Feature Article - September 2010
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Friendly Amenities

Making Decisions About Restroom Structures

By Richard Zowie


According to one saying, you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression. The same goes with restrooms.

One way restrooms should designed is so they can fit in with their surroundings instead of standing out, according to Moffette Tharpe, director of a Midland, Va.-based manufacturer of precast concrete buildings.

"With restrooms—especially concrete restrooms—you want to design them to fit into the surroundings so it looks like it fits right in," Tharpe said. "It's important they fit in and not stand out. It should be a natural part of the area."

Tharpe added that concrete restrooms shouldn't look too industrial or primitive, and that even with fancy colors and materials, they should still look natural.

Robert Brubaker, program manager of the American Restroom Association, said there is not necessarily much emphasis on the look of a restroom. From the feedback gathered by the Baltimore, Md.-based organization, people tend to prefer cleanliness and practicality over aesthetic appeal.

One safety feature people tend to like, Brubaker noted, is the labyrinth-like entrance, as opposed to a more traditional door.

"This way, if anything's going wrong, you could scream and easily be heard," he explained.

But far more important than any other factor, he said, is cleanliness. "Clean is the biggest thing about restrooms," he added. "Being clean far outweighs fancy design. People also like good tile floors that give the sense of cleanliness."

Galvin agreed. "People like restrooms that function and serve their purpose," she said. "When it comes down to it, no one will sacrifice functionality and cleanliness at a public restroom for quirkiness and cuteness."

For those who like using different colors or looks in restrooms, it really does depend on the location. Tharpe said Arizona restrooms might have earth tones (such as tan, brown or reddish-brown) or even a stone look. Restrooms in the Northeast might have colors that best accommodate brick or a finished, urban look. In Florida, where many houses have cinderblock, many restrooms go with split-faced block or even stucco with lighter colors that withstand the sun and heat.

Galvin reported that orange is becoming a more popular color.

"It might be a product of the popularity of warm, wood tones," she added. "Often a white bathroom can be warmed up with wooden beams or a ceiling."

Some colors or looks are chosen not only because they match a community's preferences, but also because they're practical.