vanity unit under the sink. It is wood-effect vinyl in such a odd and sickly shade of light brown with weird 90s-feel ripple handles. The sink is also a different shade of white to the rest of the bathroom suite, making it look a bit grubby in comparison.
If I could rip it out I would and instead would opt for a wall mounted winged sink (like these ones by Motionspot and VictorianPlumbing with cut out hand grips/towel rails) or a basin shelf. These are great for cleaning and creating a feeling of space in what is usually the smallest room in the house. You can also get your legs underneath and sit to brush your teeth if it’s been a long day (I am a massive believer in a chair in the bathroom – read this blog for more).
This isn’t always possible when storage or space is at a premium though and it’s not an option for me as I am not at liberty to change the rental fixtures. So off to Etsy again, where I found these gorgeous leather pulls with brushed chrome screws that matched the terracotta pots and chrome taps I’ve got going on. Not only a good way of changing the look of your furniture, using a high contrast door pull can make it much easier to locate. A good sized pull handle with good clearance to get fingers behind rather than a knob is also better for easier grip. Also check out Anthropologie who do gorgeous handles and drawer pulls in every shape and size.
Though I deeply love hiding my mess in cupboards, they are really inconvenient to bend down to under the sink and reach to the back of to get what you need. If you really want a vanity unit, consider making them drawers (a bit like pan drawers in your kitchen) instead, so you can have more of a birds-eye view into what you have hidden within.
You can also fit these pull out storage baskets inside cupboards:
For us right now, I will just make sure that the things I keep in these cupboards are not needed on a regular basis so I don’t need to bend down too often to retrieve them (think your plunger rather than shampoo). The things we use more regularly I will place in easier to see and reach positions throughout the bathroom so I have added a couple of these suction baskets from Ikea at useful points in the shower and added a bath shelf from my new favourite place…Etsy.
The taps we have are great though. Not the most beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, but mixer lever taps are just the best: they prevent scalding and are the easiest ones to turn on with wet and soapy hands or reduced grip strength. We are lucky to have these on the bath already too.
If you absolutely love a cross head, or perhaps they are more familiar to friends or family with dementia and or memory problems, Bristan have got these brilliant ceramic cross-head ones that turn really easily in just a quarter turn.
Toilet roll holder
One of my other bugbears in this bathroom is the position of the toilet roll holder and, as this is one of the easiest fixes around, this was next up. Have you ever noticed in every bathroom – public or private – more often than not it can be a game of hunt the toilet roll? Above you, behind you, balanced on the cistern, sat on the window sill, grubbily on the floor? Just put it where I bloody need it! Ours was behind us, which requires a near 180 degree twist of the spine from seated in order to reach. You probably haven’t ever given this design madness two seconds of your thoughts, but if you’ve ever put your back out you’ll know this is verging on sadistic.
As we are not blessed with conveniently placed walls, our option was a freestanding toilet roll holder. I found this one which has a base that looks like granite in Dunelm for a tenner which fitted perfectly. Aaah, much better. I’m not usually a big fan of these freestanding ones as they have a tendency to create unnecessary clutter, but in our bathroom it is the lesser of two evils. For us it doesn’t get in the way of the clear pathways around our bathroom, but watch out if this would create a trip hazard in yours.
You can also keep a couple of spares loo rolls in easy reach – again great for guests rather than them fearing as the final sheet of toilet paper draws near or having to hunt through your cupboards looking for replacements. I know lots of people like to keep everything beautifully hidden away. While this may look slick and minimal, it can actually be very confusing for a lot of people, especially if they have any difficulties with memory or cognition. We all know what happens in the toilet anyway and it’s very normal, we don’t need to hide it like a dirty secret!
The other problem is toilet height more generally. Most toilet pans come in a very standard height, which I have always found strange since we are all very different heights. We don’t all find the same chairs comfortable to use and we have a million and one different options available to us (read my blog about chair height), but with toilets you tend to get what you are given. Arguably you probably aren’t hanging out on your toilet all day (hopefully) so don’t exactly need to recline in comfort, but making it as easy as possible to get up and down is important, and this gets much more difficult as you age. Luckily there are different toilet pan heights around these days if you look around and know what you need (DLF do some great info about choosing the right height and equipment to adapt them). Wall hung toilets are increasing in popularity too for this reason (they are also a dream to clean – no fiddly and grubby nooks and crannies).
