Designing A Wheelchair Accessible Master Bathroom

Well, I underestimated the amount of time it would take me to paint the hallway cabinets. 🙂 They’re so close to finished, but not quite. But they’ll be done by Monday, for sure!

In the meantime, I thought I’d share another project that I’ve had rattling around in my brain for the last week — our master bathroom. And no, I’m not talking about the tiny so-called master bathroom we currently have. I’m talking about our big, final master bathroom that we’re planning.

So let me back up a bit and do some explaining for those of you who may be new around here, or those who may have forgotten our long term plan. Right now, the floor plan of our house looks like this…

house floor plan - current - 9-2017 - revised

The current master bathroom (and I use that term generously 🙂 ) wasn’t part of the original house. I have no idea when it was added on, but it’s tiny and not worth saving, especially considering that a man in a wheelchair uses that bathroom. So our long term plan has always been to turn the current master bedroom into the master bathroom, and then add on a new master bathroom, laundry room, and family room. That plan would require tearing down the current “master bathroom” and sunroom, and when it’s finished, it would look something like this…

I haven’t updated this floor plan to show the flip flopped locations of the mud room and half bath at the back of my studio yet, but the focus here is on the other side of the house, and especially the master bathroom as it relates to the future master bedroom. And as far as the master bathroom, master bedroom, laundry room, and family room go, the only thing written in stone is the general location. All of the particulars (closet locations, access to laundry room, etc.) are flexible, but aren’t really important right now. I’ve got plenty of time to think through those details…and change my mind on them 100+ times. 🙂

We still don’t know for sure when we’ll be able to do this big addition, but the other day Matt and I started talking about the possibility of going ahead now (or soon…possibly at the beginning of the year) and moving our bedroom into one of the other bedrooms, and converting the current master bedroom into a bathroom, even if the rest of the addition is still a year or more away.

So for the last few days, I’ve been trying to figure out if this is even feasible. Here are the issues and obstacles:

  • For now, we would have to keep the door into the hallway since that’s the only way to access the room from inside the house, but after the addition it will be walled off. That means that anything we plan to place on that wall (e.g., if we decide to put vanities there) would have to wait.
  • The doorway into the current bathroom could be closed up if need be. The future entrance into the bathroom won’t be that close to the corner of the room.
  • The doorway into the current closet could also be closed up if need be. We’ve never really used that closet since it has the scuttle holes into the attic and the crawl space beneath the house, which have both needed to be accessed pretty regularly since we’ve been here. So we just keep that closet fairly cleared out. I’d need to add an access into that area either from the current hallway or from the sunroom since we’ll still need to access the scuttle holes.
  • The one exterior wall that will remain currently has a window that’s about 48″ wide and 60″ high. I’m okay with keeping that size or using a smaller window. I’m even okay with moving it if we absolutely can’t work with its current placement. But that exterior wall is stone, so the more that window changes in size and/or location, the more expensive and difficult it will be.
  • The single most important thing for now is having a wheelchair accessible shower, which means it has to be big, and it has to be curbless. Even if we have to wait on everything else (vanities, toilet, bathtub (if possible), that’s fine. But obviously the current placement of a shower has to fit within the grand plan for the design of the bathroom in the future, and it can’t be placed where the current entrance from the hallway is.

So I’ve got a few challenges to work around. 🙂 And like I said, I don’t even know if it’s feasible, but I’m going to give it lots of thought and see if I can’t come up with a plan so that we can build Matt a wheelchair accessible shower sooner than later. Matt was so supportive of my idea of turning the garage into a studio, even to the point of insisting that we started on it immediately because it would make my life easier to have that big work space. And he insisted on it even knowing that it would delay the addition, including the big bathroom that would make his life easier. So I really want to see if I can make this work.

Since the shower is the most important feature in this bathroom, I’ve been trying to narrow down what it should look like, where it should go, if it can work with the current window placement and size, and how everything else (vanities, toilet) would work with its placement.

