"Universal Design” is a term you may not yet be familiar with, but probably will hear more about in the future.
The concept, originally aimed at creating easily accessible spaces for individuals with physical disabilities, has evolved into the design of functional, stylish spaces that make maneuverability easier for anyone, regardless of age, size or ability. Sometimes it goes by other names, such as inclusive design, design for all, lifespan design or human-centered design. But regardless of what you call it, Universal Design is moving to the forefront of the housing conversation as baby boomers purchase homes with their retirement years in view.
Homes that incorporate Universal Design elements allow residents to age in place. In other words, those who live in a home with these special features will be just as comfortable today as they will be down the road, as their needs and abilities change with age. Here’s a list of some of Universal Design’s most popular features:
• Single-floor layouts: No need to worry about stairs tripping you up in one-story floor plans where bedrooms, kitchen, at least one full bathroom and common areas are all located on the same level.
• Step-free entries: Entering and exiting the home, or the home’s main rooms, is easy for everyone, regardless of whether they roll or stroll over the threshold using a wheelchair, a walker, or just their own two feet.
• Wide doorways and hallways: Doorways that are at least 36 inches wide, and hallways that are at least 42 inches wide, allow for the easy movement of large pieces of furniture or appliances. They also improve the home’s traffic flow by providing lots of room for occupants to move in, out and around easily.
• Strategically placed controls and switches: Light switches and thermostats placed no higher than 48 inches off the floor are within easy reach for most people, even those in wheelchairs. Similarly, electrical outlets located 18 to 24 inches off the floor are convenient for all.
• Multi-level kitchen counter tops with open space underneath so that the cook can work while seated: This one proves that even everyday tasks like cooking can be more pleasant when they’re performed from a seated position.
• Andy Warren is president of Arizona homebuilder Maracay Homes, part of the TRI Pointe Homes family of builders. He serves on the board of directors and as an executive committee member with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and is a past board member of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. He is also a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership and an active member of the Urban Land Institute. For more information about Maracay Homes, visit www.maracayhomes.com.