Just What is Universal Design?

508 Monarch Trail-large-012-Master Bath 23-1500x995-72dpiUniversal design homes are beautiful, functional, comfortable, flexible, safe, and accessible. Looking beyond the requirements for barrier-free design, a predominately disability-focused movement, universal design brings openness, light, and ease to the environment.  Unlike the majority of our existing homes that have physical barriers to mobility, universal design homes improve the livability of the space, not just for the elderly and the disabled, but for everyone – that’s why it’s called universal.

There are seven principles of universal design (probably not of particular interest or use to the reader of this article, but if you happen to be curious, there’s plenty to explore here. The principles, as they apply to our work in residential remodeling, are focused on three main areas of the home: entry ways – at least one zero-step entry; adequate maneuvering space – particularly interior doorways of adequate width to accommodate a wheelchair; and bathrooms with level-entry showers. We are always mindful of the aesthetics of the environment – an essential and integral element of universal design.

One doesn’t have to embark on a major remodeling project to incorporate universal design principles and to make the home safer and more amenable to independent living.  Here are some modifications that can be accomplished relatively quickly to facilitate graceful living—with minimal expenditure.

For the Bathroom

  • Add a shower seat —while the ideal may be a beautiful, tile level-entry shower, it may not be the most practical solution today. There are many shower seats available today, and some are quite beautiful! Keep in mind that you want a seat that will provide comfort and stability.
  • Replace a stationary shower head with a hand held shower head on a slide bar.
  • Install grab bars. Color and style options are available today, so you’re not locked in to the same ol’ stainless steel look. Consider contrasting color for improved visibility.
  • Replace two-handle faucets with single-lever faucets.
  • Replace standard toilet with “comfort height” toilet.
  • The importance of adequate light, and good quality light, are often overlooked.  Replace low-watt bulbs with higher wattage, where possible, or upgrade fixtures if needed. LED lights increase light intensity and reduce energy use over “old-style” bulbs.

         lever door handles      KraftMaid kitchen

Other Areas

  • Lower upper cabinet shelves where possible, and place most often used items on the most easily reachable shelves.
  • Replace cabinet knobs with ‘D’ shaped pulls (or latches that open to the touch).
  • The importance of good lighting cannot be overemphasized. You’ll want plenty of task lighting in the kitchen. Pay special attention to stairways and hallways.
  • Organize a heat-resistant surface adjacent to the stove, oven, and microwave to place hot pots.
  • Adjust refrigerator shelves so that lighter foods are on top shelves and heavier ones on the center (waist level) shelves.
  • Install a single-lever faucet at kitchen sink.
  • Place microwave on counter for easy access.
  • Install pull-out drawers and pop-up shelves in bottom cabinets for appliances.
  • Store food in plastic containers for ease of selecting and carrying.
  • Install low-profile thresholds or threshold ramps for thresholds that exceed 1/2”.
  • Install railings at any steps and on both sides of stairs.
  • Install non-skid stair treads, especially on exterior stairs.
  • Increase lighting on stairs.

Universal Design is smart design. It’s design that enables people of all ages and abilities to accomplish their activities of living with ease and grace, and with features that can be customized to meet special needs.

Love begins at home.
- Mother Teresa