A few years ago, an new interior design concept was introduced known as “barrier-free.” Not much was written about it until the term “Universal Design” or “UD” for short, was coined by Ronald Mace, founder and former program director of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.
Mace collaborated with a group of architects, product designers, engineers and interior and environmental designers to develop what became known as the “Seven Principles of Universal Design.” He defined UD as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people with and without disabilities.”
Others refer to to UD as a broad-spectrum of ideas and design approaches that to takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. The goal is to produce buildings, homes, products and environments that are inherently safer, more accessible and easier and more convenient to use by all people.
Demographic trends show that the U.S. population is clearly aging. Locally, in Sarasota Florida for example, already today, 1 out of every 2 homes is the residence of people over the age of 65.
Universal design responds to the growing interest by people to remain in their current homes rather than leaving the home they love and spending $35,000 to $65,000 or more per year to live in an “assisted living” facility. By integrating a few thousand dollars of universal design concepts and facilities into their home when it is built or via remodeling, a home can remain fully useful for its residents for a much longer time delaying the need to leave it. This housing trend is now referred to as “aging in place.”
Relatively simple and inexpensive changes like replacing door knobs with levers, installing support bars next to the toilet and including seats and hand-held shower heads in showers can make a bathroom much more convenient and safer to use.
In the kitchen, replacing carpets with hardwood or non-slip tile floors, cabinets with pull-out shelves, and appliances and counters set at different heights so they can be used by people of different heights and postures, with or without a walker can be very helpful.
In more significant renovations, but certainly in new construction homes, making all hallways at least 42” wide and all doorways at least 36” wide to accommodate wheel chairs can dramatically improve a person’s ability to conveniently move about the home. Building homes with very open floorplans and without stairs and placing fixtures and furnishings in such a way that they can be easily moved or removed in the future are other useful UD concepts. Replacing sliding glass doors which are difficult to open and close from a wheelchair with doors that open automatically or with just the touch of a button is another effective UD design concept.
Some builders are even incorporating elevator pits and structural reinforcements to accomodate an elevator and extra plumbing behind bathroom walls to accomodate a walk-in tub at some point in the future if needed. One local builder pointed out that “you’d never know these features exist in the home unless you looked at the original engineering plans.”
“When universal design is done well, it doesn’t impede anyone from being able to function and aesthetics are another important facet of UD,” says Wanda Gozdz, president of Golden Age Living and a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. “The goal, she says, “is to create a safe, useful and appealing environment that doesn’t look institutional.”
While not all builders agree with the appeal of universal design, some, like Josh Wynne of Josh Wynne Construction, calls UD one more facet of building a “sustainable” home. “The majority of my clients,” he says, “intend to stay in the home they buy for a good long while. As such, we use many Universal Design concepts in just about all our homes including elevators, flush doors, floor transitions, wider hallways (42 inches or more), 36-inch interior doors, roll-in showers, grab rails in the showers and at least one wheelchair-accessible bathroom.”
Here in the Sarasota Florida real estate market, builders and remodeling firms are rapidly becoming more and more interested and informed about universal design. Just this month, the “Universal Design Coalition” held a forum at the offices of the Realtors Association of Manatee & Sarasota where expert panelists like John King of Rampart Homes, Greg Hall of Hall Architects, Kathleen Houseweart, a Geriatrics Manager at SMH Healthcare System and Tracy Lux of Trace Marketing took part in a wide ranging discussion of UD concepts led by moderator, Harold Bubil of the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Wanda Gozdz, president of Golden Age Living and a member of the American Society of Interior Designers was the guest speaker.
So, whether you are considering building a new home or remodeling your existing home or condo, there are now well-informed people here in the Sarasota area to help you cost-effectively make your home or condo safer, easier to use and more convenient as you move along in years.
As an experienced Sarasota Accredited Buyer Representative with Keller Williams, I have the knowledge, experience and expertise to assure that together we can find that one Sarasota home or condo that will meet your needs and desires perfectly both today and in the future.
I’d also be pleased to give you a Free Sarasota MLS Access Account which will give you 24/7 access to all Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton MLS listings just as if you were a Realtor. For immediate answers to your questions about Sarasota Florida real estate, call me at 941.228.2321.