The latest in bathroom renovation allowing homeowners to stay put. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Menn

21 Jan Bathroom Remodeling Ideas When You Plan to Stay Put

By David Lewis

Entering your older years doesn’t necessarily mean losing your independence.

When Marc and Marlyn Spivak downsized from their large single-family home into a Lincolnshire, Illinois, condominium, the active couple were determined to spend their retirement in the comfort of their new home for as long as possible.

Knowing the kitchen and bath needed serious updating, and for planning for potential health issues in the future, they retained the services of Northbrook, Illinois, architect Michael Menn. Menn is a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) who’s been specially trained in designing safe and attractive living spaces for older adults.

Smooth countertops, an electric glass cooktop, plenty of cabinet storage and spectacular views are highlights of the Spivak’s kitchen.

Menn had a 90-day window of time to begin and complete the remodeling of the condominium. In addition to the short time frame, his design team dealt with the numerous regulations involved when initiating construction in a multiunit dwelling.

“It’s a challenge to complete a project within a condominium board’s restrictions and to not disturb or inconvenience the building’s residents, but we succeeded,” said Menn. Those challenges included removing debris and old appliances, scheduling elevators and plumbing shut-offs, parking for contractor vehicles, keeping noise and dust to a minimum, and bringing in new construction materials and products.

The original kitchen was demolished to the bare walls. The exhaust hood was relocated, which required the ceiling to be removed. With the ceiling exposed, new ducting for the hood, energy-efficient LED can lighting, and a water line for the new refrigerator’s ice cube-maker were installed. After the walls and ceiling were buttoned up, they were covered with a fresh coat of paint.

The new kitchen cabinets feature soft-close doors and drawers as well as smooth black maintenance-free quartz counter tops. Two wall-mounted ovens were added and so was a magnetic induction cooktop that features important safety technology to protect people from burning their hands.

A special cabinet was created to store Marlyn’s Kitchen Aid mixer and accessories. And a ledge shelf was added in front of the microwave that can be used to temporarily set hot items upon, such as coffee and soup.

The microwave was mounted low to make it easily accessible should one of the homeowners be confined to a wheelchair later in life. In fact, all the traffic areas were widened for that reason.

The peninsula was designed to overlook the wonderful views outdoors. And guests can sit at the table next to the peninsula, eat meals, play cards, and be a part of the action in the kitchen.

Multiple grab bar configurations allow the homeowners to safely and easily sit and transfer positions within the shower area.

Many safety and convenience features were designed into the master bath. Continuing with the black, white, and gray color palette that is used throughout the condominium, the old tub deck and concrete floor were removed and a new zero-threshold, custom curbless shower stall was created.

A virtually invisible ramp gently rises upward and into the shower stall, which allows easy access for a rolling walker or wheelchair. The floor tiles have a textured surface to help prevent slipping.

A built-in bench inside the shower stall and a teak wood folding bench provide optional seated bathing. And a duplicate bench on the exterior of the stall offers seating space for dressing or undressing.

Other safety features include anti-scalding faucets and multiple grab bars. Recessed niches are for shampoo and soap storage.

Lowering the height of the third sink make this area very accessible.

The vanity area features three sinks. Again planning for the future, the center sink is mounted low and the pipes are enclosed, which allows for easy and safe access from a wheelchair.

Stylish and bright LED light fixtures above the large mirrors, dual medicine cabinets, GFCI electrical outlets, and ample storage cabinets with wide handles round out the master bath’s numerous safety and aesthetic features.

The Spivaks aren’t the first older adult clients to retain Menn. In a Northbrook, Illinois, home, Menn was retained to design and remodel a large master bath for a couple who use wheelchairs.

The entire bath, which includes an outdated whirlpool tub, was deconstructed. Menn designed a new zero-threshold shower with a built-in bench seat. The toilet was recessed into the wall to provide easy access and transferability from the shower.

With these significant improvements, the homeowners now enjoy an attractive and highly functional master bath.

More than a quarter-million Americans turn 65 years of age every month. And more of them than ever before are choosing to remain in their homes for as long as possible. These two homes are sterling examples of modern technology combined with expert design. And that results in happy older adults enjoying their lives while living safely and securely in their own homes. For more information, go to

Electric in-wall ovens are easily accessible from any height.

Michael Menn’s remodeling suggestions for aging in place:

• Install an elevator or chairlift if you live in a multilevel home.

• Treat yourself to nice amenities like a home theater or home exercise room.

• Make sure doorways and hallways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair should it be needed in the future.

• Position illuminated, large button on-off light switches in locations that can be reached from a wheelchair. New LED lighting is brighter and saves energy.

• Consider relocating the master bedroom to the main floor if you live in a multilevel home.

• Be cautious of installing shag carpeting because it’s difficult to maneuver a wheelchair or a walker over it.

• Be aware of the height of kitchen countertops, sinks, stoves, and cabinets. You want to avoid too much bending. Move your most frequently used dishes, pots, and pans to the lower cabinets. Rollout shelves are ideal and may be retrofitted to existing cabinets.

• Electric cooktops and ovens are much safer than gas.

• Countertops should have smooth rounded edges.

• Kitchen faucets with separate hot and cold handles help prevent scalding.

• In the bathroom, install a zero-threshold shower with a bench. This helps to eliminate the possibility of tripping and falling, and it provides easy access for a walker or wheelchair if needed in the future.

• Be certain that the shower has a seat and grab bars. Even if the grab bars aren’t installed now, make sure there’s wood behind the wall tiles so they can be installed should they be needed in the future.

• The same holds true for grab bars by the toilet. And make sure the toilet seat is high enough so it’s easy to sit down and stand up.

Michael Menn is a licensed architect and has been practicing architecture for 40 years, 26 of which he’s been promoting the design-build-deliver approach. He’s a certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) who has been trained in the strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically enriching, barrier-free living environments for seniors. For further information:

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