Even in a home with the luxury of an ensuite master bathroom, the family bathroom is generally where much of the action happens. In a family home, this high-traffic space must work for everyone, from the youngest kids to the oldest house guest. And that’s a tall order. When you’re planning a functional bathroom for the current needs of your family, you should also be thinking about future requirements too.
A little more investment in the planning stages of a new family bathroom now will serve you and your home well in years to come. Future-proofing a bathroom doesn’t just mean an age-friendly design, but one that is safe, healthy and functional for all your family at any stage of life. Here are some common sense ways to meet the needs of every bathroom user for the future.
Go bigger if you can
The truth is that family bathrooms tend to get a raw deal when it comes to size – they are often one of the smallest rooms in the home. While there is nothing wrong with that if you know how to use the space well, we expect so much from these hardworking little spaces.
If kitchens are the hearts of the home, then I say the family bathroom is the engine room. It stands to reason then that if the engine room doesn’t perform optimally, it will impact the way your household performs, setting the mood of how your day starts and ends. Unlike many kitchens, the family bathroom has multiple users – whether children or house guests – and works twice as hard to accommodate them. In small homes, the laundry is often doing its job in there too.
TIP: Is there a way to make your family bathroom bigger? Think outside the square – popping out an external wall or shifting or removing an internal one could make the world of difference to how your main bathroom looks and functions.
Marry style with function
While the family bathroom is the unsung hero, today we expect our little engine rooms to also have Zen-like quality, a luxury that has become almost a necessity in recent years. With our increasingly chaotic lives, the bathroom offers an escape for half an hour’s peace. But future-proofing the bathroom doesn’t mean sacrificing style.
A family bathroom needn’t look like an institution. With careful planning and subtle future-focused decisions, you can create an enviable spa-like quality, no matter what size space you have to work with.
TIP: An all-white bathroom may look bright and clean, but natural materials such as timber (or tiles that look like timber) can add a warm and relaxing vibe.
Engage an expert
Planning a bathroom is hugely complex, so rather than trying to plan the layout yourself, it might be more beneficial to engage an expert. Investing in a more developed design by a certified bathroom designer will save you a lot of stress and money in the long term. These professionals know the industry health and safety guidelines and access standards. They will also have the most current knowledge of available building materials and product developments, to maximise functional use of space without compromising on style.
A good designer will translate your vision and help you recognise your needs now and into the future. People are surprised when I tell them that professional fees usually represent only four per cent of the total project budget.
Evaluate the ergonomics
Ergonomics is about the interaction of human movement with the surrounding environment, so you can perform each task with the least amount of effort. As family bathrooms can be relatively small and have a number of different users, the ergonomics for an average user may not suit every age and stage of life.
A designer can help you clarify needs so you can accommodate anything from the baby bathing ritual or the toddler learning new skills, to the teenager who leaves the place looking like it’s just been hit by a tsunami. Think ahead too – could an ageing parent or grandchild be using that bathroom in the future? Often the family bathroom is also the guest powder room, so you don’t want too much family mess to be on show.
As well as things like size, age, or abilities/disabilities of users, also think about how and when they use the space and how habits change as family members grow or work routines change. In addition, there are minimum national standards for access and clearances that will help determine the most efficient space plan. Analyse the tasks and think about whether you relocate, say, the laundry or loo to create more space and reduce the morning congestion in the one area.
Blur the lines
One popular solution for a busy household and small bathrooms is to fit both a bath and a shower in the same room, in what’s called a ‘wet room’. Instead of a separate shower stall, an entire area is fully waterproofed and the floor levels adjusted to allow for run-off and drainage.
This used to be very expensive, but as demand has grown it has become slightly more affordable. Wet rooms create an illusion of space and are multi-functional, allowing two people to use the space at once. They are old-age and invalid-friendly too, because the floor is all on one level with easy access. However, you need to think through the way it will be used. For example, will the shower spray reach the surrounding furniture, towels and toilet rolls? And how hazardous is a wet floor?
My favourite approach is to take a half step to a wet room, dividing the space into two separate zones, wet and dry. That way you get the benefits of a wet room at half the expense of waterproofing the whole room. Shower spray is contained behind a glass panel or a large sliding or pivot door, and there is still room for access. The dry zone is kept organised and presentable for guests – so no chance of soggy socks!
Zone for privacy
Multiple people can use the bathroom at the same time if it is zoned nicely, rather than having all the stations arranged around the wall. Here, the vanity floats in the middle of the room, with half walls dividing off the toilet behind a closable door (on the left) and the shower tucked behind the right. Mirrors and glass walls create the impression of more space, blurring the lines between zones.
If you have more space, a room-within-a-room allows for multiple users. Frosted doors let light flow from one room to the other, while preserving privacy.
Test your plan
If you are renovating, you don’t have the luxury of a blank canvas. But whatever layout you decide works best for you, test your plan and don’t assume that the original footprint is all you have to work with. Think outside the box, and examine the space around the bathroom. Could you move walls? Recess amenities, like a shower or vanity area into an adjoining room? Borrow closet space? Designers are used to solving problems like this and can give you a number of possible solutions to be tested.
The guts and bolts
Once all the options have been tested and perfected for performance and the layout is finalised, building a future-proof bathroom begins from the ground up. Your existing floor structure, whether concrete or timber-framed, will need to be assessed to make sure wet areas meet all relevant codes of compliance.
Naturally, there are a wide range of non-slip floor finishes, from timber strip to ceramic and stone tiles. If you plan to change flooring types from one zone to another, as seen here with these timber slats in the shower and tiles outside, you need to establish those level changes in the sub-floor.
If you plan in-wall plumbing items such as thermostatic mixers, these need to be fitted before the wall is closed up. While the walls are open, decide if you want to use the cavities for recessed shelving, a built-in shower bench or grab rail, which will need extra timber support built into the wall framing.
Fit out with care
Careful selection of your bathroom furniture, fixtures and tapware makes a bathroom user-friendly for all stages of life – consider taps and switches that are comfortable and easy to turn on for youngsters or old hands, interfaces for things like water temperature and pressure, or sink plugs that are easy to understand and use. A double shower is more efficient than a single, as the combination of overhead rain and sliding rail showers provides flexibility, but make sure levers are easy to access for every user.
Consider the height differences of each user. Where flexible options aren’t available, it is best to position a wall-mounted vanity and toilet to suit the tallest user. It is more comfortable for other users to reach a bit higher rather than lower, and certainly helps when we age. You can then add a step stool for children that can slide neatly away underneath (a safer option than the stools that are built into the toe kick of a floor-mounted vanity).
Vanities should be as long and as large as possible, and include a double sink if you can to cut the morning queues in half. Here a wall of mirror means multiple users can still check themselves while others are using the sink, while a combination of open shelving for lift-out baskets and built-in drawers means there is accessible storage for each user.
Anything that makes access to storage easier is a plus. Here, cabinets that slide out at eye level are safe from inquisitive small people, but still keep medicines and sharp objects in child-proof containers. They are also easier to reach into and see the contents than if you had to bend down beneath the vanity top.
Adding seating and a lower-level bench for grooming (make-up for her, shaving for him) is comfortable and safe. Be sure that the bench seat has secure, non-slip feet to prevent accidents.
What have you incorporated into your family bathroom to make it future-proof as your household changes? Tell us in the Comments.
Credit: Nadia Sakey: Houzz New Zealand Contributor. Interior Designer and House Doctor. Artist, colourist, and pragmatic creator of beautiful but practical spaces.