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Contrast in Design

by Louis on January 24, 2008

I call for contrast between the bars and background in bathrooms I design. It is a good idea when the bars are easily visible. I also try to include contrast near the edge of the floor or between the wall and the floor. Less often I call for contrast at counter edges. As I have grown older and now need reading glasses in all but the best light and/or with large type I know how important contrast is, what a difference it can make.

I was in a new Starbucks the other day. Most Starbucks have recognizable decor. Sort of rust and other colors that is a little dark for my taste but is comfortably familiar. Layouts are different but the elements are the same. There is no doubt that Starbucks is the new American meeting place. Maybe the new American commons, a third place to spend time in addition to work and home. It has also become everyone’s blessedly convenient bathroom.

My local Starbucks has a motion sensitive light switch in the bathroom. It comes on when you enter. This one did not have a motion sensitive switch. It also did not have a switch I found with a quick reach. I looked outside to see if maybe it was ‘conveniently’ placed in the hall. Then I used one foot to hold the door open so I could use hallway light to search.

I finally found it, not poorly located, BUT the brown switch and cover was very hard to make out in dim light on the rust colored lower wall. This is new. In the days since I am looking for contrast needed in new places.

How important is contrast in design? Well, rushing into an unfamilair bathroom can be problematic, especially if the door closes and there is NO light. Contrast can be a factor in comfort, ease of use and safety. The flip side can be undermined confidence as well as danger. Important? You bet.

These same things are Aging in Place. Familiar, comforting surroundings are related to pride, comfort and dignity. Unfamiliar places contribute to increasing dementia. Convenience and safety are well being. Difficulty and danger are accidents, illness, injuries, cost and misery. Contrast should be included in good Universal Design environments for Aging in Place.

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