Interior Design for the Less Abled – Part One

While this blog post has a particular focus group, I would love you to please read on even if it doesn’t impact you directly. It’s good to keep these things in mind and all recommendations are useful for everyone! It’s a bit longer than usual but I really wanted to give this topic the focus that is required.


Source: motionspot.co.uk

A dear friend of mine has inspired this blog post. She brought to my attention the problems faced by those less abled (including the elderly) or using a wheelchair in their homes. In the UK, there are around 13.3 million people who considered “disabled” – that’s 1 in 5 people! 2 million have sight impairment and around the same number of households have someone who uses a wheelchair. So it got me thinking, how do these households adjust their living spaces? I honestly have not seen many interior design publications addressing the challenges that go hand in hand with disabilities.

In my view, interior design decisions for making accessible and safe spaces have been  boring and far too clinical in the past. I have personally seen this in my grandparent’s bathrooms which were simply not attractive. I think there was an idea that once you needed aids and support to live, styling was less important. But actually, it’s extremely important for everyone to gain satisfaction and feel inspired by the surrounds in which they live. Providing positive, stylish and inspiring interior options in combination with adaptable, safe and ergonomic design is needed not only for ease and comfort but also for mindfulness and mental health. In other words people with a disability or who are elderly require exactly what every household needs – a space which is inspiring, reflects their personality and accommodates their lifestyle, needs and wants.

In these two posts, I will focus on two key rooms: bathrooms and kitchens. The main requirements for these two spaces include:

  • Good turning circles
  • Safety mechanisms
  • Height and adaptability of benches, surfaces and facilities
  • Height of plinths (i.e. the height of kickboards)
  • Placement considerations (e.g. sink relative to the toilet)
  • Lighting of surface

Beautiful Bathrooms

The best style for a wheelchair-friendly bathroom is a wet room. Before you go ahead, consider that for property valuation reasons, not having a bath can be problematic. If there is a bath in another bathroom, no problem! If not and you have space, consider a standard bath with a bath lift or a walk-in bath for easy mobility. There are lots of ways to incorporate aids and bathware which is stylish and functional but also adaptable for the rest of the household. These are some of the best examples I have found.

Tasteful Toilets

Certain wall hung toilets today are incredibly strong (holding up to 400kg) and the frames are hidden behind a wall, making the system compact to give a more spacious look.  I’ve also read that the wall hung toilets are also much easier to clean. To provide a support system, you can purchase foldable arm rails so they look less conspicuous. This Bauhaus Wall Hung WC with a Soft Close Seat and a Low Height Wall Hung Support Base allows you to install the toilet seat at the exact height you need.

Source: www.victorianplumbing.co.uk

It’s always best to get an Occupational Therapist to help with the placement of the toilet in relation to the wheelchair height.

For older folk, it’s easier for them to have a higher placed toilet like this Roca The Gap Clean Rim Close toilet which is both practical and stylish.

Source: https://www.ukbathrooms.com

Stylish Shower and Tray

An open shower is best placed in the corner as it allows the placement of a shower seat against one wall and grab rails strategically placed on both walls for aid. Shower seats today are not bulky, particularly the foldable ones. It means it won’t encroach on space and is easier for other household members to use. A lot of them look a bit flimsy or have exposed connectors that could be an irritant to the backside! It’s important to look for one that is slimline with covered connectors/brackets. The Delabie Comfort Shower seat is what I would choose given its full seat style and is made of a polymer that won’t feel cold to sit on. It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for and this is an important part of a showering experience.

Source: http://www.delabie.com

For the shower, there are two key types: electric for the visually impaired; and thermostat controlled. I am really shocked at the limited selection of attractive electric showers approved by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). They have a contrasting LED push button using pre-set controls for safety whilst also preventing thermostat changes to avoid scalding. A number of these have riser bars which also act as a grab rail.  But a lot of them are plain ugly! Just because someone in the household is unable to see well is no excuse for an outdated style. I also could not find any with dual shower heads which is a shame because a handheld shower is ideal for those using a shower seat. This Mira Escape Thermostatic Electric Shower in Chrome fits the bill for safety as it keeps temperature at an ideal level at all times.

