Universal Design

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design (UD) is a forward-thinking architectural approach to designing homes so they are user-friendly, elegant and functional for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. In Europe, it’s called “Design for All”, and UD classes are now taught in all architecture and design schools in the US.  Universal Design is also about mindful living for younger families and smart design that let's all of us stay in our homes "for life".  As more of our households become multi-generational, I believe it will be the way all homes are designed.


Before we begin a remodeling project, I present the possibilities that a Universal Design perspective can bring to their home, some of which I list below. Some people are “planners” and want to know what they might do in the future. For both, I offer an introductory Universal Design Walk-Through Checklist to give families suggestions, much like a home inspection check list.

A few examples of features we can consider together:

    • Wider door and hallway widths
    • Zero-barrier showers and entries
    • Multiple layers of lighting for task, ambient and accent lighting
    • Nonslip, non-glare surfaces
    • Lever door handles, touch faucets
    • Pull down shelves
    • Multiple height counters
    • Minimized use of interior and exterior steps

Two personal events inspired me to explore and embrace UD:

First, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As her illness progressed, the home my Dad had designed for them became a difficult place for Mom to navigate. I became certified as an “Aging in Place” Specialist (CAPS) and soon realized that what I was doing to make their home safe and accessible for Mom were some of the same things I had done to make my own home child-friendly when my daughter was little. Hmm… I began to look for a broader, more encompassing approach. When I discovered Universal Design, I found it answered the need for a continuum of thoughtful, indeed mindful, design solutions for everyone.

Then, I was hit by a car while crossing the street, which left me with two broken legs. During the months I spent in a wheelchair, I honed my skills as a UD designer, living first-hand the accommodations needed for anyone living with even a temporary injury or increasing accessibility issues.

That was my final wake up call. I am passionate about bringing the sensible, practical principals of Universal Design to all the remodeling projects my firm undertakes.

I am a regular speaker in the Bay Area on Universal Design. Please contact my studio for speaking requests.