Home Design for a Lifetime

Universal Design principles can help make your home more functional and fashionable―now and in years to come.

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• Arrange your kitchen into work zones. Organize to save steps, such as storing flatware in a drawer near the dishwasher for quick unloading, says Leibrock.

• Choose new appliances wisely. Ranges with controls at the front eliminate reaching over hot burners. Select side-by-side refrigerators and front-loading washers and dryers elevated on platforms for easy access, Leibrock says.

• Improve lighting. Add task lighting under kitchen cabinets, path lights outside, and night-lights in bathrooms. Replace lamps or fixtures with those allowing higher wattages to fully illuminate rooms, says Eric McRoberts, AIA, a partner with RLPS Architects in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

If you're remodeling or building new: "UD isn't expensive. The cost is in the design, not the fabrication," says Salmen. If planned from the ground up, you'll spend an estimated one to two percent of total costs to introduce UD features.

• Make entering your home easy. "At least one entryway should be stepless," Wendt says. If you prefer front steps for aesthetic reasons, plan a barrier-free route elsewhere, such as through the garage.

• Choose wider doors. "Those that are at least 42 inches wide lend a more spacious feel, plus they offer better maneuverability for tasks such as rearranging furniture or carrying laundry," Duncan says. Pocket doors―panels that slide along a track hidden between walls―are another good choice because they create unobstructed doorways.

• Create adaptable living spaces. Subject to local codes, try to position light switches between 36 to 48 inches above the floor and outlets between 18 to 24 inches above the floor to limit bending and allow accessibility by seated individuals and people of all heights.

• Plan for flexibility in the kitchen. Install counters at multiple heights to fit various people and tasks. A counter that's six to seven inches lower than the standard 36 inches accommodates a seated person or a child, while a 40- to 42-inch-high section works well as a serving center or when you're decorating a cake.

• Rethink appliance layout. Install modular cooktops, which allow you to customize your cooking area with individual components, such as a grill, pasta cooker, or wok, and place them where they're most accessible. Choose wall ovens, which are easier to reach into if you're pregnant or have back trouble. Place the microwave at waist level so you don't have to reach overhead for hot foods. Raise dishwashers six to 10 inches off the floor, or consider dishwasher drawers to reduce the need for bending and stooping, says Jane K. Langmuir, an architect and UD expert based in Providence, Rhode Island, and Los Angeles.

• Build in efficiency and safety. Select full-extension pullout drawers and racks in lower cabinets so you can reach items stashed in back. Choose C- or D-shaped pulls on cabinets because they're easier to grasp than knobs. "Consider a curbless shower, which has a flat threshold to prevent tripping," Duncan says. Maximize lighting with skylights, recessed lighting under stair treads, and extra lighting in potential danger zones like the head and foot of stairs and landings.

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