Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Universal Design Principles: Providing a Comfortable Home for Decades to Come

Universal design principles are a relatively new concept. As modern homes have become bigger, taller, and more complex, aging seniors and those with disabilities find themselves at a distinct disadvantage: they love their home but can no longer inhabit it comfortably. More and more clients are approaching interior designers and architects with a simple request: I want a home that will serve our family's needs for decades to come. This request has led the design industry to implement universal design principles - meaning designs that accommodate a variety of living needs.

For the homeowner, this provides security that with time and the expected - and unexpected - life progressions, adults and children will be able to enjoy a home that accommodates everyone's needs. It also add significant value to your home, making it marketable to a wider range of potential buyers. Here is a list of space-by-space considerations for  more universally functional home, while maintaining a luxurious and aesthetically pleasing interior design.

The Kitchen

Kitchens can be one of the trickiest places to navigate when mobility becomes an issue. Wheelchairs, walkers, and arthritic joints can transform a high-end kitchen into an inaccessible obstacle course.
  • Cabinets: Consider cabinet drawers, as opposed to doors, with heavy-duty sliders. They can be designed to stack dishware, include spice racks, slide-out trash receptacles, etc. No more bending/reaching into the far recesses of your cabinets.
  • Room to maneuver: Leave enough space between the island, peninsula, and between counters, appliances and in corners to allow a wheelchair or walker to pass and/or turn comfortably.
  • Side Access Appliances. Ensure appliances can be easily approached, opened, and utilized from the side. Consider a separate stove-top with space for knees underneath.
  • Drawer pulls. Small nobs and artsy drawer/cabinet pulls aren't always the easiest to access for weak or stiff hands. Think about using large nobs or handles which can accommodate the whole hand in order to be pulled open.
The Bathroom

Some of the ideas from the kitchen will translate to a universally designed bathroom. Other features to consider include:
Foot-operated or levered faucets for easy utilization
  • Grab bars in the bath/shower area
  • Hand-held shower faucets that can be used in a bathing chair if necessary
  • Room for knees under the sink
  • A Raised toilet 
These features can be added without detracting from your overall design.

General Living Space


While you may desire a multi-level home, it's a good idea to ensure the first level includes a living area, bedroom/bathroom, laundry room and kitchen so those with limited mobility have a comfortable, spacious habitat, even if other areas of the home are more readily accessible to the rest of the family. Additional universal design elements would include things like:
  • Wider hallways
  • Front loading washers/dryers
  • Pocket doors to seal unused areas of the home off from unnecessary heating/cooling
  • Raised Electrical outlets
  • Lowered light switches/dimmers
  • Step-free entrance and exits from main entrance and/or patio areas
If you are considering a renovation or remodel, give a second thought to implementing at least a few universal design elements. They will improve your home's resale value and will create an attractive space that will allow you to age comfortably.


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