Living-In-Place Bathroom Design Ergonomics

July 13, 2023

A Living-In-Place Bathroom Design

This story was originally published on July 13, 2023; it was updated on July 26, 2023.

Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer Barbara Barton is at work on the living-in-place bathroom designs for the Living In Place Institute’s first Idea Home, which will be a showplace for strategies and technologies that allow residents to remain at home as they age or encounter other life events.

Barton, who is also a certified Living In Place Professional, says that baths rank among the most critical areas in the home, serving a full spectrum of potential users – not just older people, but anyone who may be dealing with cognitive disabilities. Designing for those situations requires an upfront look at the floor plan not just to ensure basic accessibility, but also to evaluate a growing panorama of new, highly functional bath products and appliances available for possible use.

When the Idea Home opens for tours and workshops in Louisville, Colo., in spring 2024, visitors will see shower and tub designs that display a range of ideas that can add convenience and safety as a home’s occupants encounter challenges.

Plumbing Gets Special Attention

“Sometimes a client doesn’t use either the tub or the shower at all,” said Barton. That won’t be the case with the inaugural Idea Home, which is being built to replace the home of Living In Place Institute founder and president Louie Delaware and his wife Judy, who were among 1,084 families who lost homes in a wildfire in 2021.

“Placement of the tub and shower in a Living in Place home involves plumbing considerations that go beyond those of a standard home,” noted Barton. “You need to figure how to situate the controls for the best ergonomics, and that consideration affects the basic plumbing layout.”

Some designers put tub faucets closer to the back wall, but that doesn’t work all the time. “Tub faucets have to be accessible for a plumber to correct issues either with water or drains, so a position near the front of the tub with an access panel works well,” said Barton.

She had her clients “try on” five tub designs to experience what looks, feels and works best. Visitors to the completed Idea Home will see a model that is undermounted with heated internal pads.

“With drop-in tub models, it’s hard to stabilize yourself getting into and out of the tub,” added Barton.

For the tub deck, a quartz surface is used for ease of cleaning and durability, while a radius front edge provides ease of entry. The faucet with a shower wand offers a way to clean off after bathing – as well as to clean the tub after use.


living in place institute primary bath render

The primary bath for the Idea Home will feature a Steamist steam shower with special lighting and rows of tile set at the users’ eye-level to provide a visual cue for stabilization. The left vanity, set at 34 inches, is framed to allow a future wheelchair accommodation. Design by Barbara Barton (CMKBD) of Barbara Barton & Associates and Colleen Johnson (ASID, CAPS) of In-site Design Group.


Providing a Positive Living-In-Place Experience

For all her bathroom designs, Barton says she watches for features that will provide a comfortable, overall positive experience when bathing.

“What we settled on for the Idea Home is a two-sided gas fireplace to add supplemental heat during cold Colorado nights, but it is also suited for people who have difficulty modulating their temperature as they get out of the tub,” said the designer. “The gas fireplace is accessible for installation and repair and is situated so users can sense not just the visual experience but also the physical warmth.”

For a shower, a curbless design is a must, as it is safer and more accessible than a threshold design. Staying focused on the ergonomics, Barton first determines the heights of the users so that the showerheads are set for the correct height. She also does this to ensure that the grab bars – vertical or horizontal – will give any client access at their own comfort level.

Adding a heated seat and floor in the shower is not only for luxury but also for the possibility of someone with peripheral neuropathy. When individuals with that condition step or sit on a cool surface, the sensation can be like pins and needles.

Considering a Steam Shower

Visitors to the completed Idea Home will see a steam shower with a linear drain system on the back wall, providing even and complete drainage. As with the tub, the ergonomics must be factored into the placement of the shower’s interior controls, which are coupled with smart technology to enable the bather to control the various water features in the shower. (There’s an aromatherapy feature, as well.)

As in any steam shower, the ceiling needs to be sloped so moisture doesn’t drip back on users. “The shower seat must also be sloped so water doesn’t collect there,” said Barton.  The steam shower is entirely encased in waterproof materials and includes two niches for bath supplies are provided, one near the seat and one near the ceiling shower head.

With the tub and shower components coming into focus, the broader design of a Living in Place primary bath becomes clearer, according to Barton. The final design will reflect many other considerations, including basic maneuvering area, selection of flooring for comfort and safety and lighting that adds safety and convenience for eventual users.

—By Daniela I. Polidor, vice president sales & marketing, Living In Place Institute