Thoughtful Approach to Universal Design

A recent article in Remodeling Magazine noted that to be successful in universal design, the builder must know more than the fixtures, cabinet sizes and building codes. He needs to know the client. We’ve applied this concept to every client, but it stands to reason that it’s even more important when dealing with universal design and aging in place.

Homes that were built 30-40 years ago are proving to be hazardous for today’s aging population. From sunken living rooms to complicated plumbing fixtures, there are potentials for falls and frustration everywhere. Whether it’s the inability to manipulate shower controls or poor lighting that causes residents to fall or avoid tasks, the inadequacies of current homes surface differently for different people.Universal design for bathrooms, kitchens, hallways and lighting calls for features that are easy to navigate and manipulate. But that doesn’t mean there’s a single standard for everyone. The innovative builder will get to know his client’s lifestyle and strive to make the home more conducive to living that lifestyle.

We like to ask our clients about their habits. Are you left-handed or right-handed? This counts in placing cabinet doors, plumbing fixtures and more. Do you have health issues that can be addressed within the remodeling design? Perhaps there is already something they are preparing for in the home that isn’t readily evident. It could be arthritic fingers, trouble walking or fear of falling. Eliminating the frustrations that are already in the home and replacing them with solutions result in a satisfied client.

A contractor who has experience in universal design and aging in place is a good start. He will have solutions that work and recommendations that are meaningful. Look for contractors who don’t just meet the building code. Seek out those who exceed it by personalizing the home to the client and don’t give up when a solution isn’t immediately evident.