Universal Design and Aging in Place: Bathroom Grab Bars

Updated: August 18, 2021

While we’re only as young as we feel, and 50 is the new 30, thinking universal design before one actually needs it is a great idea. Universal design is a term that we hear often, yet what is universal design?

  • Wikipedia states that universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products, and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities. The other popular phrase that that goes hand in hand with this is aging in place.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”[1]

In our design build construction firm, we recognize the importance of creating spaces that are both functional and beautiful for your present and future needs.

Rossmoor Primary Bathroom horizontal grab bar in showerTake your bathroom, for example. Stepping in and out of the tub or shower may be a no-brainer for you now, but as the years pass, you may be quite glad that the attractive fixture in your shower is actually a grab bar! This primary bath remodel we completed in Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, CA is elegant and stylish while sporting a sturdy 36″ Toto Traditional grab bar beneath the window.

vertical grab bar in shower and over tub

This modern hall bathroom remodel features a shower over tub, a wall-mounted tankless toilet and an attractive Purist 18″ grab bar conveniently affixed vertically to the right of the tile mosaic. This works well for the elderly, who might need support while stepping over the tub to enter the shower, as well as for kids climbing in and out of the tub.  These clients recently completed a whole home remodel.  While they do not currently need these supports, they were forward-thinking and put them in during their remodel with the understanding that they may someday be needed.

delta grab bar toilet paper holderTo hide a grab bar by the toilet, we found a toilet paper holder that doubles as a grab bar. Great idea, isn’t it? Sometimes that extra support from sitting to standing is a godsend!  Delta has one here that is functional and not obviously an ADA-compliant product.

When considering a remodel, you may want to talk to your contractor about putting backing in the wall where a grab bar or toilet paper holder will go, so that grab bars may be placed there at a later date without having to open up the drywall again. It’s a great selling point for resale as well. So if you are thinking of remodeling your home, think universal design now, and you won’t be sorry later!


Kat Mullen

Kat and her husband, Scott Westby, own and run MSK Design Build, an award-winning design-build firm located in the San Francisco East Bay. With over 10 years of experience in design-build construction for high-end remodels, Kat enjoys sharing her knowledge, experience and expertise. Kat's favorite part of the design build process is hearing her client's vision for their home and helping to make their dream into reality.