Function with style: Bathroom grab bars are no longer looking institutional

05/22/2014 5:41 PM

05/24/2014 9:57 AM

The renovation of the master bathroom in my 83-year-old father’s new house turned out beautifully, with a frameless glass shower and handmade ceramic tile accents. Neither of us wanted to make it look institutional with a grab bar.

We needn’t have worried.

Many of today’s grab bars are cleverly disguised, looking instead like sleek soap dishes, functional shampoo trays, trendy towel racks and even toilet-paper holders.

Take for instance the corner shelf from American Standard’s Invisia line. It looks like nothing more than a solid white tray set inside a tubular frame. But that tube, available in brushed stainless or chrome, functions as a grab bar and can support as much as 500 pounds.

Want fun and funky? Best Bath Systems has a series of acrylic towel bars with hidden mounts that come in more than two dozen colors, some opaque, some translucent, some with embedded stones, and some that even glow in the dark.

Or, for a spa feel, the company makes a teak grab bar that comes in six lengths, from 10 inches to 42 inches. Mounting hardware is available in a choice of five finishes.

“We realized there were a lot of people who wanted an attractive option for safety, and who didn’t want to be reminded of their inabilities first thing in the morning and last thing at night,” said Abbie Sladick, 53, of Naples, Fla., a certified contractor and remodeler who created the GreatGrabz line. Best Bath Systems bought the line last year.

Still, I wondered what having a grab bar in the bathroom might do to the eventual resale value of the house. Turns out, it might just help it.

A 2012 survey found that about half of people ages 55 to 64 thought that bathroom aids, such as grab bars and shower seating, were “essential” or “desirable.” That rose to nearly two-thirds among those age 65 and older. Even in the younger age groups, about a third of those surveyed agreed.

Statistics show that while people 85 and older are the most likely to slip and fall, no age group is immune. Nearly 22 million people over age 15 went to the hospital because of a bathroom injury in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls accounted for more than 80 percent of the injuries.

Some things to think about when choosing a grab bar:

• Consider the weight of the people who will be using it. Some bars are rated to support 250 pounds, the amount required to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Others support 500 pounds.
• Compare prices and quality. The Invisia shampoo shelf retails for about $285 online, depending on the finish, while one made by Moen is available at Home Depot for about $40.
• Be aware of how it will be mounted. If you haven’t reinforced the back of your shower or tub with plywood, you’ll likely need a bar with 16-inch offsets, or multiples thereof, to secure it properly.
• Many people think of grab bars for the shower and bathtub, but consider putting one near the toilet, too. The 10-inch bars from Best Bath Systems can be mounted to hold a roll of toilet paper. Invisia, meanwhile, makes a more substantial 13-inch-high arched toilet paper holder.

With so many choices, it was easy to find attractive options for my father’s bathroom. And the best part is, no one knows it.

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