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An Ingenious Design Solution for an Aging America

Carl Christianson

Wand wanted to change that with Sabi. The company has already released a set of Yves Behar-designed pill boxes and water bottles, as well as a line of very stylish canes. The company’s newest endeavor, Sabi Space, is a collection of 13 bathroom accessories that cater to the aging set, but will probably end up in the bathrooms of 25-year-olds, too. Just as Oxo did for kitchen accessories, Sabi is betting that great design for the elderly, if done right, will naturally become a must-have product for the young because its many functional benefits.

You can mix and match components or remove the pegs altogether.

To design the products in the Sabi Space line, the company tapped MAP Project, a creative studio founded by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. When Wand first approached MAP, he didn’t even know what kind of product he was looking to develop. So MAP looked at research, interviewed people in Sabi’s demographic and came to a surprising conclusion. “We thought it would be about reaching and mobility,” says Jon Marshall, a founding director of MAP. And so they designed a slew of items like hand-holds. But it turns out that the biggest issue is creating a bathroom you want, without having to undergo the enormous pains of installation. Sabi’s insight was to create a system that can expand over time, chock full of human-centered design touches.

Bathrooms come with all sorts of hurdles for the older population. Safety is clearly a concern, but less obvious is the fact that many people, old and young, have a hard time creating a customized bathroom on their own. Porcelain and ceramic are hard to work with, and often require professionals to install something as simple as a shelf. “I want a 65-year-old woman to be able to install this system in her bathroom,” says Wand.

Ingeniously, MAP came up with a system of products that centers around a single building block: the peg. The collection includes bathroom standards like towel racks, mirrors and toilet paper rings, but each of those components connects to the wall through little aluminum pegs that adhere to the wall, no screws necessary. This way you can mix and match components or remove the pegs altogether if you decide that’s not where you want to place your mirror. “This is something you can’t do with any products in the bathroom right now,” says Marshall. “You can’t change your mind.” You also can’t expand upon the pieces you’ve already bought, reconfiguring them to changing needs. This system allows that.

Each piece comes with an ingenious graphic: On the back of the package, there’s a true-to-size rendering of the product, along with installation instructions. That way, you can literally hold the package up to a wall, and see how to install your new shelf or rack. It’s a thoughtful design touch, and the line is full of them. For instance, a rubber-coated aluminum grab bar that goes near the shower, the place where the majority of accidents happen in the bathroom. MAP worked with engineers to create a circular form that varies in thickness. “Some people, when they have arthritis, their hands become quite curved and they find it difficult to grip onto a thin round rail,” says Marshall. “So this is a range of different grip positions.”

The nod to medical issues is subtle, which is exactly how Wand wants it. Yes, Sabi Space is meant to make life easier for the aging without being patronizing, but you could just as easily imagine any of these pieces in a busy college student’s apartment— the grab bar included. In fact, Wand says, “We even use one for my kids.”

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