If the measure of a quality builder is constructing homes that suit the needs of clients through all of life’s stages, then universal design is a concept we all must embrace and
intentionally execute in the design and building phases of construction. Universal design is the notion that home elements are intentionally chosen, which brings ease and common sense to everyday living. According to Ron Mace of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Universal design succeeds because it goes beyond specialization. The concept promotes designing every product and building so that everyone can use them to the greatest extent possible –every faucet, light fixture, shower stall, or entrance. Universal design is a revolutionary but practical leap forward in the evolution of
building and design procedures. When designers and manufacturers seize this concept, universal design will become common, convenient, and profitable.”
Everyone from young mothers to athletes recovering from surgery, an aged parent living with empty nester family members or in-laws who embrace having an extended family summer vacation at their home, universal design makes being at home a true sanctuary from the outside world by anticipating the changing needs of the modern American family. When a family can stay in the same home for a lifetime, the well-built, well-planned home is sustainable, enduring the changing seasons of a family’s life story.
Sustainable living features should not cost more money; in fact many of its elements actually get rid of wasted walls and materials. Building a home on one-level with minimum stairs to door entry is the first key of accessibility. Instead of clients being offended by suggesting they limit stairs in their design, simply ask, “Do any of your friends or family members struggle with stairs?” If the home is the place for families to gather, it needs to be accessible by all family members—those who may have a physical disability, those temporarily on crutches or in a wheelchair recovering from surgery or an accident, those who use an assistive device to walk, etc. The idea is not to have the home owner focus on aging; rather, the idea is to get them thinking about how their home can be a welcome, non-intimidating environment for all with whom they do life. If stairs are something your client insists upon, consider offering the option of an added lift or elevator to their multi-story home.
Another aspect of logically connected spaces is to remove as many interior walls and hallways as possible. Life is often fast-paced, leaving little time to truly connect with family and friends. In the moments friends and family converge in the same home, it is appealing to have living, gathering, and cooking space that is connected so loved ones can experience true connection. In times past, women would spend the better part of a holiday meal, for instance, in the kitchen cooking, serving, and cleaning while the men gathered in the television room watching a game or holiday special. Kids were relegated to bedrooms or outdoors to play and keep quiet. Essentially, the family did not spend much time together at all. Today’s universally-designed home offersspaces—notrooms—that are natural extensions of the next, making relationships and connections more naturally compatible and interactive. Exterior entrances minimize slope from the driveway to the front door
Doorways and walking spaces are wide, not narrow, and hallways are incorporated as little as possible. Wide doorways make unloading the car from weekly errand running much less cumbersome for homeowners. It makes getting that new sofa or treadmill in the door a whole lot simpler as well. When discussing Universal Design elements with clients, the basic use of fewer walls and wider walking spaces creates a timeless footprint for every season of life.
As important as interconnected living space and easily-accessible doors and walkways are, today’s modern family expects a home that is environmentally responsible. When planning a home, help your client anticipate future trends in energy and water conservation. The use of Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, and low or no VOC paints are smart options to lessen energy use and reduce chemicals in the home. Designing homes with large windows to capitalize on natural sunlight helps eliminate excessive use of interior illumination. Adding materials inside the home that reflect light (think glass and metal) not only contribute to beautiful design elements