Aging-In-Place with Universal Design

By: Carolyn Cook, Owner Interior Designer, LiveSmart Design

Most of us want to live in our homes for as long as we choose. We want to be near family and friends in the communities where our children were raised and our lifelong relationships were made. But most of us live in “Peter Pan” homes thinking we will never grow old. The sweeping stairs to the front door, the second floor master suite, the basement laundry room, the Jacuzzi—all the things we love most about our homes are slowly becoming obstacles in our daily lives.

To age in place successfully, we must look carefully at our homes and determine if, and how, our existing homes can adapt to our changing needs. Universal Design may well be the solution. Universal Design is a design concept that makes living environments more livable and easier to use by as many people as possible regardless of their age, size or ability. When implemented correctly, Universal Design is seamless and invisible.

To understand the concept, picture your kitchen with the microwave above the range. Most homes have this scenario and we don’t give it a thought, but what if you’re injured or of short stature? Can you safely reach the microwave with pots cooking and water boiling? The Universal Design solution is to locate the microwave at a level everyone can use—on the countertop, on a shelf below or in a microwave drawer.

Universal Design is about function and flexibility in the home allowing your home to adapt with you as life changes may occur. A home with Universal Design features looks like any other home—the difference is in functionality and livability. Universal Design provides options allowing us to remain safely and independently in our homes for as long as we choose.

Below is an abbreviated list of Universal Design features that can be incorporated into any home.

• One zero-step entrance into the home
• Hand rails at all entry steps
• Motion sensor light at all entries
• 34”W minimum door openings
• Bedroom, accessible bath and laundry on first floor
• Open floor plan for mobility and daylighting
• Front loading/ raised washer and dryer
• Glare-free floor surfaces and countertops
• Non-slip floors or low pile carpet with level thresholds
• Door lever handles throughout

• Sink with lever handle faucet and basin 6-1/2” deep for easy reaching
• Retractable cabinet doors below sink and cooktop
• Microwave drawer or locate on counter (never above range)
• Accessible electrical outlets and balanced, even lighting
• Hands-free faucet, side-by-side refrigerator, quiet range hood
• Fewer wall cabinets and more base cabinets w/ drawers and pullout shelves
• Safety shut-offs and dual cuing on appliances

• Curbless walk-in shower w/ thermostatic valve control
• Adjustable handheld shower unit on sliding grab bar
• Fold-out or built-in shower seat
• Bathroom door swings out of room
• Balanced lighting and quiet ventilation
• Lever-handled faucets
• Heated, non-slip floor
• Grab bars as towel bars

Carolyn Cook is the owner of LiveSmart Design–a unique residential interior design firm specializing in the design of kitchens and bathrooms combining the principles of sustainability, healthcare and Universal Design. Carolyn has 21 years of healthcare design experience and is passionate about helping homeowners remain safely in their homes for as long as they choose.

Located in Charlotte, NC, tel: 980-213-1911,
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