Universal design is a lot more than just helping those with difficulties getting around the home. It’s about making a home both functional and beautiful in the same moment, because even the homeowners who might require their home to be universally designed, don’t necessarily want it to look that way. In its truest essence it’s really about making the home usable by everyone to the best extent possible without overt specialization being done to the home.
Organizations and studies on universal design are popping up all over the United States. As the population continues to age and live longer, there is this developing want to continue to live the active lifestyles everyone else is living.
Putting it together
“What universal design means for homeowners is that you can live and stay in a home without having to move because your home doesn’t support your activities any longer,” says Richard Duncan, director of universal design training at The Center for Universal Design. “If you need to customize it later on, you won’t have to spend as much money or have nearly the hassle that you would normally have with standard housing.”
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University focuses its attention on educating homeowners, builders and remodelers on what is expected in order to make a home universally designed. The Center’s original universal house feature list was created in 2001 to ease adoption for contractors and include elements, features and ideas that contribute to components of a universal house. These concepts include areas such as the entrance, making all doorway widths a minimum of 32 in. wide; interior circulation; bathroom; decks, building decks at the same level as the house floor; kitchens; garages and carports; switches and controls; laundry area; storage; home automation; windows; hardware; light and color; and sliding doors.
There’s a whole range of things in kitchen design Duncan talks about: pantry style storage that puts storage at different heights; differential counter heights; and full extension drawers and slide out shelves in base cabinets to be able to get to the things at the back without a lot of bending and stretching to get at those things. Duncan also suggested adding room lighting and undercounter lighting, which is really big right now, especially for older eyes that need the extra light.
“The universal design of the house means that you’ve included some key usability features in a way that’s fully integrated and blended with the overall design of the house and that makes the features invisible,” says Duncan. “It also gives the homeowners a market advantage if they decide to resell the house.”
When looking at longer term growth in a universally-designed home, the Center recommends ways to making future remodeling projects easier like including at least one set of stacked closets, pantries or storage spaces with a knock-out floor if the home is two-story. In the future, as mobility becomes an issue for the homeowners, this space can then be later converted into an elevator shaft. But the center is not the only resource for the industry.
In Suwanee, Ga., the Universal Design Alliance was founded in March of 2003 with a mission to create awareness and expand the public’s knowledge of universal design. The UDA is partnered with other design/build entities to promote universal design features to both industry members and consumers.
As UDA sees it, the housing stock in the United States is built to accommodate the average 25-year-old, 6-ft.-tall male. This is actually a minute segment of the entire population, meaning that most homes are not built to the best design for most homeowners. Of course the baby boomers can’t be overlooked these days, as their aging is spurring so many trends in today’s market. They have the greatest amount of wealth, with women living longer than men. The UDA focuses on these aspects, as well as others, to find the best way to make everyone happy in the home they are living in.