There are basically two options — the first is to have a really big shower with one really big entrance. Something like this would be perfect. I think pulling a curtain closed would be much easier than dealing with any kind of glass enclosure with a glass door.

But I’ve also thought that perhaps this design, with the two entrances, would be easy to use as well.

Please note that I’m only talking about floor plan and shower size/design here. I’m not considering these finishes and fixtures. 🙂

But with that design, he could wheel into one side, and exit the other side. There would be no need to turn around, so it’s possible that the shower could be a bit narrower than one with only one entrance. The two-entrance design would also give me a natural placement for a bathtub, and we could work with the current window placement, although I’d want the new window to be much shorter than 60 inches, and placed higher on the wall so that it allowed light in but doesn’t give anyone at the neighbor’s house a peep show.

Anyway, like I said, I’m just at the very beginning of even thinking about this project, and haven’t even gotten so far as to put pencil to paper to draw up any preliminary plans. But if any of you have wheelchair accessible bathrooms in your home (or if your parents or someone you know has one), I’d love to know your thoughts on the two shower designs above. Which one would work better? The single large entrance into a big rectangular shower? Or the two entrances (entrance/exit) into a longer but probably narrower shower?



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  1. We have a roll in shower for my husband that is more like the first photo you showed. And you are right, a curtain is definitely easier to maneuver than a glass shower door. My husband rolls in, transfers to a teak bench that is mounted to the wall and I pull his wheel chair out for him. When he’s done, I wheel the chair back in for him to transfer and he backs out. I sometimes have to pull his out as it can be hard to roll the chair slightly uphill on a wet floor. I think we do need to search for a bench that is deeper, however. The current one is probably only 12″ deep and he does not like to rest his back on the tile wall as it is cold. That makes it a precarious balancing act for him while he showers.

    I can see the second photo you posted being a great option for someone who showers in a chair.

  2. I very much dislike shower doors altogether. My aunt is in a wheelchair. The two entrances would be so convenient and the best part would be NOT having any shower door or curtain to deal with.

  3. From my days as a home health nurse I like the first option better. Thinking long term, one big opening gives you’ve more flexibility for chairs and/or lifts he might’ve need in the future. It would be much easier if he ever wanted to use a reclining chair.

  4. We have what we call a ‘wet room’. It’s totally open with just a small glass block screen protecting the storage area. It’s fully tiled, walls and floor, but we used darkish travertine tiles so it doesn’t look cold. Hubby can deal with everything himself from transferring to a movable shower stool and pushing his chair out of the way. I’m only required if he gets stuck or can’t reach anything once he’s in position. We have a very small space with no way of extending it so we were rather restricted but it works for us and it’s simple and easy to maintain. You can get an idea from this pic×467).jpg

  5. I worked for a home builder who designed a walk-in shower without a door. The shower head was located around the corner from the entrance and the homeowner never had a problem with overspray getting the rest of the bathroom wet. A similar look can be found on picture #7 here: The Little Couple also designed a wheelchair accessible shower which you can see here:

  6. Maybe you could move the door from your bedroom down to where your future closets will be. Would probably mean deeper closets than you’ve planned to accommodate the hall width needed, but would hopefully be easier to plan out the bathroom without having to plan to move the bath entrance in the future. And, bigger closets! Can’t wait to see the transformation!!

  7. If the hallway door messes up where you want to put the vanity or something else, could you close it up now and put a (temporary) door into the future guest bedroom, which could be your bedroom in the meantime? Then it would be private access to the master bathroom for now, which you could close off when you eventually build the real master bedroom, and you wouldn’t be limited by the door to the hallway.

  8. Do you think that you’ll need to plan for a lift from the bed to the shower in case transfers become difficult for the two of you?

  9. How about making the guest room your bedroom, the master your master bath and put a hydabed in the sunroom for guests. Having the plumbing already makes it simple to extend it into the larger room. No addition needed until you have the funds available. Even putting a wall and a door across the sunroom would give you a quick guest bedroom without a major addition.

