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Q. My elderly mother is moving in with us and I see a wheelchair in our future. How do we remodel a bathroom for her?


A. As it happens, modern trends in bathroom design lend themselves very well to your situation. Many sophisticated flooring materials—tumbled stone, slate, and other unslippery tile, for example—are non-perilous and don’t look at all hospital-like. Spa-style showers with built-in benches and no door or threshold are increasingly popular, and just the ticket for people who have physical difficulties.
There are, of course, some specific requirements where wheelchairs are concerned. According to Steve Frye, a senior designer at Interior Quarters (2320 N. Damen Ave., 773-365-0511; interiorquarters.net), you need to do four things:

1. Make sure the doorway is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Frye says the minimum clearance is 35 inches (though some say 36 inches, and the Americans with Disabilities Act specifies a 32-inch opening). The door should swing open outside the room rather than into it. A pocket door is another way to go.

2. Have an open area under the sink so a wheelchair can pull right up to it. The best idea is a wall-mounted sink. ADA specs call for knee clearance of at least 27 inches in height, 30 inches width, and 19 inches of depth. The top rim of the sink should be no higher than 34 inches from the floor.

3. Provide a shower rather than a bathtub. The standard bathtub is 14 inches high, too high for someone unsure on her feet to negotiate. Scott Ashley, the store manager at Bath Resource (22 Calendar Ct., LaGrange, 708-354-4770, bathresource.com), recommends a shower with a wide hinged door that opens 180 degrees for maximum access. If you’re gutting your bathroom, consider making the shower stall large enough to accommodate another person to assist, and deep enough—with a flush-mounted trough drain—that no door or threshold is necessary. A bench would be nice, too.

Ashley says there are British bathtubs designed so that a section of the wall swings open, like a door, for easy access, but he doesn’t stock them because, at well over $6,000, they are too expensive. One company that does sell them is Premier Bathrooms (800-475-9077, premier-bathrooms.com).

4. Have an elevated toilet seat. Standard-height toilets are 14 to 16 inches; ADA stipulates height of 17 to 19 inches. You can have a plumber come and put in a new toilet, or you can buy a raised toilet seat from Walgreen’s, CVS, Target, a medical supply house, or online (onlinehomemedicalsupply.com). They are available in simple styles or more complicated models with arms and backs, and range from about $20 to more than $100.

Frye has a few other ideas for making the bathroom safer for your mother. “Matte-finish tiles on the floor reduce the possibility of falls,” he says. “Also, rounded corners on all countertops, and—I can’t believe this is coming out of my mouth—those sticky appliqués that you can put on the tub or shower floor.”
 

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