Tubs are sliding into the modern age

September 20, 1992|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Isn't it odd how in today's high-speed, high-tech world, we'r still filling our homes with the same plodding old equipment? The incongruity is especially obvious in regard to the bathroom and kitchen. One would think that these spaces in particular should by now be exhibiting the kinds of design and technology advances that have become so visible in the workplace.

While it's true that refinements have been made in some kitchen appliances, most stove and range tops still resemble the big square models of our mothers' era. To be fair, this is partly because consumers themselves express a preference for familiar objects and traditional designs. Many people simply do not like the modern look in home furnishings, judging it to be too exotic or, in some cases, just plain uncomfortable. And since the customer is always right, manufacturers of home products are ++ not about to embark on a crusade to change popular tastes.

At the same time, however, standard bathing and toilet facilities cannot reasonably be considered a triumph of comfortable, attractive design. In fact, they have long been criticized as unsuited to the average adult body.

Most toilets are too low. Sinks and vanity tops also require stooping in many cases. Bathtubs are usually not deep enough to permit a proper soaking and can be dangerously slippery as well. What's more, the sides of the typical tub act as an obstacle for anyone who's less than nimble.

As a designer, I greatly value the public realization that building codes must be amended to facilitate access by the handicapped. Good architecture and interior design must be responsive to the needs of all users. And that makes it all the more perplexing why bathroom fixtures have not been modified to accommodate the growing legions of older adults.

How come so little attention has been paid to individuals 50 and older who, while not handicapped, are no longer able to glide in and out of the standard-depth American bathtub? This small and shallow fixture, with its steep and treacherous sides, is actually almost 50 years old itself. It was designed right after World War II for placement in those millions of suburban homes that were being built to handle the baby boom. At last, however, at least a few manufacturers are coming to recognize the need for more comfortable bathtubs. Kohler, for instance, has designed the Precedence whirlpool bath shown in the photo. Sensible, isn't it?

A button mounted on the rim of the tub unlatches the door, which swings inward. Once inside, the bather pushes the door shut, and a special door seal automatically inflates when the tub begins to fill. The bather can sit on the platform as the water rises, easily immersing himself or herself without having to negotiate a tub rim.

This model is also equipped with a convenient fold-down seat that can be used for showering as well as bathing. Folded up, the seat becomes a back rest which will make a long, deep soak an even more relaxing experience. The tub also features a mounted grip rail for added safety.

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