    1. My thoughts exactly! I assume you are still using your old studio room even though on paper it is labeled Matt’s game room, so you would need to reprioritize finishing your new studio space enough to use it sooner and move out of your old room. Or maybe you could use the sun room as your temporary studio space. Either way, that would free up the cascade of musical rooms mentioned above. If you accessed your new master bath through the eventual master closet area, there may be minimal disruption in plans. OR it may make more sense to demo the current master bath and create access through sunroom/shell master bath if you can place eventual opening where you want from your eventual new master bedroom into new master bath without compromise. I think you have options to create your new bathroom as a priority.

  10. Vacationed in a home with a HUGE wet room shower…no door or curtain needed. No one in our group had any mobility issues but we ALL loved that shower. Mom could bathe two kids and herself with no problems. I would suggest two items; multiple heat lamps in the shower (Peachtree?) and a very powerful fan with humidistat and timer.

  11. When I was in college, I assisted on getting the Freedom by Design organization off the ground at UMD. We were lucky enough to be invited by Michael Graves to his home where he could give us some pointers for designing an accessible bathroom. This was a while ago, but the thing I remember most was that he had a huge roll-in shower (no walls or separators, just a large wet area at the back of the bathroom) with two shower heads… “Just in case.” 😉 It was quite the accessible party shower! 🙂

  12. Could you place a temporary door from the current guest bedroom into the current master bedroom (future master bathroom) and use that as your master bedroom/bathroom while you’re waiting for the big renovation? That way you can install the shower first in whatever location you think best so Matt will have the benefit of it very soon. As someone else mentioned, perhaps a hide-a-bed is the answer to the guest question.

    1. AGREE-My first thought was door going from guest room into master bathroom which could be later closed up if necessary. That way the hallway door could disappear.

  13. I do not know how you feel about glass block windows but instead of changing the shape of your window – go with a glass block one. It will let in all of that gorgeous light and you can find glass block that are rated for privacy. We have 2 huge glass block windows in our master bath and love them!

  14. Love the “wet room” idea in another comment. I have even thought of seeing if it would work in our Master Bath. The baths I have seen with a wet room frequently have both a large shower area and the tub in the same “wet” area. Then vanities, storage, etc. is outside of that area. It would be similar to photo 1 you have shown, as if there was a tub to the right. Most I have seen have had a solid piece of glass and a large opening for accessibility…no door or curtain needed. Its also good for tub splashes, etc. Try a search using “wet area”. Sorry I don’t have one handy. Probably wouldn’t know how to add it if I did! But this style bathroom is very user friendly and has lots of options for this type of design. I agree with the comment suggesting heat lamps, etc. when using any kind of open concept for a shower. Also, this might also allow you to be in the same area if Matt required any assistance now or at a later time.

    1. Kristi, just did a search on Houzz. Try “wet area bathroom ideas”. The results are in the hundreds and their are so many different ideas and arrangements that cover many different bathroom sizes and budgets. Of course, as usual, my favorites were twice the size of my bath and the budget was probably three times mine. Oh well, I just have good taste that’s all.

  15. I am a DSW and believe the first bathroom to be the best option for Matt’s needs. If Matt’s need change and requires more assistance to shower the first bathroom is so much more assessible.

  16. My father-in-law lived in a private home operated by a wonderful woman for the Veterans Administration Foster Care Program. She was nurse’s aid and had 3 wonderful Vets living in her home and she cared for their every need. She had what we jokingly called a “drive thru shower” as you are thinking about and it was wonderful! The older vets could be wheeled into the privacy of the walled off area and those that could were able to shower themselves right in their wheelchair (a special waterproof one”?) and then when ready to leave it was just a roll out the other dry end. She was able to get in there to help wash them if she had to. The area was light and bright with that big window but afforded privacy to the Vet behind the wall. Never saw anything like that before but I think she designed it because she knew what would work to make her caring for them easier and yet maintain their dignity as well.