Be careful though – whatever you choose, make sure it is adaptable enough to consider all users of your toilets. In my household, my husband and I are a full foot different in height for example, and we very much like having people of all shapes and sizes over to visit too, so hanging it 3 feet up a wall to suit my 6 foot husband perfectly is not going to suit us all. At the moment this isn’t really a problem for us – we are both pretty fit and healthy so can both get up from a standard height one without any problems – but this is where having an inkling about this sort of stuff as early as possible is vital. If you ever get a chance to redesign and refit your bathroom entirely – don’t just accept where the builder wants to put your toilet – really think about yours and your guests’ possible future needs, such as positioning your loo in a place where it will be easy to add in things such as a grab rail to help you should you ever need it. The best spot is next to solid walls so you can use wall-mounted grab rails – many of which are really unobtrusive – like these by Moen. In our bathroom as it stands at the moment, if we ever needed a spot of help getting up and down we would have to consider a drop down rail, or a toilet surround frame– neither of which are currently particularly beautiful options. If I was particularly flush (pun very intended) I would get a fancy height adjustable one but that’s prohibitively expensive for most people at the moment. I’m sure one day we will all have the full Japanese toilet experience with things like wash and blow dry functions as standard to really pamper our behinds. Until that day however, check out Motionspot for more inspiration on accessible bathroom design.
We used to have a little swing-top bin, but to use this you had to bend down a very long way to open the lid. I have replaced it with a simple little Brabantia foot pedal operated one instead because you can open it from standing (it was also on sale which helps). If balance or coordination isn’t your strong point this type of bin still may not be suitable though; consider an open-topped one instead. I like this metal wire one which can also be hung at a more convenient level for you if you want. I think I may actually use this basket in the kitchen for something else at a later date as I think it’s as cute as a button.
White obviously blends in against our walls which is what you want if you are trying to hide something, but think about contrast too if vision is not 20/20. A darker one would stand out more and there are lots of them about at the moment that really rock my world. I am in love with khaki green in the bathroom and kind of wish I had got this moss green version instead. But things like bins are pretty cheap and easy things to update as your style and needs change and they come in every colour you can imagine.
Oh the glamour! I never thought this project would lead me to talk about these vital but unattractive grot-sticks, but turns out every decision we make about the things you have in your home can either help or hinder us a little, even about the things we just take for granted as unchangeable. So, if you want people to use a toilet brush (yes please!) don’t hide them where people can’t reach them. If bending is tricky, vision or memory isn’t great, then it can be helpful to have these more easily accessible – raised off the floor and attached to the wall for example. I don’t know many people who want to make a feature of their toilet brush, but luckily more and more of these are fully covered so you can have them more in sight while the innards remain discreetly hidden away.
I particularly like this black wall hung one which has great contrast against white tile too. I can’t really drill into the tiles in our place though so I have gone with this adhesive one by Wangel and changed out the pot so it is just a cheap plain white covered one I found in a shop down the road. The glass pot I will no doubt use for a plant – it’s actually quite nice misted glass – no one needs to know it started life as a toilet brush holder!
Have you ever visited a friend’s house and found yourself facing a corridor of identical, featureless doors like Alice in Wonderland and not had a clue which one the loo is? In my case this then leads me to guiltily (and increasingly desperately) peeking into bedrooms and studies by accident before chancing upon the hallowed room. Interesting house tour perhaps, but not what you need when nature is calling. Why do we make this so hard for ourselves? When we are out and about people very kindly label them. Why not in our own homes? We assume we know where they are I guess, or we don’t want our homes to look like public toilets, but it doesn’t make our home that friendly for guests. People with conditions affecting memory or cognition can also struggle with navigation and identifying or remembering which rooms are for what, so why don’t we just helpfully label things, give our brains a break, and make our homes a bit more visitable at the same time. Especially as there are some really nice signs out there. I personally like these vintage railway toilet signs. Or these door icons.
