IBS Showcases Universal Design

Having just returned from the International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Orlando, I am enthusiastic about the growing number of products and ideas that are helping to mainstream Universal Design. It seems that the age boom is combining with environmental efforts to bring us these products, with the concept of social equity being the focus.

Participating in the Universal Design Product Tours helped me to stand still long enough to see and appreciate these concepts and products that make it easier and more fun for us to design universally. And, in some cases, they also bring down the cost of good and attractive Universal Design.


In the bathroom, we strive to create a toileting area that is accessible and supportive of all members of the family. It will come as no surprise that toilets at comfortable heights seem to be the default these days, and the technology that warms the seat, tickles our toes, plays our music, provides wash and dry and evacuates bacteria and odors along with waste is more readily available.

In addition, a toilet seat that integrates a child seat and LED lighting that guides the way on nocturnal visits with minimal disruption to sleep patterns is beautifully universal. Not only are supports and grab bars becoming more attractive, they are being integrated into the accessories from multiple manufacturers.

In the vanity area, again LED lighting is improving our options for truly functional and attractive lighting for the task at hand, and I saw this at multiple booths. There were a variety of products that featured touch controls, and motion-activated faucets were also in evidence, as were easy-grip faucets. Once again, LED lighting was seen in helpful applications that put technology to great use, such as in bath faucets that indicated cold water with a blue light and warm water with a red light. While we’re on the roll with LED lighting, how about the floor tiles that beautifully incorporate lighting to gently help with way-finding?

We are all probably aware that, should a bather begin to slip in the shower or tub, he/she would likely grab whatever might be there to avoid falling. To reduce the risk that whatever is gripped might not hold, new products were on hand at the Builders’ Show, including an adjustable-height hand spray mounted on a bar that is designed as a grab bar. I also saw tubs shaped with edges that function as support grips.

There was a time not so long ago that, in order to create a trough-style drain with an attractive grill or grate, I would have had to design it and have it fabricated as a custom piece. But at this year’s show, I saw more of these systems, done attractively, and they offer multiple benefits in that we can now design with the same tile throughout the space, as the floor need slope in only one direction.


Ventilation in the bath and the kitchen is also expanding, including bath ventilation that incorporates soft colored lighting with a range of colors and intensity to serve for everything from night light or a relaxing spa experience to scrubbing. Equally notable, the latest ventilation products are so quiet, users would hardly know they’re present.

Kitchen ventilation now includes options for remote controls and temperature sensors that automatically activate the system when the temperature reaches a certain point.

In the kitchen, technology and design are moving “out of the box.” There are now multiple manufacturers offering cooktops with the elements in a linear configuration. This is so much easier and safer as they eliminate the need to reach over one burner to access the next one. Oven configurations include “French doors” and ranges with the smaller oven stacked above the main oven, which is so much easier for the shorter among us to maneuver around.

The other big kitchen story at the show had to do with cabinet accessorization. Lighted storage seemed particularly effective in corner base cabinets and drawers. Touch or bump, hands-free opening was especially valuable in the waste container and recycling cabinets. Hardware to allow us to open doors up or to the side, or to slide them, helps us to design those cabinet doors so they are never an impediment to movement and access.

One of my favorite discoveries was in a window exhibit. While there have been oversized, easy-grip cranks for casement windows, and there have been attractive cranks, these features have rarely been combined. At the show I saw an ideal combination of beauty and function, which is my definition for Universal Design. Wherever double-hung windows are prevalent, it can be nearly impossible to find easy-open versions. This comes up with even the strongest of clients simply because the window in question is obstructed by such design components as the kitchen sink. It was big news for me to discover a crank system for opening and closing double hung windows.

Having mentioned some of my favorite lighting applications, it is still worth applauding the lighting companies for their recent research in the color of light. It seems that, by asking the right questions, we may find easier paths to designing consistent color in the lighting we design into our spaces.

While this is just a taste of what interested me at this year’s Builders’ Show, it demonstrates how the trend toward incorporating Universal Design concepts is increasingly becoming the norm. Teaming up with environmentally sound design efforts – a natural fit, as a Universal Design spaces will last longer and be healthier – has helped to speed up the process.

The good news is that this offers us, as kitchen and bath designers, a clearer path to creating better, more flexible and functional design, and it is an opportunity for us to broaden our personal brand and our business.

With all of this coming out of the Builders’ Show, I can hardly wait to see what this month’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show has in store for us!