Multigenerational bathrooms – what you need to know
Demand for multigenerational design is growing. Lara Sargent looks at why today’s bathrooms need to work for more than one generation – and how retailers can best sell products for the entire household to use and enjoy, now and in the future
Homes with more than one generation living under the same roof are significantly on the rise. In fact, according to recent research by global real estate company CBRE, there are now around 1.8 million households that contain two or more generations – that’s a substantial increase of 38% in just 10 years.
“Multigenerational bathrooms meet the evolving needs of modern families,” says Richard Ticehurst, brand expert at Crosswater. “It’s a design approach that considers the requirements of a family across different age groups and generations – from babies to adults and the elderly. If someone has elderly family members in the home, then they will want a bathroom design that is safe, comfortable and accessible.”
Research by property specialists David Burr reveals that multigenerational living will triple by 2040. It’s a broad market for sure and can include older relatives that live with their families for health or financial reasons or ‘boomerang’ children, where adult offspring have returned to the family home. Then there are young grandchildren, guests and vulnerable users that need to be considered.
“We all know that the way families are living together is evolving,” says Russell Wright, owner of Ripples Solihull, “with children staying in the family home for longer. Therefore, in some instances four or five adults are using the same space, through to grandparents moving in with their children, and in some cases, grandchildren. Bathrooms need to cater for a wide range of needs.”
Caroline Borowski, national sales manager, retail and merchant, at Coram UK (including Impey wet rooms) adds: “We are generally living longer now, and as such, multigenerational living is on the rise. Reasons for this can include cost of living and families pooling monies together to have a better standard of living. Some households wish to be able to accommodate visiting friends or relatives who have accessibility requirements. And for properties that are being used as holiday lets, it’s ideal to provide showering options for all of the guests.”
Although multigenerational homes differ in composition, the premise behind designing shared spaces is the same. They need to be accessible, usable and safe for everyone to use.
“Multigenerational design is important because everyone uses the bathroom,” says Louise Murphy, head of marketing at Sonas.
“The focus is on fulfilling as many user needs as possible, not just as many users as possible.”
For the bathroom, this design approach is key. Not only because today’s bathroom is such a well-used space, but because it has evolved from a purely functional room into a well-being bolthole.
“The bathroom serves many purposes,” says Steph Harris, product manager at Showerwall, “and is often a relaxing space to unwind at the end of a long week as well as a functional area for day-to-day morning routines. These aren’t age-specific experiences – they are something we all benefit from, and no one should have their ability to use the bathroom hampered in any way.”
In fact, a shower study carried out by Grohe UK in 2020 found that 58% of respondents use the shower as a method to relieve tension and stress.
“The bathroom is a place where independence and personal dignity is essential,” adds Ronke Ugbaja, leader, product management at Lixil EMENA and Grohe UK. “Therefore, accessibility and ease of functionality is a pivotal design consideration.”
CP Hart designer Rosie Fowley agrees: “If the bathroom design does not cater to everyone, those who fall outside of the design parameters may not fully enjoy the intended experience. Multigenerational bathrooms can also increase a property’s value.”
As a nation, we are all living longer. The number of people over 65 years in England and Wales increased from 9.2 million in 2011 to more than 11 million a decade later, according to the Census of 2021. For the bathroom, these statistics underline the need for increased design awareness.
“While multigenerational design is important in all aspects of the home, it should be deemed as a priority for bathrooms,” according to John Schofield, sales and marketing director at Just Trays.
“Slips in bathrooms pose significant hazards, especially to individuals who are older or have mobility difficulties. In fact, Age UK reported that six people over the age of 65 fall every minute in the UK, with around 3.4 million people over 65 suffering a fall that causes a serious injury, or even death.
“Here at JT, we conducted our own research, which revealed that out of 1,000 UK residents surveyed, a shocking 82% of people have experienced a slip in the shower. And yet while over half of consumers view the thought of slipping in the bathroom as a concern, many do absolutely nothing about it.”
It’s pivotal that retailers talk through what the consumer wants from their bathroom today – as well as what they might need in the coming years. This might be planning for more children in the future or thinking about how to make the bathroom more comfortable for older family members.
“Flexibility and usability should be integrated and at the heart of any space,” agrees Jo Cole, product group manager at Häfele UK.
Future-proofing a bathroom can depend on individual circum-stances, but key elements include wet room style showers, comfort height toilets, lever brassware, adjustable hand-held showers, thermostatic shower controls and non-slip flooring.
“A switch from bath to shower is a good future-proofing measure, especially if a low-level shower tray is used,” adds Harris at Showerwall. “And there’s also the option to add seats and grab rails to suit different generational needs.”
“We often design spaces based on current preferences and trends, but it’s important not to forget how bathrooms must provide for a variety of generations as we move through life,” puts in Ashley Cooper, marketing director at Triton Showers.
Rethinking space and storage should also be key factors, says Jon Walker of The Roxor Group: “Where space allows, homeowners should consider incorporating another bathroom or cloakroom.”
The demand for multigenerational bathrooms is only set to increase. But how established is the market, both in terms of product offerings from the bathroom brands and retailer awareness?
how to future-proof the bathroom for changing household needs
• Lever basin mixers more suitable for people facing dexterity challenges
• Shower toilets including automatic flush
and lid opening and closing, personalised washing
and drying functions controlled by an app
• Large open showers or wet room
with wide access point and level access trays to increase accessibility and reduce the possibility of tripping
• Non-slip flooring and anti-slip
for accessible and
• Shower seat:
a flip down shower seat or bench to help users with mobility challenges
• Grab rails:
ensure walls are reinforced from the outset so bars can be added in the future
• Comfort-height toilets
suited to users with a variety of mobility issues. Plus
• Thermostatic showers
for safe and stable water temperature even when
water is being used in other
parts of the home
• Height-adjustable hand showers
for every member
of the family
Product innovation is highly attuned to universal design principles, whether that’s infra-red, hands-free lighting, lever basin mixers or seamless, non-slip shower trays.
It’s not simply the function of a bathroom product that has come under the spotlight and today’s multigenerational bathrooms need to look as good as they work.
“Products that aid inclusive living have historically been seen as bolt-ons with little aesthetic appeal,” adds Cole at Häfele. “However, manufacturers are evolving their designs with aesthetics in mind.”
The market is certainly making great strides in design, with inclusive shower solutions and brassware perhaps leading the way.
However, Keuco’s new Axess range of accessible bathroom products – designed by Studio FA Porsche – might signal something of a
shift. Clinical-looking accessories are replaced with a blend of high design and intelligent functionality for every aspect of the bathroom, including hand rails, grab bars and a bathroom stool.
For some, however, there is still a way to go. This is likely the result of a lack of consumer education, rather than a lack of great-looking, barrier-free bathroom products or retailer ignorance.
“There is a case to say the next step is educating consumers and helping them understand that multigenerational products may not be on their radar now, but could be something they need to consider in coming years,” adds Harris at Showerwall.
So that retailers can meet customer needs in this growing market, manufacturers say they are on hand to help – whether with free retailer training and advice, providing working displays or hosting demonstrations so retailers can showcase all of the benefits
“It is vital for the industry as a whole to consider each member of the household when it comes to bathroom design,” says Ugbaja at Grohe UK. “The rise of mixed generations living together has seen the market for accessible bathroom design develop significantly. This provides retailers great opportunity to upsell and encourage future-proofing design consideration to customers.”
Crosswater’s Ticehurst has the last word: “Having more to offer in this space could set a retailer apart from the competition.”