Often times beautiful design goes wrong when people forget about function.

The functional use of spaces is the bottom line.  No matter how beautiful a space is, if people can’t use it functionally, it is useless. I learned about this first hand when I moved into a beautifully remodeled house that had never been lived in. I found many problems with functional use that were over-looked. For example, in the newly renovated bathroom there was no toilet paper holder installed; linen closets with no handles or knobs; and a shower without a door or curtain rod.  While these things were easy to fix, they showed how the building professionals had forgotten to think about the functional use of the spaces they were creating.

This concept becomes even more important when considering people with health concerns or disabilities who might have functional limitations. A skilled building professional will not only consider the use of the space by an average person, but also by people with a variety of functional impairments. It is not enough that the design problems could be worked around, but that in good design no one should have to work around it. This is the motivation behind movements such as universal design, barrier-free homes, visitable homes, and life-time homes, but also a fundamental principle in creating custom home modifications for people with disabilities. This series simply asks the question of “what could be improved?”  It is not meant to criticize, but to encourage people to think about the functional use of the spaces by real people living in a home.

Today’s photo is from a model home I visited.  It is a beautiful white soaking tub with natural day light flooding in the space.  There is a nice contrast in the crisp white tub to the dark bronze faucet and water control. So, what could be improved?

When you imagine using this bathroom space what do you notice?

First, imagine trying to turn the water on or off in this tub.  Even a healthy person will struggle to reach across the tub to the faucets and drain controls.  The alternative is to stand in the tub while turning on the water and end up standing in cold water! Faucets and drain controls should be placed where they can be reached from standing outside the tub or shower and from inside the tub or shower. Placement should be easy to reach from outside without bending, twisting, or over-reaching.  It should be easy to tell hot from cold and make small adjustments, such as these two examples to the right.

Other improvement ideas:

  • Imagine getting into and out of this tub.  Even people with great balance and strength will search for somewhere to put their hands for support.  Where can you put your hands?  Many people would find a grab bar would make this activity much safer.  Hopefully the builder thought ahead and put plywood (or appropriate product) in the walls around the tub to allow installation of future grab bars.  Even better would be to install an upgraded grab bar that functions also as a towel bar to compliment the upscale look of this bathroom.
  • The last suggestion I would make is to put a frosted window covering in the window.  There was a shade that could be lowered already installed, but there was no way to reach it without standing in the tub itself. The natural light is wonderful, but privacy needs to be maintained in any bathing area.

So what have I missed?  What other ideas or suggestions do you have?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.