Universal Design Considerations for the Home

There are a great many and varied modifications that you can make to your home. Well planned ones are what make the universally designed home a success compared to than a conventionally designed home with a lot of band-aids added as age progresses or as disabilities arise. Well-thought, built-in elements keep the users from feeling like their home is turning into a hospital. Imagine a plastic chair added to your shower instead of an attractive built in shower seat. Ageing people or people with disabilities have the most trouble in the more hard working and utilitarian areas of the home  — the kitchen and bath. Below are some considerations for kitchen and bath as you renovate a home with universal needs in mind.

Our Universal Design Mantra: Make it invisible or make it beautiful


Balance Bars – also known as grab bars these are stability handles that are installed in showers and around toilets.

Built-in Balance Bars:

The bars below were clearly a consideration from the very outset of the design.

Retrofit Balance bars:

These balance bars were added as an afterthought.  While they are utilitarian, they also cheapen the look and design of the room that they are used in. Why hire a designer if down the road, you may have to mar your lovely investment with band-aids like these?


Wet Rooms and European Showers

Barrier free showers are important for universally designed bathrooms. Below we show an instance of a European shower — a shower that one could roll into if need be; and an instance of a wet room — a fully tiled room with minimal barriers and drainage on the floor. The wet room shown below features both a shower and a tub so that small children can still have tubby time.

Less than ideal bathing solutions are the walk out tub and (again) the cheap, unattractive retrofits for added accessibility. While walk out tubs seem like comfortable and clever solutions, this poor lady is going to have to sit there, getting cold while she waits for her ultra deep tub to drain before she can open the door to exit and towel off.

Faucet Grips

Ergonomics is key when it comes to faucet handles, door knobs and drawer pulls. Someone with poor dexerity or arthritis could have trouble with a turn-knob faucet handle. Virtually anyone would be able could use a paddle handle or a lever style handle on their faucet.

Roll Up & Wall Mounted Sinks

Persons who rely on wheelchairs or walkers will find ease of use in wall mounted  and roll up sinks. A well designed bathroom will do well to specify a sink and faucet which is usable for the widest range of users.

Floor Level Lighting

No one likes having to flick on the bright lights in the bathroom when making a midnight visit. Floor level lighting like that shown below would be enough lighting to keep anyone from staying too far from slumber. Some people would find it useful when taking care to avoid obstacles in the room.


Knee Space

Recesses at the sink and stove top allow people using walkers and wheelchairs to keep an appropriate, usable distance. The kitchen shown below have made accommodation for shallow cabinets below.

Inclusive Kitchen Islands

Islands are a mainstay in the modern American kitchen but so often they are designed for use with stools. Bar and counter height stools are exclusive to use by able bodied people. An island with space for normal height chairs is better suited for those who are looking to thrive in place.

Hardware Choices

For the same reasons that certain bathroom faucets are more ergonomic than others, so too are cabinet and and drawer hardware. Knobs are useful for the most dexterous among us which is why handles are more useful for a wider set of abilities.

Pull Out Storage

Most new kitchens today feature pull out shelves in lower cabinets but have you ever thought of making your upper cabinets easier to reach? Pull down inserts like the one shown below can help people of all sizes and abilities.

Separate The Stove and Oven

We saw above why leaving a recess below your cook top would be an advantageous decision for a universal design approach but  also, arranging your oven away from below your cook top is also more ergonomic for retrieving potentially hazardous hot foods. Not everyone needs double ovens like the one shown below. Single wall ovens are readily available as well as an oven / microwave combination that still gives the look of a double oven.

Universal Product Design – OXO

The video below shows the importance of universal design for products. You will see that  Universal design goes far beyond accessibility for wheelchairs. OXO, for example is known for their Good Grips product line which was originally designed for people with arthritis and other issues with gripping utensils. Today, they are preferred products for the American household. They have even expanded into products for clumsy toddler hands.

“If you design for the extremes, the middle will take care of itself”

Dan Formosa, Smart Design, New York, NY