Forget the latest trend of the year and fast-forward to the designs of the future—15 years into the future to be precise. Builders are already looking ahead to construct homes for the set that will be 65 and over by 2030. The retirees of the future are fashion forward and design conscious. They are also multi-taskers who value functionality. Now that’s smart design that anyone—regardless of age—can get into.
Enter universal design, the perfect mix of functionality and visual pleasure. It is a concept that’s been around for a while, but interest in it is only just starting to take off. It will be the designer’s bread and butter in a few years.
Universal Design Basics
Universal design is not a new concept. It’s more about how spaces and products are used in a design than the style of the design. Its basic tenet is focused around usability. Spaces are designed to support the people who live there. For instance: a couple who differ greatly in height will not both be comfortable with the same height kitchen counters. Universal design creates workspaces for each without it being obvious to the onlooker.
“When universal design is done right, you don’t notice it. It just works better.”
-Mary Jo Peterson, kitchen and bath designer at Mary Jo Peterson, Inc. in Connecticut
Mary Jo Peterson, one of the foremost universal designers, told Builder Magazine recently that she started out designing for clients with disabilities. This background influences her universal designs which take the sensible concepts of accessibility and adapts them for a different audience.
Universal design speaks to the upcoming generation’s attention to sustainability and longevity. They want a design that will take them through the years, no matter what they bring—a design that will support activity into the golden years.
The Slow Integration into Mainstream
Perhaps you’ve noticed how handy this sort of design can be for everyone, not just an aging generation. So why haven’t we adopted it more readily? Traditions die hard, but things are changing slowly.
Potential homeowners aren’t afraid anymore to ask for the oven to be moved up so they don’t have to bend over to use it. They want continuous bathroom tile all over their bathrooms including no-threshold showers so they don’t have to step over a potentially dangerous ledge. Comfort in home design is finally starting to take a front seat.
Universal Design Now
Start planning for universal design from the very start.
- Don’t’ put the microwave over the range where you can’t reach it
- Embrace in-wall appliances at a good height for you
- Include a tall island in the kitchen for taller folks at home
- Turn the master bath into a spa-like retreat with custom vanities
- Select a taller toilet that fits your natural sitting height
All in all, the point is to think through your design—not just visualize how it will look, but what it will be like to use it. You’ll find your design becomes simpler rather than more complicated and you can still make it look great.