  17. I have MS and although I am mobile I would prefer to have the large walk in shower. It has more room to maneuver and I would like having a curtain for privacy. My shower right now, although large, has a walk in but does not have a door or curtain. It gets COLD and drafty sometimes because of the opening. Also, even though I don’t need assistance to shower yet, it might be nice to have a larger, wider shower in case that is ever needed. I’m interested in seeing what you do!

    1. For my mom (who was in a wheelchair and had circulation issues) we put a heat lamp on a timer just outside the opening to her shower, that way she could towel off while “basking” in the heat lamp, it also helped to keep drafts down DURING the shower.

  18. I recently stayed in a Hotel in Cleveland and it had a shower you can roll into with a shower curtain. We did have a issue with water on the floor outside the shower. The shower floor was sloped down to the drain so I am not sure why water was outside of the area. This shower didn’t have any shelving for toiletries but at first glance it looked very nice just needed to change some things to make it practical.

  19. Maybe think about putting the “temporary” door to the bathroom in a location where you want to place a future linen closet/cabinet. When you put in the “permanent” bathroom door, take the temp out and build in your linen closet.

  20. Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but I had an idea regarding the floor plan and I wanted to share it with you, just in case it was helpful. I had to make several assumptions regarding your lifestyle that may or may not be accurate, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt (i.e. Matt’s Gameroom is very important, but it may not need a closet; the Guest Room is used less than 5% of the time, so it can sacrificed until such time as you can do the larger extension; etc.)

    What if you were to take the current Guest Bedroom, remove the closets (both the Guest and Matt’s Gameroom) and turn it into your Master. By my calculations that would make the Master 14’5″x15’0″. Then take the existing Master Bedroom/Bath/Closet and turn it into the Master Bath/Closet/Laundry. I sketched it out, but couldn’t find a way to add my sketch to this comment. Hopefully this would eliminate some of the challenges you outlined for doing the bath now.

    1. I should have mentioned that if you wish to keep that hallway in the future then I would keep the current closet in it’s location and perhaps have a “his and hers” closet set-up for now. The current Master Bath is adequate for a “for now” laundry that could be expanded greatly in the future. If it were up to me I would leave that hallway out in the future and have the guest bedroom accessible from the family room.

  21. Have you considered stripping the old master bath and adding a door from the sunroom? That way you might not have to move the door for the master bath when you add the addition.

  22. Well, if it was me, I’d knock out the MB closet walls first, and establish the new hallway, and if the door into that closet is wide enough for Matt’s chair, use it for your doorway, at least in the short term. It is always better to have more than one way in and out of any closed room. Then depending on how you lay out the design, you might want a door access into it from the guest BR, and that might or might not be a permanent thing. JMHO/2c worth!

  23. Only semi-related, but have you considered putting the laundry room on the kitchen side of the current sunroom? I know it moves it away from the bedrooms, but it would eliminate two hallways- the master bed and bath could be bumped out into the hallway space around the current hall bath. Just figured it was worth mentioning as you consider the bathroom reno, as it could have an impact on planning the space.

  24. Can you visit either mobility designed homes or assisted living centers in your area to see how either of these designs look in person? Sometimes you have to be physically in the space to know how it will work for you.

  25. Kristin, I like everything you do. You are amazing. When I look at both floor plans, I see Matt making turns to get into other rooms of the house. From bedroom to his game room is only 1 turn. If bedroom closet and hall bathroom were moved, leaving master bedroom through present closet door, he would have a straight shot across back of house through Music room, kitchen, breakfast, and studio. In Music room, turn right to go straight into entryway and living room. If you swapped guest room and Matt’s game room, with a door from M. bedroom into game room, that would be convenient. Now, where to put hall bathroom? Close hall door to Matt’s new game room and present door into master bedroom. Snuggle hall bath into the newly created corner. And, when the new floor plan exists, the hall bath and master bath will be back to back and save some money on plumbing. What do you think? With lots of money and time, this might work. 🙂