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 a newly installed faucet in a utility sink.  It is a standard faucet, common found in laundry rooms, workshops, and garage spaces.  It has separate small knobs for hot and cold water and a medium length neck on the faucet head.

So, what could be improved?

Why bother deviating from the standard design?

When you imagine using this faucet, what do you notice?

First, imagine trying turning on the water with dirty hands (as would be common in a workshop or garage space).  With the small knobs, there is no way to turn on the water without passing the dirt onto the handles.  Even if you managed to use your elbow or wrist, the knobs are placed so close to the water you would inevitably get wet all over.

A solution to this problem is install faucet handles with “wrist blades” that are designed to allow you to turn the water on using your wrist.  You can find several styles of faucet handles that have a similiar shape as wrist blades for ease of use. An additional benefit is that the larger handles are much easier for someone with limited hand use or strength to use as well (such as a person with arthritis in their hands or a young child with limited strength).

A second consideration is whether 2 knobs (one for hot and one for cold) is better than a single lever faucet that controls both hot and cold.  Most people prefer a single lever for convenience and ease of use. The lever can easily be used with dirty hands without spreading the dirt to the faucet.  The exception might be when planning for safety with young children or adults with dementia, in which case only using a cold faucet knob might be beneficial.  If 2 knobs are being used, clearly marking hot and cold is a good idea (a easy way to do this is with color rubber bands.)

Example of wrist blades on faucet handles

Example of a single lever faucet

Other improvement ideas:

  • A silver faucet on a white sink and cream counter top can be hard to see (lacks contrast and color).  Adding some color and contrast to these surfaces would help a person find the faucet easily in low lighting and help those with visual impairments.
  • A sprayer would be a great addition to help with cleaning of items in the sink (as a utility sink is commonly used for).
  • Other options are to install an automatic faucet, which is often the most convenient and easy to use for everyone (a great example of universal design), but also the most expensive option.

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