Posts Tagged ‘universal design


Aging in Place Vital for Peace of Mind


We’re still in May, Older Americans’ Month, and a recent article by Jerry Rouleau and Scott Stroud explores a concept that’s very important to us for that reason. They interview Tracy DeCarlo, of the consulting firm Detailed Solutions, Inc., who has written several books on maximum usability in a home. DeCarlo’s slogan is “Sales Follow Function.”

This concept includes and is known by several different terms, but whether you call it accessibility, inclusive design, universal design, or transgenerational design, a set of expectations exists that make possible the comfort and reassurance of aging in place. Something like 4/5ths of American senior citizens have absolutely no desire to leave their homes to live in institutions. They want to stay where they are, and architects and builders are lining up to help them do it. This article covers six of DeCarlo’s more than two hundred tips. For example, the authors describe their expert’s take on the full-function laundry room, something DeCarlo has seen done wrong in multi-million dollar houses:

There is no industry standard as to whether the washer goes to the left or the right of the dryer. If you purchase a washer and dryer as a set, they are set up so that the doors open opposing each other, making it easy to transfer laundry. But… the existing plumbing often forces a homeowner to switch the set around, forcing both the washer and dryer doors to open into each other. Since the doors are rarely reversible, this turns a common task into an uncomfortable burden.

A built-in ironing board is all well and good, DeCarlo says, but it’s an excellent idea to find out if the client is left-handed, before installing a feature oriented toward a right-handed person. She’s a big fan of the central vacuum system, which is measurably more healthful than the alternative, especially where allergic people are concerned. Besides, some green certification programs allow points for the central vacuum system, due to the improvement of indoor air quality.

Stove hoods and bathroom vents need to dump their air outside, not recirculate it, and this is a detail DeCarlo sees as well worth attending to. She strongly encourages that attention be paid to surge protection, for the sake of phone and cable lines, as well as to preserve the dozens of electronic appliances a contemporary home is likely to contain. The authors say,

New home buyers will get real value and usable benefit from such systems, and the small investment to offer them such protection could give you a real competitive advantage, even in a tight market.

On the subject of the all-purpose garage, DeCarlo is very enthusiastic, urging us to think of it as a room in the house, which will have furniture, just like any other room. The garage’s furniture consists of workbenches, sinks, mechanical devices, cabinets, storage bins for unseasonal clothing and equipment, and many other possible items. That’s in addition to being a home for cars, bikes, snowmobiles, mowers, jet skis, weed-eaters, trash cans and recycling bins. The last thing a garage should be is an afterthought.

All in all, it looks like consciousness of the Aging in Place trend is really starting to catch on.

SOURCE: “Sales Follow Function: 6 Ways to Differentiate Your Homes and Connect With Buyers” 04/20/08
photo courtesy of Elsie esq., used under this Creative Commons license


Inclusive Design = Sustainability, Says Ron Wickman

Green Roof

Sustainability thrives in Canada, where Ron Wickman compares the idea of sustainability with the concept of inclusive design and finds them to be one in the same. Marta Gold interviewed him recently for The Edmonton Journal’s series on the living spaces created for themselves by local architects. Gold says,

Wickman is the barrier-free design consultant for the new southwest recreation centre. He also does audits of existing buildings to improve their accessibility to the disabled, as well as retrofitting homes and designing new ones. He recently took us on a tour of the house he designed for himself, wife Stacey and their three children, Ceira, Kellen and Jayden.

Wickman tore down his previous house and built another with the same footprint as what had been there, and then added a second story with a deck. He takes prospective clients on tours of his family’s home, and calls it his “3-D business card.” Creating a green roof is his next eagerly anticipated project, and he explains why that is more of an altruistic endeavor than a direct benefit to a homeowner.

The new house includes an office suite with its own entrance door at the front. This is a great solution for the increasing number of professionals who work at home. When the family hosts a graduation party, the living space can be extended into the office space. At some other point in the family’s history, that part of the house might become a “granny flat” or the place where an adult child who has suffered a setback can lick the wounds. And here’s the good part: the more inclusively a home is designed and built in the first place, the less work will have to be done when the family’s needs change later on. Without the need for a major remodel, less energy is used, fewer materials are used, and so on. Voila! Sustainability. It could almost be said that a good architect’s job is to put himself out of business.

