Grab Bars and Other Modern Metaphors

Hold On Tight for the New Year

My sister-in-law, who is an architect, recently led a workshop on the concept of accessibility for a design studio in the Middle East, which got me thinking, not only about grab bars but also about things that seize the imagination and sometimes cross boundaries. Practicality first: I think accessible designs — from grab bars to barrier-free elements like wheelchair compatible counters — should be elegant as well as useful. They do not need to look cumbersome, institutional, or like an afterthought. Some product manufacturers and designers know this and are showing how to combine comfort and style, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. For example, plumbing fixture manufacturer Moen has produced a handsome grab bar that incorporates a toilet roll holder into a single sleek curve.

Another grab bar is seamlessly integrated into a tray for soap and sponges (both

photos courtesy Moen). This is just common sense: good design is about solving problems gracefully, not to mention keeping things (and people) in balance. And even a Cirque de Soleil acrobat might need a steadying hand now and then, especially if she or he slips on the body wash. (Of course you need to screw all grab bars and related elements into the wall studs.) Jaclo’s new slotted channel drain

gate makes it possible to step or roll across the threshold and into the shower unimpeded. For the kitchen, Broan has introduced an under-cabinet range hood — their

Evolution QP3 Series —  with an optional hand-held remote allowing you to control the lights and fan without reaching up, which might be difficult or impossible if you’re in a wheelchair. On a broader scale, we have an expanding collection of plans designed for accessibility, such as the Inspired In-Law Cottage Plan 507-1 by Larson Shores Architects, which includes a shallow ramp to

the entry deck, as well as as a roll-in shower and a hallway handrail that does double duty as a picture rail.

Now what about intellectual grab bars — design ideas that seize the imagination and cross boundaries or even twist away to set you off balance? One definition of Modernism – that “form ever follows function” in Louis Sullivan’s famous phrase — has captivated architects for more than a century. Functionalist elements like the open plan, window walls, and seamless transitions between inside and outside are all aspects of Modernism and remain hugely seductive and useful elements for shaping a home. You can see a particularly elegant, if menacing illustration of these ideas in the Miesian glass box on the cliff in the recently released film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher (the American version), which I saw last week. The house is real, according to Mark Lamster of the Design Observer, and it’s the Villa

Abbortkroken in Overby, Sweden by Jon Robert Nillson, Architect (photo courtesy Design Observer). It’s very beautiful. But what a cinematic metaphor and what a set-up! In the movie the utterly transparent living areas of the house — white walls and modern furniture and art, minimalist kitchen island, heavy glass sliding doors — and the apparent good will of the owner, Martin Vanger, are used to hide a gruesome secret, which I won’t divulge here. It’s a classic bait and switch and very well done. Accessibility? NOT! But it certainly grabbed my attention! It also made me struggle to think of an example where a modern house was used as a metaphor (grab bar) for good, or at least hope. (This could be a game.) All I could come up with was the marvelous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Walker house on the beach at Carmel, California, completed in the early 1950s and used as the home of a newly reunited couple in the melodramatic 1959 film A Summer Place, starring Dorothy McGuire, Troy Donahue, and Sandra Dee (image below courtesy Gutbrain Records).

A key line deftly capturing this home’s redemptive quality (courtesy The Internet Movie Database) is read by the Dorothy McGuire character: “We live in a glass house — we’re not throwing any stones.” Now that sounds like accessibility to me, and a good start for the year ahead. May it be the best yet.

3 responses to “Grab Bars and Other Modern Metaphors

  1. I live in Louisiana and am looking for house plans for myself and my husband who is in a wheelchair. We are just approaching our 50’s and although the house will be in a country setting, I love the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and have a certain design concept in mind for our home. Any ideas or places to start?

  2. Various designs could be made to make your grab bar unique. This would depend on the style that you would like to have to ensure that you could utilize it properly.

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