What is Universal Design?

There’s a design buzzword that you may have been hearing lately: universal design. What is universal design and how could it benefit you or your loved ones? How does universal design apply to kitchen and bath design?

First, let’s define universal design. It’s a very organic term and can be applied to just about any item that humans use, from can openers to architecture. The basic premise of universal design is that an item or facility is designed with the specific intention that it may be used, be accessible and be understood by any person, regardless of any physical limitations, age or processing challenges.

The most important aspects of universal design for those of us designing kitchens and baths therefore, is to ensure that the room or rooms will be accessible, safe and easy to use for all members of the family. In Nicely Done Kitchen & Bath’s market segment we are seeing a rise in requests for designs that accommodate a growing number of older homeowners who want to remain in their homes as far into the future as possible.

These are a few examples of how universal design would be applied in your new kitchen:

• Rounded edges on countertops and open shelving and simple cabinet and drawer fronts without ornamentation that can catch or snag clothing. The same goes for hardware in the kitchen—softer edges and simpler design as well as knobs and pulls that would be easy to grasp.
• Sink: opt for a more shallow (6-8”) depth to avoid leaning and strain on the back. Also, the overall design should locate the sink close to the cooktop to avoid carrying heavy/hot pots back and forth.
• Microwaves should be located at or below counter height to minimize bending and reaching overhead.
• Minimize the use of “blind” corner cabinets—utilize features such as LeMans shelving, lazy susans or corner drawers.
• Choose drawers over doors as much as possible—an open drawer will display all contents at once. Drawers and pull-outs can be worked into your kitchen design in many different areas—pantry, island and base cabinets.
• Choose flooring materials with texture to reduce slipping.
• Your designer will help you decide the correct amount of space between counters to allow room to maneuver in the future, to allow for wheelchair use and even spaces where a raised or lowered counter could allow access from a seated position when standing for long periods gets difficult.

Universal design in the bathroom may be even more important than in the kitchen as accidents are more apt to happen in the bath or shower:

• Choose low-or-zero threshold showers and either avoid bathtubs altogether or chose a bath with a wide, strong ledge to seat yourself on and swing into the tub.
• Grab bars are a must in and near shower/bathtub and toilet areas.
• A built-in bench and niches in the shower allow for a place to sit and less stooping and bending to reach toiletries.
• A handheld shower and/or adjustable height showerhead brings the water to you, whether seated or standing and is easier for a caregiver to use.
• Comfort-height toilets are generally 2” taller than a standard toilet and make sitting and rising from the toilet easier.

If you’re thinking that this type of design will look institutional, we can assure you that it can be just as beautiful as every kitchen and bath we design!

Nicely Done Kitchens & Baths has aging-in-place certified designers on staff who are well versed in the principles of universal design and would love to help you design a kitchen or bath that can safely and comfortably accommodate you and your family’s needs well into the future!