Whenever faced with designing a small space like a master bath that will be utilized by both sexes, it’s a challenge. Begin by identifying all the activities both individuals will perform in the space. Today’s master bath serves many activities beyond those of previous generations, which included areas for bathing, showering, using the toilet, grooming and some dressing. Today’s master bath may require space for relaxation, health and wellness, growing plants and other hobbies, pet maintenance or doing laundry. The increased use of electronics and monitoring systems adds the dimension of power consumption beyond lighting controls, which includes a flat screen TV, a mini-refrigerator or coffee maker.


Designing the “his and hers” bathroom requires research into who the end users are and how they want this new or renovated space to function. There is no such thing as an average-sized person. As professionals we must begin by assimilating information specific to the couple at hand. Record the anthropometric data for the standing and seated positions of each client. Identify their reach and grasping abilities, any mobility and/or physical limitations including strengths or weaknesses in their five senses. Determine whether each is left- or right-handed and whether the bath will enjoy shared use or needs to be compartmentalized to accommodate privacy preferences.


Once the activity “wish list” and the personal data are collected, the information must be condensed into a single document for client review. This is when square footage, timing and/or budget constraints pare down the “wish list“ into the “must have” list. The professional is now well-equipped to generate space planning options that work within the perimeters of the anthropometric data and a realistic activities list.


Stations for grooming should reflect a client’s stature, whether tasks will be accomplished in a standing or seated position and if privacy is a concern. Perhaps a 5-ft. 2-in. woman enjoys chatting with her 6-ft. 2-in. husband while each completes their grooming. This criteria allows side-by-side placement with her station at 32 to 34-in. height counter where his might be at 38 to 40-in. height with a taller mirror. Mirror heights should be several inches taller than the end user. Some clients may want to see their waistline while others may prefer from the shoulders up. Install multiple forms of lighting, including wall sconces, to maintain continuity in the overall design while aiding individual user needs. A continuous counter between stations can maximize the allotted counter space if the couple is similar in stature. Central, deep storage between the stations introduces an element of privacy.


Storage for grooming supplies can be a challenge when working with both genders. Should it be exposed or hidden behind doors? Are there regularly used tall bottles to store in a rollout under the sink or refillable attractive containers that need counter or open shelf space? How many electrical appliances are used on a regular basis? Are linens close at hand and where are they stored after use? Is dirty laundry accumulated here or another location? I find reviewing current conditions beneficial in terms of these decisions. One spouse may prefer open shelving or more counter space whereas the other likes everything enclosed. Always try to maximize point-of-use storage to minimize steps and avoid traffic flow problems.


Selecting a shower’s water source or sources and their placement requires a trip to the plumbing showroom, especially when working with a couple. Each needs to experience the options available to assure the showering experience meets or exceeds his or her expectations. If the shower is used simultaneously, the footprint needs to increase from a minimum of 36-in. by 36-in. to approximately 42-in. by 60-in. or larger.


Location, height and size of interior shelving and/or benches needs to be determined based on both users’ needs and statures. Benches should be a minimum of 17-in. AFF and 15-in. deep. Check bench locations so they don’t interfere with standing space under the showerhead. Inclusion of multiple showerheads with differing sprays give users more flexibility, but the anthropometric data identifies a stationary head height if that’s the route your client has chosen. Water should be directed toward the body, not the face or hair. This could range between 70 and 80 inches off the floor but should be identified for your specific clients.


The best solution when dealing with clients with significant height differences is including a handheld shower on an adjustable bar. This also works well for the occasional dog bath and for shower cleaning. This allows the user to determine the height. Through thorough research, multiple choices in spray options might be available. Thermostatic control valves make wise investments that save energy and prove to be convenient. Multiple showerheads should have separate controls adjacent to those areas for ease of use. NKBA recommends controls are located 6-in. from the outside of the shower so reaching or bending is minimized. Adjust the height off the floor according to the elbow height of the end users.


Carolyn Deardorff, M.A., IIDA, CKD, CAPS has been at the forefront of the interior design industry for many years. She has operated the successful business Design Adventures since 1988 with clients spanning the U.S. and Australia. Her focus turned to the kitchen and bath industry in the early 1990’s, when in graduate school her desire intensified to design environments that are more user-friendly. This led her to write her master’s thesis on universal design. Carolyn’s commitment to aspiring designers led her into higher education for seven years where she served as adjunct and full time faculty in the interior design programs of Arapahoe Community College and Colorado State University.


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