In Wickman’s office, a frame on the wall holds an anonymous note he received: “Your house is a monstrosity. It blights the neighborhood.” Of course, in his view, what goes on inside the house is the thing to focus on. Does it work for the people who live in it? That’s the important thing. And all kinds of people might be living in it.

Here in America, it’s still Older Americans’ Month, so the issue of universal/accessible/ transgenerational/inclusive design is very much with us. “Aging in place” has become the rallying cry of the generation that in its youth roamed the world like gypsies, and that’s as it should be. There’s nothing wrong with settling down, and the right place to do it is in your own home. Even those of us who are very fit have friends and relatives who want to come over once in a while. Wickman talks about visitability, which means that any person can enter the house under their own steam, move around inside it, and be able to do a simple thing like use the restroom independently.

In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, this definition of visitability, by Concrete Change founder Eleanor Smith, is quoted:

A movement to change home construction practices so that virtually all new (single-family) homes, whether or not designated for residents who currently have disabilities, offer a few specific features that make the homes easier for people who develop a mobility impairment to live in and visit.

Speaking of the combination of sustainability and inclusiveness, Wickman says,

Right now a lot of people have the impression that it’s more expensive and it looks institutional and it doesn’t have good resale value, so you have to explain that ‘universal’ can be in any house — it’s not a style or a look or anything, it’s a way of thinking.

SOURCE: ” Universally welcoming ” 04/10/08
photo courtesy of PetroleumJelliffe, used under this Creative Commons license


Bjorklund on Accessibility, Universal Design


It’s official: May is Older Americans’ Month. Although Kevin Bjorklund is not officially an Older American, he faces the same accessibility challenges that many older people do, as described by Joel Koyama in a Star Tribune article. (From his own point of view, Bjorklund himself has also written an article for Access Press, called “Living in Style.”)

Because of an early childhood accident, Kevin Bjorklund lost the use of his legs and has spent his life in a wheelchair. Most aids designed to help the disabled are aesthetically unpleasing, and as a creative person, he was bothered by that. Especially when a person works at home and spends most of his waking hours in the same environment, the way things look can make a big difference to morale. And that’s not even starting to mention the way things work.

He was amazed to visit a new, state-of-the-art “accessible” house and find a set of stairs at the entrance. Inside this showplace, an elevator was the only concession that had been made to the needs of a wheelchair-bound person. Where were the self-storing doors? Where was the curbless shower stall? Why was the oven not lowered to a decent height? Where were the front-loading washer and dryer?

Observers have reported such clueless sights as a kitchen sink built so that a wheelchair could slide under it — until the garbage disposal apparatus was installed to block the way, making the whole “accessibility” concept an unfunny joke.

Some builders know how uncomfortable it makes people to discuss decreasing abilities, even when called by the name of “aging in place.” They install stealth “aging in place” features but don’t tout these preparations unless asked — for instance, bathroom walls reinforced in anticipation of the need for grab bars.

Unfortunately, a lot of helpful features add significantly to the cost of a house up front, but the payoff comes much later when people face the choice between staying in their own longtime residence or having to move into some kind of assisted living facility.

Technically, accessible design refers to a definite set of parameters to be observed, which make a place accessible to people with disabilities. Universal design, on the other hand, is limited only by the imaginations of the designers and architects and of course the people who will be living in a house. It’s an open-ended concept.

In an echo of one of the precepts of Werner Erhard who said, “The world doesn’t work unless it works for everyone,” Koyama quotes his subject on the topic of the difference:

“Universal design is about usability, not disability,” said Bjorklund, who works from his home as a product consultant for a technology company. “It’s for creating environments that work for everyone.”

The house in Lakeville, Minnesota, which Bjorklund eventually created for himself incorporated 70 features that come under the heading of “universal design,” says Koyama.

Some are as simple as lever-style door handles (instead of knobs) and easy-to-reach electrical outlets placed mid-level on walls. Others are more structural, such as wider doorways, no-rise thresholds and varied countertop heights and depths. Bjorklund’s four-bedroom rambler even has several no-step decks that one can easily roll or step upon.

Kitchens and bathrooms are particularly vulnerable to design flaws with regard to accessibility. A more complete list of the features Bjorklund installed includes mention of slide-out drawers in lower kitchen cabinets where dishes can be stored, and a vanity table with a recessed area underneath.

(The photo on this page, incidentally, is not of the Bjorklund house. It’s an art photo.)

SOURCE: ” Homes without barriers” 03/27/08
photo courtesy of Brett L. , used under this Creative Commons license