Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Vanity Project: Not Your Grandma’s Bathroom

Style-savvy Boomers aren’t waiting for happenstance – hip replacement surgery, arthritic knees, a wipe-out in their shower – to redesign their bathrooms. They’re acting now, embracing simple solutions from designer grab bars to higher-tech products (think walk-in tubs with aromatherapy).

The result? Beautiful spa-like designs that only get better with time. 

William Wong, national manager, residential services at Wellwise by Shoppers Drug Mart and Shoppers Home Healthcare, says that raising customers’ awareness about market trends is an important part of the company’s mission to empower Canadians to take charge of the way they age. 

When he and his team assess customers’ homes, initial concerns about whether potential products or renovations will make them feel old are quickly dispelled: “They never knew that it could look so good.” 

Toilets, for example, come in taller models. While they look like standard 15-inch toilets, the few extra inches (American Standard’s Right Height toilet measures 17 inches or more) make it easier to bend down and stand up. “It’s something simple that can make a world of difference,” says Wong. 

There are high-tech choices, too. Toilets with motion-activated seats that automatically rise; built-in bidets with customizable spray patterns and temperatures; and ones that light up in the dark (ideal for frequent nighttime trips). Plus, no need for awkward twisting with a scrub-brush if you invest in one that cleans itself, such as the American Standard ActiClean Self-Cleaning Toilet. 

Showering and bathing can be like a trip to the spa. Today’s sleek walk-in tubs have added options, such as air massage controlled for either vigorous or lighter touch; aromatherapy and chromatherapy (smells and colours to calm the mind); precision-controlled temperature; and instantaneous draining so that you’re not sloshing and slipping. (The Walk-In Tub Company offers a range of walk-in tubs and barrier-free showers.) 

Today’s showers are designed with zero thresholds for easy entry and equipped with modern glide bars for showerheads that flex every which way, offering maximum control to clean every crevice. 

However, if a full reno isn’t in the budget, Wong points out that even little things can make a big difference when it comes to style and safety. “It’s not all about doing the whole nine yards,” he says, adding that replacing a cheap shower/bathmat with a heavy-duty non-slip one, like the PCP Shower Safety Mat, is a great first step.

A splash of colour is definitely shorter than the whole nine yards, but it goes a long way toward combining style and function. 

As Toronto realtor and interior designer Nancie McLeod points out, we need more light to see well as we age. Research also shows that people perceive warm and contrasting colours better than blues and greens. As a result, selecting the right colours and textures for walls, floors and accessories can help avert slips and falls. 

“One nice combo is a slip-resistant, taupe porcelain tile with a burnt orange wall cover,” says McLeod. “And white plush towels would add visual texture.” 

She recommends accent lighting on either side of the mirror (rather than from above) to reduce glare, as eyes are more sensitive to bright light as we get older. “Recessed lighting in the rest of the bathroom will prevent dark patches and improve safety.” 

READ: Experts Shine A Light On How Good Lighting Supports Aging in Place

Nightlights are essential and should be positioned at a low level, as older eyes need more time to adjust. And reducing visual distractions by storing medications and toiletries in a closed cabinet is aesthetically more appealing, and avoids items falling from counters to the floor, where they can be tripped on. 

But bathroom renos are about more than physical safety. “Colour and lighting brightens our spirits,” says McLeod.

When Ottawa-based HealthCraft launched 25 years ago with a mandate to create innovative support products to help people live independently, CEO John O’Brien heard hundreds of stories that went something like this: “Mrs. Smith injured herself in the bathtub with a soap dish in her hand that she pulled out of the wall on her way down.” 

“People knew they needed a grab bar,” O’Brien says. “They just didn’t want it because ‘that’s for old people.’” 

O’Brien, an engineer, and his partners (an occupational therapist and a former medical equipment supply store owner) asked themselves, “What would people accept?” They set out to design grab bars that didn’t scream ‘hospital equipment’ or add clutter. 

As a result, their Invisia brand combines safety with style, eliminating the visual cues – those curved aluminum objects with straight phalanges – people usually associate with grab bars. 

The company’s pioneering designs use strong and elegant stems, incorporating support in everyday bathroom objects, such as shower valves, towel racks, toilet roll holders and, of course, soap dishes. 

Today, a number of major companies, such as Moen, are also seeing the appeal of appealing to those who are style and safety conscious.

Aging-in-place bathroom renovations, such as non-slip flooring, are better-living design trends that benefit the whole family. Teenagers also wipe out on wet floors; small hands find opening doors and turning on taps easier with levers than with knobs; and washing a muddy dog is easier in a zero-threshold shower equipped with an adjustable shower head for getting behind the tail. 

Wong says there is a notable trend toward customers incorporating age-friendly bathroom features earlier in life: “In the past, they were reacting when they already had a fall, a broken hip or a twisted ankle.” Now, more and more style-conscious consumers are planning ahead, renovating with the long-term goal to stay in their homes longer, with greater safety, comfort and panache. 

And the investment is worth it. “People will pay a premium for a house that’s all done up,” says McLeod, adding that stylish, aging-in-place design is never money down the drain, so to speak. “Renovations receive 50 cents on the dollar spent.”

We are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations and, as influential consumers, we seek well-designed products that empower us to live in style, no matter our age. “I want my home to be a statement of who I am,” says O’Brien. “I want it to be my oasis.”  

Did you know?

  • Eighty-three percent of Canadian Boomers say they plan to age at home, with periodic care, rather than living in a retirement residence or a long-term care facility. Is your bathroom ready?
  • More injuries happen in the bathroom than the kitchen.
  • More than one-third of bathroom injuries occur bathing or showering.
  • Significantly more injuries happen getting out of the tub than getting in.
  • Women are at greater risk for injury due to falling. Factors, such as lower bone mass and lack of lower-body strength, may be at play.
  • Even though grab bars prevent falls, fewer than 20 percent of homes have them. 

—Source: RBC and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

You’re Hired! Contractor Call-Out

When you reach for the grab bar, you need to be confident you’re not going to pull it out of the wall, and that means hiring the right contractor.  Gary Sharp, director of renovator services for The Canadian Home Builders’ Association, advises:

Look for relevant experience and credentials. Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists are specifically trained for aging-in-place renovations, from building techniques and equipment options to knowledge of grants and funding.

Assess your contractor’s team. The team should include tradespeople, but also an occupational therapist to ensure that renos support current and future physical needs.

Ask for references. Follow up with these questions:

  • Was the job site left safe and secure each night? (Particularly important for clients with vision or mobility challenges.) 
  • Was the project completed on time and on budget?
  • Would you hire the person again?

If you’re looking for a contractor, keep in mind that Wellwise and SHHC work with certified contractors. Or, check the “Find a Professional” section on the CHBA website: Their new MyReno app (available via Google Play and Apple App store) is handy for helping you make sound planning decisions.

Originally published in Issue 02 of YouAreUNLTD Magazine. PG. 16

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Sue Nador
Sue Nador is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. She is a 2020 candidate for the MFA in Creative Non-fiction at the University of King’s College and is writing a book about reinventing relationships in mid-life. Sue writes for various publications including Corporate Knights, This Magazine, and Via Rail. She has a loyal following on her blog, The Relationship Deal. She and her husband have two grown sons and a golden doodle they spoil rotten in their empty nest.