Call it the globalization of certain home design aspects, or perhaps just a common sense approach to living in created environments. Its name may sound pretentious, but it truly defines the thought behind the movement. Universal design, one of the hottest terms in interior design, is actually a style that everyone can live with.
Many design styles are hard to describe in few words; seeing multiple examples is often the only way to get a feel for it. With universal design, you need only understand the main concept: environments that are user-friendly to anyone using them, no matter what age, size or physical condition. From the walkways to the faucet handles, functionality and form blend to present uncomplicated surroundings.
The basics of universal design, according to work done at North Carolina State University (www.design.ncsu.edu), read like this:
Designs are useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities, meaning that safety, privacy and security should be available at the same level to all who use it.
The design is meant for people with a wide range of abilities, whether they are left- or right-handed, or move at a rapid or slower pace.
Using the design is easy, regardless of experience, knowledge, language or concentration level. In other words, designs are not unnecessarily complex to use, and things are arranged in order of their importance.
The design communicates with the user, meaning that it is easy to perceive or receive instructions on its use.
The design minimizes accidents in its usage, by either providing fail-safe features or eliminating potential hazards.
The design is used without user fatigue, with minimal repetitive actions or physical effort.
Enough space is provided for people of all sizes and shapes to comfortably access and use the design.
To make these principles imaginable, let's look at a universal design kitchen, particularly appliances. The refrigerator is a side-by-side model, with items at equal heights on both sides. The dishwasher is raised at least eight inches or more off the floor, eliminating bending almost to the floor to load or unload dishes. The kitchen sink has a lever-style faucet, which doesn't require grasping to either turn on or control temperature, and spray features are built in and available with a simple touch on the faucet. Ovens have sideswing doors for easier accessibility, and cooktops are set at counter level.
In the bathroom, showers contain benches and long-hosed, hand-held shower heads for ease of bathing. Grab bars are positioned in the shower (which contains an anti-scald device), by the sink and near the toilet, which is raised to around 18 inches high. There is also a telephone installed in a universal design bathroom.
In other areas of a universal design home, you'll find lever handles replacing round doorknobs, cabinets with pull-out drawers, doorways widened to a minimum of 36 inches and keyless locks that incorporate swipe-cards or hand-held remotes for entry.
This may sound like a sterile system, but universal design only affects the interior design, not the interior decoration. It doesn't affect the colors, fabrics or other personal touches that make a space special to the resident. Rather, it makes an interior more comfortable to all who may visit.
By Dan Aspell