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Published: Saturday, 9/15/2001

‘Universal' design aims for a lifespan

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER

That’s because the luxury house in the Parklands off of Brint Road incorporates throughout the concepts of “universal design,” which consists of adapting cabinet handles, door widths, and appliance heights, and making other changes to make it easier for owners to remain in their homes as they age. The concepts are being pushed nationwide. (Photo gallery of 'universal design' construction)

“It’s a very normal house, so anyone living here is not going to get depressed about getting old or getting sick,” said Mr. Schoen, president of Bridgewater Construction in Toledo. “But in the eventuality you do, you’re ready.”

The four-bedroom, 31/2 bath home has 3,300-square-feet and is priced at $418,900.

It is filled with detailed molding, sweeping windows overlooking a picturesque pond, and a fa ade designed in the architectural style of homes built in the late 19th century, with a white picket fence out front.

But it also has doorways that are three feet wide, hardwood floors throughout most of the first floor to make it easier to navigate, a dishwasher that’s raised and a microwave that’s lowered so someone in a wheelchair can easily reach them, and pulls on the cabinets in the kitchen and levers on all of the doors rather than knobs to aid people who lose dexterity in their hands.

Even the electrical outlets in the walls are higher than in most homes to make them easier to reach if someone is in a wheelchair and he’s installed a front-loading washing machine, as well as a dryer, to make it easier to do laundry.

Kathy Keller, a spokesman in the AARP Ohio office in Columbus, said the retirees’ organization is a big proponent of universal design because members want to learn of ways to live independently as long as possible.

“One of the cool things about universal design is that it’s kind of invisible,” she said. “It doesn’t look at all like geriatric sort of stuff.

“What we emphasize is that universal design is for all ages. For example, if you’re in a skiing accident and break your leg, you’ll be so glad that you have some of these features. If you can’t get around the way you used to, you’ll still be able to do all of the things you like to do, like cook an extravagant meal or still have parties.”

Mr. Schoen is quick to point out that all of these features are not readily noticeable for the untrained eye.

“I wanted to introduce this idea without making it look like it’s for only the handicapped,” he said.

“I’m hoping this home appeals to everyone.”

It’s a hope shared by Christine Price, extension state specialist in gerontology and an assistant professor at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Universal design has become accepted by both environmental designers and builders, she said, but the movement has just started to promote it to homeowners.

She helped to organize a workshop held yesterday in the Columbus area to introduce products people can use to remodel their homes to accommodate them as they age.

The changes, though, make the home easier for everyone to use, she added.

But some are not convinced homeowners will embrace such changes.

Duane Ankney, the developer of the Waterside development in Monclova Township, which is billed as “active adult living,” said he is careful not to point out the design features in houses.

“It’s not a selling point at all,” he explained. “You try to incorporate these things so carefully, because grab bars in showers, for example, makes you think about getting old and you’ll stay away.”

The Waterside homes have levers instead of knobs, doors that are 2 feet, eight inches wide, and all homes have first floor master suites and a second room that can be used as a den now but has the guest bathroom tied into it so it can easily be converted into another bedroom, he said.

“If, for health reasons, the couple needed to have separate sleeping environments, they could do so,” said Mr. Ankney.

“But we do not set our houses up as handicapped because people don’t want it. It makes them feel old.”



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