Today, there is a major trend in the new construction, interior design, and remodeling industry that has been rapidly gaining in popularity. As older homeowners are choosing to age-in-place, and the trend for multi-generational families living together continues to grow, universal design is becoming a much-requested approach to remodeling.

The basic definition of universal design is:

“the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability.”

Let’s take a look at the principles of universal design and the many benefits it offers homeowners while living there, and at resale.

The Seven Principals of Universal Design

In interior design, universal design is a framework for creating living and working spaces, along with products that benefit the widest range of people in a variety of situations without a special design. In a perfectly executed universal interior design, the elements incorporated will not only be functional but will aesthetically enhance the environment. Universal design encompasses these seven basic principles:

  1. Equitable Use
    The design needs to be useful to everyone, equally, regardless of age, or ability. The privacy, security, and safety are equal for all users, and the design is appealing to all.
  1. Flexibility in Use
    The interior design must accommodate a wide range of preferences and abilities. It should provide choices, be adaptable for right or left-handed users, and should facilitate user abilities including accuracy and precision.
  1. Simple and Intuitive
    The use of the design is intuitive, and easy to use and understand, regardless of the user’s ability, knowledge, and language skills.
  1. Perceptible Information
    The design communicates information to the user, regardless of the user’s sensory abilities. It uses different modes (verbal, tactile, pictorial) to present essential information.
  1. Tolerance for Error
    The design is safe regardless of adverse consequences or unintended actions.
  1. Low Physical Effort
    Functionality should be attained with a minimum of effort. The element uses reasonable operating force, minimizes repetitive actions and allows for a neutral body position.
  1. Provides Size and Space for Ease of Use
    The design must provide appropriate space for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of the age, mobility, or posture of the user.

Incorporating these seven principals whether in residential or commercial properties, indoors or out is the key to effective universal design.

Universal Design in Use

Universal design principals are applicable in every room throughout the house. For example, in the bathroom, adding a threshold-free shower, large handles as opposed to knobs on fixtures, lowering the sink and mirror, and installing a raised toilet allow smaller children as well as people with mobility issues, or ailments like arthritis to function effectively.

Widening hallways to allow wheelchair access, lowering light switches and raising electrical outlets can make it easier for those living in the home with mobility issues. In the kitchen, installing a stove with larger knobs and clearly written instructions can make it easier for those with sight-related issues to function in the kitchen.

Outside of the home, adding additional lighting, soft walkways, and lower curbs, as well as keyless entry systems, fit into a universal design plan.

If you’re considering a remodel and would like to include universal design elements into your project, when vetting potential contractors, ask if they are familiar with the concept, and whenever possible, ask if they are certified in universal design. Universal design is functional, aesthetically pleasing and can increase the value of your home when it comes time to sell. For those seeking to age-in-place, universal design can keep the home safe, functional, and comfortable.