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Design Tips

August 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Category: Remodeling Contractor

If you’ve ever watched a home design show, chances are you’ve seen a designer do something that made you shake your head and say: “That makes no sense. I’d never do that.”

When it comes to redecorating, renovating or designing a home, perhaps space, needs and tastes vary so much from person to person that no one philosophy can ever “fit all.” But then again, maybe there is one that can.

“The concept of ‘universal design,’ which strives to make living and work spaces as usable as possible for as many different kinds of people as possible, might just be the design philosophy that will bring us all together,” says Lynn Schrage, a design expert with The Kohler Store.

Universal design’s aim is to ensure that products and places (like your home) are as usable as possible by all people, regardless of the person’s age or abilities. Think “usability” by everyone from your toddler to your grandparents, athletic types to a person in a wheelchair. “It’s a design concept that makes sense for homeowners. It not only enhances their ability to use and enjoy their homes, it makes the design more sustainable and helps ensure their home will appeal to the broadest range of buyers when it comes time to resell,” Schrage adds.

If you’re undertaking even a modest home improvement project, it’s easy to incorporate universal features into your living space. The concept fits with virtually any design style, from modern to contemporary, retro to traditional. Schrage offers a few pointers:

In the kitchen

Your kitchen probably has one or two distinct work zones including the cooking range, sink and refrigeration areas. Ideally, multiple work zones that are compact and serve different needs from cooking, to preparation, to cleanup and are suitable for users of varying height and ability will increase the functionality of the space.

To maximize your sink’s usability, choose a shallow one that’s easy to reach into or a sink that offers built-in wet surfaces at different heights to reduce back strain. Also, consider opting for a sink that features a side-mounted faucet placement, rather than the back. The side-mounted faucet position makes it easier for younger users and those with grasping or mobility issues to reach and use the faucet.

From cabinetry modifications as simple as pull-out storage shelves to more practical ones like “appliance garages” that house appliances and can easily slide out for use, functional ease is the guiding concept of universal design. Kitchens continue to be the focus for many buyers, and incorporating universal design features into your remodeling efforts can help ensure your kitchen appeals to — and is usable by — the entire family.

In the bath

Baths are also a big concern for buyers – and homeowners. On one side of the coin, a great bath can be a luxurious sanctuary for busy dwellers. On the other side, bathrooms can be a potentially dangerous room, especially for older and younger users.

Applying the principles of universal design in the bathroom means you might consider installing a low threshold shower, like Kohler’s Archer FRP Shower Receptor. Shower floors should feature a slip-resistant surface. Temperature controls for the shower should be placed for easy access from outside the shower and should be digital controls or levers that are easy to adjust with soapy hands. Toilet modifications should work for both the oldest and youngest users. Comfort Height toilets, which are chair height, make it easier to get on and off for older users or those with knee/joint concerns. And Quiet Close technology ensures little fingers won’t get pinched by a slamming toilet lid.

In the closet

Closets are among the most used and under appreciated areas of a home. You go into your closet virtually every day to get the clothes you need. Ease of access and organization are important in such a heavily used location. When applying the principles of universal design to your closet space, you’ll want to create storage solutions that minimize bending motions and put important items within easy reach of users of varying heights and mobility.

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