Use Universal Design to Convert Layouts, Clients

LAS VEGAS, NV— While each generation is seemingly rewriting what it means to reach certain milestones in terms of activity and ability, clients may want to consider “Universal Design” principles that can improve the functionality and viability of their kitchen or bath. In fact, according to Drue Lawlor of Dallas, TX-based education-works, inc., consumers may be happy to know that many aging-in-place products can enhance the aesthetics of a space just as readily.

Lawlor, who led the “Kitchens and Baths for All Ages” seminar at last month’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) here, explains: “Universal Design is design that works, no matter your age or ability.”

At the seminar, Lawlor offered seven Universal Design principles developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental researchers from the North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, that will not only improve layouts, but may also change consumer views of Universal Design.

Lawlor suggests spending ample time reviewing the capabilities of universal design products before suggesting them to clients.

“When viewing the products, look at them with an additional evaluation guide. As you are assessing these products, imagine that you have arthritis, poor eyesight, are confined to a wheelchair, or are simply very tall or very short,” Lawlor offers.

She suggests trying to create expansion within existing space, or the sense that a grab bar is a piece of art. Likewise, multiple showerheads and handhelds, a shower seat or a fold-down bench can be treated much the same way.

“If the walls are not grab-bar ready, there are some grab bars on the market that attach to the wall,” she adds.

Indeed, evaluation of availability and capability of products is also critical to the process, she says.

“Designers should always ask themselves whether a product is an example of Universal Design,” Lawlor adds. “If a fall forced your client to use a walker, or if he or she developed arthritis, could the product [or use of it] be easily and quickly adapted?”

Laws of Design

According to Lawlor, the seven principles that kitchen and bath designers should consider when selecting products and design layouts for clients are:

  • Equitable Use: Refers to the same usage ability for all users. Examples of these types of products would be side-open oven doors, which are safer and more accessible; or power doors with sensors.
  • Flexibility in Use: Meaning that the user has a choice of methods to use, basically accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. These products would include hand-held showers, especially by the seating area in a shower.
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: Refers to the fact that the use of the design is easy to understand.
  • Perceptible Information: Using tactile, verbal and pictorial guides to communicate information effectively to the consumer. Examples of this would be audible or flashing fire alarms; or tactile, visual or audible cues on thermostats.
  • Tolerance for Error: Ensures that the design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences.
  • Low Physical Effort: Allows users to exert the least amount of effort to accomplish a task. These designs can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum amount of fatigue. She cites levers or loop handles on doors and faucets as effective products.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Required to create a clear line of sight to important elements for seated or standing users in the kitchen or bath. This principle allows for approach, reach and manipulation of products or work areas.

Concept Considerations

According to Lawlor, the design principles are equally suitable for the kitchen and bath. In fact, once a product has been selected and evaluated, kitchen and bath designers should determine how the product rates according to the design principles.

With regard to the kitchen, she offers: “Solid surface material for countertops can offer easier cleaning, so there is less chance for bacteria to build up.”

She also suggests rounding off corners on all countertops, especially for visually impaired persons, and notes that “contrasting colors on counter edges, or at least between counters and cabinets, increases visibility for those with visual impairments.”
Furthermore, Lawlor suggests suspending a mirror above the cooking area to allow vision into pots for a seated person if the cooktop cannot be lowered.

She adds: “Portable induction cooktops are great additions for accessibility. Try also to include pull-out shelving or accessible counter space near ovens and microwaves to allow for transfer of hot items.”

She also notes that microwaves should not be placed over cooktops, as it causes a danger for users who may be reaching over hot surfaces.

With regard to the bath, Lawlor reports that storage considerations are extremely important, as is the need for clearance space in front and to one side of the toilet

“A curbless shower eliminates the [chance] of tripping, while it makes it easier for those using wheelchairs or walkers,” she explains.

Likewise, Lawlor suggests that designers incorporate an integral or folding seat in the shower as well as a hand-held showerhead with adjustable height capabilities.

“When working with products and clients,” she adds, “no matter their age or ability, design with universal access in mind. Ask many questions, observe and listen.”

She concludes: “No one can predict the future, but we can be proactive in how we design for it.”

For more about this project, log onto to the Live Events, Project Spotlight and Consumer Resources sections, as well as the Kitchen & Bath Confidential blog.