Nowadays, outfitting a home for the elderly or disabled doesn’t have to mean institutional-style grab bars and roll-in showers. Thanks to ‘universal design’ (UD), aesthetics don’t have to be sacrificed for safety.

Matt LaMartina of Tony LaMartina Plumbing Company explains UD as a movement to make buildings and products both aesthetic and usable by everyone regardless of ability. It has come about, he says, largely because of increased life expectancy. As baby boomers reach a later phase of life, there are an increasing range of products and services available to ease their passage from middle to old age. “Features for mobility-impaired people now only add to the elegance of the space,” he says. “You don’t want (or have to have) your house look like a hospital.” LaMartina has been in the plumbing business with his father—who started the company in 1981—for the past four years. The family business (with its team of 12) has its fingers on the pulse of new trends in the trade, especially when it comes to retrofitting homes for the aging boomer generation.

obc-tony-lamartina-no-box-10Nowhere is safety more of an issue than in the bathroom, LaMartina points out. “Bathrooms are common sites for slips and falls,” he says. “Take the shower, for instance: you don’t want a lip that can be tripped over.” Ideally, it ought to have a seat or allow for a wheelchair, and tiles on the shower door and throughout the room should be slip-resistant. “Done the right way, a roll-in shower, one that accommodates a wheelchair, can look contemporary and very sleek,” he says.

Traditional bathtubs also can cause problems for infirm seniors, but some now come with doors. Such a feature is made possible, LaMartina explains, by a rubber membrane inside the door, which inflates by pneumatic pump to create a watertight seal. Grab bars throughout the room are essential, he says, and a wall-mounted toilet installed at a comfortable, non-standard height is something to consider as well. He suggests that separate hot and cold faucets be switched out for the single, levered variety. “For someone with arthritis, a tap that requires less complicated movement is preferable,” he says. It also requires less temperature adjustment.

LaMartina reports he already has installed certain features for his own father, working with other contractors (carpenters, electricians and tile-setters) to bring all the elements together. He is sensitive to the issue, he says, realizing that most people want to ‘age in place’ in their own homes as long as they can. “We want to help people maintain their dignity,” he says. “And we have ways to do that.”

A blog on the plumbing company’s website provides a wealth of tips on everything from retrofitting a home with Universal Design to water conservation and getting rid of sewer smells.

Tony LaMartina Plumbing Company specializes in various types of plumbing issues, from running toilets and leaky faucets to grab bar and roll-in shower installation. Pictured on the cover: The LaMartina staff. For more information, call 314.965.9377 or visit

Cover design by Allie Bronsky | Cover photo by Chris Bauer