The concept of Universal Design originated in the health-care community and is fast becoming the standard in home building and interior design. Whether you have children, an aging parent, or someone with limited mobility in your house, everyone will feel comfortable when you apply Universal Design principles at home.
Universal Design involves smart and intuitive planning, which proves a little thought and small changes will create a home where everyone could live comfortably for years to come.
If you have any preconceived notions of what Universal Design may look like, think again.
Interior designer Jennifer Ussleman of Intersect Design takes the practical, functional principles of Universal Design and cleverly disguise them.
Upon first look, a well-designed Universal space won't appear modified. It is the things you might not notice that really make the difference.
Instead of climbing stairs to reach the front or back door, have a gradually inclined ramp. Ramps create easy access for wheelchairs and strollers and are more comfortable when walking.
The standard doorframe is 28 to 30 inches, but just by slightly widening it (to 32 or 36 inches) you open up access for those with wheelchairs or walkers.
Also consider painting the trim around the doorframe in a high-contrast color. This will make it easier to be seen.
Mix up your seating options at the dining table by adding a bench. Its versatility is more than just adding a causal aesthetic. Adding a bench allows easy access to the table for anyone in a wheelchair. Or, simply slide it over some so that a highchair will easily fit.
By lowering the counter height in the kitchen from 36 inches to 34 inches, you instantly give better access to counter-level appliances such as the cooktop and ADA-approved prep sink, shown here in the Cooking Light FitHouse The designer also added a lower counter for comfortable dining (You can just pull up standard-height chairs!).
When it comes to storage, lower cabinets and open shelving are key in keeping towels, dishes, and even pantry items at an easily accessible level for the entire family.
Reconsider where you locate electrical switches and outlets. Raising electrical to 27 inches above the floor requires less bending down. And light switches--best if they are dimmers--can be located at 40 inches above the floor for easy access.
Minimize the number of flooring transitions (hardwood to tile) and the use of carpet. This reduces tripping hazards and makes it easier for anyone with limited mobility.
It's easy to incorporate Universal Design principles in the bathroom. Adding a built-in seat, a curbless shower, and a hand-held showerhead will make it more comfortable to use.
Be smart when choosing your appliances. A French door-style refrigerator is easier to access from a wheelchair because the freezer is on the bottom.
A smooth induction cooktop, with controls close to the front, makes cooking safer (the burners on an induction cooktop remain cool to the touch).
Lowering wall ovens a few inches and installing a drawer dishwasher are also key components to consider.
>Take a tour of the Cooking Light 2008 FitHouse Universal Design kitchen.