For specific physical needs that might require more particular design emphasis and solutions, universal design is a great foundational approach. It provides an integral part of the overall design and construction and is a great place to begin creating effective and functional living environments.
Universal design is a great strategy for use in new construction. It is an intuitive approach that works well in any home – new construction or existing ones. In fact, there are few homes anywhere that can’t benefit from the use and application of these principles – unless they were designed that way to begin with or have already been modified.
Universal design is not a concept that is just for homes in the United States, or for Canada, or even North America. This can be applied to homes anywhere in the world, and it is to an increasing extent.The universal design approach accommodates a tremendous range of ages, heights, and physical abilities.
Thus, new construction is the perfect time to incorporate these universal design techniques and idea. Whatever these modifications might add to the overall selling price, if anything, will be offset by the increased perceived value, and potential enhanced resale value and market appeal (including more sales). The proactive inclusion of them means that potential homeowners will not need to incur the costs later of having these modifications and renovations done.
The more universal design solutions, strategies, concepts, and methods that can be incorporated into the exterior and interior living environment of new construction, the more it will add to the overall safety, comfort, convenience, accessibility, and desirability of the people who are buying new homes – and the people that are invited into those homes or choose to visit the people who purchase and own those homes.
If specific wheelchair access were to be created or accommodated on the exterior of various new construction homes, or the base cabinets under sinks or cooktops removed to provide access even when that treatment wasn’t needed or requested by a particular homeowner, that might look visibly out-of-place to a casual visitor and call attention to the design.
While some potential new homeowners might want such a design incorporated into their new home, the objective is to create design solutions that don’t suggest how or by whom the space is to be used.
For instance, a wall-mounted or pedestal sink in the powder room or secondary bath or a roll-under countertop or eating area on an island or peninsula would accomplish the same purpose and fit right into any design as specifically creating space that suggested how and by whom it was to be used.
Similarly, grab bars or railings lining the hallway would give an institutional look to many homes – especially when they aren’t required for use by everyone. However, a chair rail (not a dowel or closet rod) that is wide enough in thickness to provide some support or capable of being grasped fits right in.
Builders can make a huge statement by establishing thoughtful design concepts that really makes sense to people in general, promotes safety, makes something easier to use, and seems to fit into the space without calling any specific attention to the design or standing out as being there for a special reason or purpose.
[Excerpted in part from “Universal Design For Builders” by Steve Hoffacker]