Accessible Priorities

by Kacey Larsen
2017 master design awards universal design: renovated bathroom

Repeat customers are often a goal for remodeling companies and achieving them—along with referrals—necessitates customer satisfaction being a high priority. Neil Kelly Company in Seattle had the unique experience of working with a former client, but one from across state lines.

“The project came about because of a long-term relationship between Neil Kelly and my clients. The clients had lived in Portland, Oregon, then they moved to Seattle before we opened up our branch here in the Seattle area,” explains Diane Foreman, CKBD, Seattle-based design consultant for Neil Kelly Company. “We weren’t here for them [at that time], and they had a not-as-pleasant experience as they had [previously working] with us. They were very, very happy when they saw we had located a branch here, and so they called me.

“It started out with just doing a powder room for them. That powder room won a regional award, and they loved it. Then, it moved on to doing the interior design and remodeling of their living room, dining room and entry,” she continues. “Finally, they said, ‘Mike is going to be in a wheelchair eventually, and we want something universally designed [for the master bathroom].’”

bathroom tub

BEFORE, the unused bath.

bathroom renovation: shower with benchAFTER, zero-threshold shower with bench

Photo: Roger Turk/Northlight Photography


The design/build company, with Foreman at the helm, was tasked with updating the 1980s ranch-style home’s master bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair as well as improve its functionality and aesthetics. Top on the list of changes: Removing a large soaking tub the homeowners had not used in the entire time they had lived in the house. In the existing bathroom, the shower and water closet were combined into a room too small to accommodate wheelchair access, not to mention being a tight fit for general use.

“It started with the bath because they never, ever used the bath, and in the original space, the shower was this tiny space in a separate room with the water closet. And even without the wheelchair aspect of it, one of the clients is over 6 feet tall and had trouble as it is just getting into that shower and using it because it was so small,” Foreman explains. “The first thing I did was develop the design based upon moving the shower to the location currently occupied by the tub that no one used. Then, [we] ended up moving the master closet so I could get a fairly private water closet area, and put in all the grab bars and all the rest that I would need.”

Fitting All Needs

Essentially all the space’s plumbing moved over the course of the project. The new zero-threshold walk-in shower now features two hand-held showerheads—one located at standing height and another at a seated height near a built-in 18-inch-high shower bench—with controls placed near its entry. Foreman notes the bench, because of the master closet’s location directly off the bathroom, spans halfway into the shower and half out of the shower to provide a place to sit while dressing.

“The linear drain—I used a tile-in one—was a little bit challenging in getting it to drain properly,” she says. “You have to be very careful [in] the way the tile man does it so that they leave enough space for the water to go down in a tile-in one. It was a bit of a challenge for us, but we solved it.”

bathroom renovation: storage in bathroom

Photo: Roger Turk/Northlight Photography


Another challenge for Foreman involved creating more storage within the master bath’s new floor plan. The clients wanted a linen closet to replace the existing storage under the vanity and a drawer base. A solution arrived in the form of splitting the large vanity area into two spaces with a tall linen closet in the middle. Each vanity area is now open below to provide knee clearance, while the linen closet is fully accessible with a 10-inch-high toe-kick and drawers. The drawers include inserts typically used for organizing spices in the kitchen that Foreman repurposed for helping the clients organize medicine bottles.

Blending Function and Beauty

While the layout of the remodeled master bathroom provided its own challenges, Foreman was charged with balancing accessibility and aesthetics, which she notes can be a challenge for many universal design projects. “I try to incorporate features of universal design into all of my bath projects, simply because it makes a space so much safer for so many people,” she explains. “A lot of times people do not want an institutional-looking bath. So there’s not only hitting it on the function, how that person will be safe in the space and can maneuver [within] it easily, but there’s the emotional value of having something they really enjoy.

“This particular job was the third project [the clients and I] worked on together, so I was able to present to them one vision— as opposed to the first project we worked together where I showed them several different things—and they looked at it and said, ‘That’s it,’” Foreman continues. “We knew each other, and I knew what they wanted. I was in keeping it with the rest of the house, so that the home would have complete flow in its design vocabulary.”

The client’s design preferences lean toward a contemporary design sensibility, so simple lines, warm neutrals and contrasting materials appear throughout the master bathroom. Foreman used Kohler’s Purist Collection throughout, coordinating all the styles and finishes with the grab bars, “so it didn’t look like I was designing an ADA bathroom; it just looked like I was designing a well-designed bathroom that looked good [and] functioned well.” Per ADA standards, grab bars are located throughout the bathroom—at the entrance to the shower, shower back wall, and at the entrance to the water closet, as well as at the back and side of that space.

Another prime example of balancing low maintenance, safety and beauty can be found in the flooring selection. Foreman selected a porcelain tile that provides a wood-look—Acif Kauri in Grey Bark in 12- by 24-inch tiles from Tileshop—but offers slip resistance and extends into the shower area for continuity of design.

Similar considerations were paid to the bathroom’s lighting. A pre-existing skylight above the vanity area presented challenges when it came to shadows. Ultimately, Foreman designed a soffit for LED down-lighting installed below the skylight, thus still allowing in natural light and offering a solution for additional lighting as needed. To further eliminate any shadowing, side lighting was mounted in each vanity area alongside the mirrors.

Industry Recognition

Along with being the recipient of a 2017 Master Design Award from this publication for Universal Design, the Neil Kelly Company master bathroom project has received numerous other accolades, including: National Award from the Chrysalis Awards in the Residential Universal Design category; Silver in the Universal Design category of the Kitchen & Bath Design News 2017 Design Awards; and a top award from the National Kitchen and Bath Association for Universal Design.

“It feels really, really good to have won and have the work recognized in the way that it has been,” Foreman says. “It’s been lovely, and the clients are so happy.” |QR

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