Designing Ahead of the Curve

You may not be familiar with the term Universal Design, but I believe it will become the way all homes will be built in the future. Just as Green Design was a niche concept in the 1990s and is now the standard for all savvy, responsible design, I believe Universal Design will become part of our broader understanding of how our homes can enhance the quality of our lives over time. In short, Universal Design just makes sense.

I first became aware of the practical applications of Universal Design seven years ago when I had to redesign parts of my parents’ home because my Mom had Alzheimer’s disease. At that time, I noticed that I was doing some of the same accommodations that had made my own home easier and safer when my daughter was little. I was impressed that the solutions were multi-generational, and could benefit younger families as well as people over 60 who wanted to “Age in Place”. (Have you heard that term? It describes the way active Boomers–aka Zoomers–are looking to the future. I am a Certified Aging in Place and Downsizing Specialist). As a matter of fact, the active 50+ couple who eventually bought my parents’ home were thrilled that it had everything they needed for their future retirement–and because of that, they were willing to pay top dollar. No costly retrofits would be necessary down the road for their ease of living.

However, what finally cemented my commitment to at least introducing Universal Design principles to all of my remodeling clients was an even more ‘up-front and personal’ experience:  I was hit by a car while crossing the street. My life changed in the blink of an eye, and I spent the next 5 months in a wheelchair with two broken legs. Trying to maneuver through my home became a ridiculous obstacle course! My architect husband had long ago educated me in accessible design requirements for commercial architecture; suddenly, I was handicapped and these studies made even more sense–even though I only needed the adaptations for a little while. I came out of the experience wanting to apply these really thoughtful, practical principles to other homes as well–and do it in an elegant, almost invisible manner for my discriminating design clients.