Dealers Suggest Universal Design Applications

Kitchen & Bath Design News recently posed the question to dealers and designers in the kitchen and bath industry: “How do you feel Universal Design is best incorporated into the kitchen and bath?” Following are some of their responses:

“I find bathrooms in general are going in the Universal Design direction. People are thinking about it and planning on staying in their homes longer. We’re automatically doing it more than we used to. Before, most people didn’t even know what Universal Design was. We only did it in condos, where it was required for multi-units. Now it’s not like that, especially in remodeling. People request it.

We do far more with baths than kitchens for Universal Design. It’s as if the clients foresee they’ll need access if something happens to them. In new homes, I’ve noticed doorways are getting larger. We’re finding more master baths on the first floor. People are leaving space underneath the vanities and putting in more grab bars. The bathrooms are getting wider to accommodate wheelchair access. Zero clearance so you can walk or roll into the shower and no-threshold bathrooms and showers are popular. The tubs are also getting shorter so people can swing their legs into them and the toilets are all higher now, too.

People are thinking about the future, considering that they may have Universal Design needs and how it will impact them when they age. They’re not planning on moving, so this is how they want to design their houses. Universal Design has no negative effects on the aesthetics of the bathroom, because bathrooms are getting cleaner, bigger and less cluttered anyway.”

Heather Alton, president
New England Kitchen & Bath
Londonberry, NH

“When incorporating Universal Design, I typically begin by analyzing how my client likes to work in the kitchen: considering appliances needs, material selections, counter surface needs and prioritized storage needs.

After we establish everything the customer wants, we then go over the fundamentals of Universal Design, including cabinet configurations, counter space for food prep and clean up. After all of these considerations are made, we often have to break it to the client that their dream island, or 60" pro range, may not be their best choice after considering their space. We have to explain the importance of Universal Design, showing them why the 36" walk aisles or the minimum 42" work aisles are necessary.

Sometimes a simple rearrangement of two appliances can open up a whole world of possibilities, so designers have to be on their toes and think outside the box, so to speak.”

Dan Whalen, asst. sales manager
Distinctive Design
Daytona Beach, FL

“Incorporating Universal Design begins with the entrance into the home and sufficient, ramped walkways and ADA access into the home or apartment. From there, the ability to navigate through the house to the universally designed areas is important. A lot of older homes have smaller doorways and steps leading into the house, so once you get into those areas you can follow the NKBA guidelines, which have been tested over time.

In the bath area, having shower bases that are designed well would be an area to improve on. I’d like to see high-quality materials and vanities [that are universially designed] implemented within each space. You can piece together a vanity from scratch, but there aren’t a lot of pre-designed units with an open underneath countertop look.

In the kitchen, appliances come to mind. It’s hard to make universally designed appliances, but there are a lot of products out there that would probably be hard for someone in a wheelchair to navigate.”

Tom Poulin, president
Poulin Design Remodeling
Albuquerque, NM

“I don’t approach incorporating Universal Design as an unusual circumstance. Whether it’s a family or couple, you find the needs for each person who will use the kitchen, space or home, and make provisions [to fit their needs]. If it’s done properly, the entire family can use it.

Having some dropped counter space is important [for someone with special needs], but it could also be used for the baking center. Depending on the person, it’s ergonomically better for their bodies, especially so their shoulders and arms don’t get lifted. That could additionally accommodate the person who might be in a wheelchair. It could also accommodate a shorter person who wants to do a little baking. A dropped sink, dropped counter, less deep counters and easier access to light switches are things I’d like to see more of. Heights are important when you’re talking about Universal Design, so perhaps modifying from the normal NKBA standards is something to consider.”

Bonnie Bagley, owner
Bagley Custom Interiors
Las Vegas, NV

“I suggest designers install a lower section counter in the kitchen. It’s definitely important to have wider walkway spaces and a work triangle as identified by the NKBA Guidelines. It’s also good to have wall cabinets that come down to the countertop, where you can reach and get to regularly used items with easier access. Adjustable heights for the sink are good, too. Ideally you want to get those to lower down. Wheelchair accessible space next to or underneath the sink is imperative. As a designer, versatility in products and design concepts is the name of the game.”

Shad Johnsen, CKD, owner
Portrait Kitchens
St. George, UT