The absolute best thing you could put on the toilet door is a picture of a toilet though. There is a great deal of research to suggest having images of what is behind the doors can enable people with dementia or similar to better identify what they need and to be more independent. People do this in care homes for exactly this reason. We have two holes on the outside of our bathroom door left over from a previous tenant so I needed something to cover up these anyway. In my own silly take on this I have put up a print of a technical drawing of the patent for the toilet paper roll. Not everyone’s cup of tea, sure, but it makes us smile. It also makes it so make easier to quickly direct our guests to the loo.
Or you could spell out WC or toilet in these hooks from Anthropologie. Or get artistic and go for a print of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fontaine’. Or how about the golden toilet in the Guggenheim?! Any of these options would make it much easier for your guests to find the room of requirement.
We have a pretty basic medicine cabinet with a plain mirror door at the moment. This is not something I can easily change right now, but something to consider for a future upgrade is how high it is hung, so all heights of people can use it comfortably without stretching or stooping, even while seated if possible. As I mentioned in a previous blog I have added an additional extendable mirror to make things a little more height-friendly in the short term. A larger mirror extending all the way up the wall may be a way of fixing this too.
As someone who is not blessed with much stature, the top shelves of this medicine cabinet may as well be dead to me as I am too small to reach them, so like with the cupboards under the vanity unit I will only be using these shelves for things I use very rarely and are not particularly vital to my daily routine. Luckily the cupboard opens very easily without requiring much grip strength or force, although it is not obvious at all that there is any storage behind it or which side you should pull to open it, so it is not massively intuitive. All things to think about should we come to change this unit. Something else to be aware of is that mirrors (and other highly polished, reflective surfaces) can be very disconcerting for some people with dementia or difficulties with cognition, throwing strange shadows across the room or being perceived as ghost-like or unknown figures in the house, so try not to mirror glaze the whole room.
In a similar way as with mirrors, the same can apply with things like pictures, bathmats and strong patterns on shower curtains and floors. For example, my plain, dark bathmat may actually appear to be a hole in the floor to someone with dementia so they might avoid it. Something with a heavy pattern can cause other people to get dizzy or disoriented. I’ve already talked about the power of colour and contrast to improve accessibility in our bathrooms, especially for people with visual impairments, but certain colour palettes are also more helpful than others to people with dementia for example. Check out http://dementia.stir.ac.uk/ for more information on this.
If you are interested in this, I really recommend you read this article about design for dementia. I bet you won’t have considered these things before, or how many things can be easily changed. Design for dementia can actually simply be design for everybody. As they say in this article: “The conditions that support a person with dementia – a calm, coherent, orientating and gently stimulating environment – are good for all of us”.
Not really anything to do with inclusive bathrooms (or perhaps it is…), but we found this map in the back of a cupboard when we moved in which now hangs in the bathroom as it matched the pots and light pulls I had. As a student of history and international relations I love old maps and seeing how boundaries have changed over time and understanding the bigger picture of what that really meant. However, I was slightly perturbed to find that that ‘Millennial Pink’ also seems to be ‘British Colonial Pink’. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this or what this means, but it’s a nice juicy moral question to mull over while sitting opposite it on the loo at least.
And that’s it!
For now at least! Who knew there are so many things to think about, even in the tiniest room of the house, that can make a big difference to helping your home to help you and be more inclusive and visitable.
You may be looking at these before and after pictures and thinking I’ve just added a load of plants (which is definitely also true, and probably not to everyone’s taste, but it’s my home :p ). But actually, every decision I have made has been one that has been very conscious of its impact on usability now and in the future, as well as how it looks and feels to me. I can’t do everything right now (that’s not the point of this exercise), but everything I have power, time and money to change has been carefully considered.
By thinking about each element of this bathroom really carefully in terms of both form AND function, I am really pleased with the result. Obviously this bathroom is not fully accessible to everyone (it’s still a shower over a bath rather than a wetroom), but it is certainly a lot friendlier and more adaptable than it was. You wouldn’t notice most of the helpful things I have added either (well, hopefully you have since I have pointed them all out in great detail!). Crucially though, I (and hopefully you too now) also know what to look out for should I ever come to renovate, move, or if our needs change.
Check out my resource to help you choose the right bathroom for you which summarises a lot of what I have covered during these blogs about the bathroom. I would love to know your thoughts on any of this and please share with anyone you think might find it useful. If you have any questions or want to know more about the choices I have made, please drop me a line. And thanks for reading 🙂