Source: https://www.plumbworld.co.uk

In terms of a thermostat mixer controlled shower, the Triton Elina TMV3 Shower and Grab is probably one of the nicer options.

Source: https://www.victorianplumbing.co.uk

In a wet room for wheelchair access and a rimless shower cubicle, there is more risk of flooding. It is important to source a wet room former which is effectively a shower tray that is glass-reinforced plastic and sits under tiles or vinyl. It also needs enough of a gradient to drain the water and prevent flooding.

Beautiful Basin

When considering a basin for someone in a wheelchair, it needs to be lower than conventional standards, have space under it so the user can reach the taps, but also needs insulation so that they can’t burn themselves on pipes. This Villeroy and Boch example look pleasing to the eye, hides piping and has a wide basin area. The oval style has hand grips which also double as hanging space.

Source: https://www.villeroy-boch.co.uk

Mixer taps are the best option so there is less risk of scalding and is easy to turn on and off. This Villeroy and Boch tap works well with the sink above.

Source: https://www.villeroy-boch.co.uk

Delightful Decor

This is the fun bit! Enjoy making the bathroom look bright and fresh. In my personal opinion, bathrooms need to be light with a hint of colour. When decorating your wet room it is really important to source tiles that are made specifically for this purpose or you will get leaking! I would also get a professional to install them as you must ensure there are no gaps. For added safety, anti-slip tiles made of non-porous ceramic or porcelain are a must. And if you can afford it, underfloor heating is particularly good for the elderly who may be more sensitive to the cold.

These tiles from Atlas Ceramics are an example of combining earthy tones would appeal to most and will look good in any bathroom. The Perseo tile in Alpine Gris on the left for a wall tile in combination with the anti-slip Dorset Woolliscroft Luna White tile would look fresh and stunning.

If you like more of an industrial style, these Tabula Chocolate wood floor tiles from Topps Tiles combined with a Hartley White brick effect for the walls would look amazing.

Finally, if colour is what you want, then consider these Drops in Persian Blue from Porcelain Superstore. These are the perfect accent for a wall or the shower cubicle combined with a grey wall tile. I would recommend this grey Pearl Stone floor tile from Walls and Floors and you may even like to include these anti-slip blue mosaics from Mosafil for the shower cubical floor. Stunning!

Sophisticated Shelving

I would like to comment on shelving and storing hair and body products for the shower. For safety reasons, bathing items should be easy reached and storage should be secure. If you are starting a bathroom from scratch and a joiner is helping you, consider building in a recessed shelf near the shower. It looks good, is easy to clean and you don’t have to worry about it falling down. If that doesn’t appeal, consider a corner shelf with an integrated grab rail.

Source: drench.co.uk

Attractive Accessories

These are the items that bring some character and individuality to a bathroom. You can introduce:

Gorgeous plants or ferns 

You could choose either live or artificial plants for your bathroom. If you don’t think you’ll manage the upkeep of a live one, consider hanging Nkuku’s Viri Hanging Planter from the ceiling or displaying Ikea’s Fejka Artificial potted plant in a lovely metallic pot? If ferns aren’t your style, Amaranthine Blooms have beautiful White Oncidium Stems that would look gorgeous in a vase:

Scented Candles or Scent Sticks

Laura Thomas produces some beautiful natural soy candles and incense products which are natural and smell amazing.

Beautiful Mirrors

If your bathroom doesn’t have enough light, have a look at mirrors with integrated LEDs. In keeping with round mirror which is currently en-trend, check out Tapwarehouse’s Harbour Glow LED Round Mirror. If round mirrors are not your style, then try for this John Lewis and partners Prism Illuminated Mirror. If you have a larger bathroom and would like an integrated cabinet, this Balto Mirror and Cabinet is super stylish.

Luxurious Handwash

There are many hand washes out there, but I have picked some lovely ones which are organic or for sensitive skin, such as these from the Little Soap CompanyIf you would like a lovely soap dispenser instead, consider this marble Mark’s and Spencer Dispenser. For added ease and safety, this Orion Wall Mounted from Victorian Plumbing may be more useful. 

Lovely Linen

Accessories can really make a bathroom and hand towels are a brilliant way to inject either some colour or luxury into the space. Have a look at