This year, the first wave of the 78 million baby boomers turns 65. Just as this group has led the country through numerous changes, they are once again on the forefront of what may be the next big evolution in the homebuilding industry: Universal Design.
The major tenet of Universal Design is to build homes that are enabling rather than disabling. A home should be accommodating to people of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. This can be achieved through the use of features such as wider doorways and hallways, no-threshold entries and showers, ergonomic faucets and door hardware, pull-out cabinet drawers and multi-height countertops.
There is a conception that Universal Design homes will look hospital-like or institutional. But industry suppliers are working to overcome th
at perception. They realize baby boomers donâ€™t want to be reminded they are growing older. Research shows boomers prefer to concentrate on enhancing their wellness rather than focusing on the special accommodations they require as they age.
Kohler Co. has addressed this mindset by designing a shower handrail calledÂ â€œBelay,â€ which features a sleek design and a more palatable name than â€œgrab bar.â€ Levers are becoming top choices for faucet and door handles as they are easier to turn than knobs. The challenge for builders is to use Universal Design principles in their homes in a manner where customers approve of the aesthetics while appreciating the functionality.
Another misconception about Universal Design is that is solely for older people. Although it has its roots as an age-driven concept, Universal Design is helpful for people in all walks of life. A parent with a baby in a stroller appreciates a no-threshold entry as much as an elderly person who struggles with steps. That same parent also appreciates a towel bar anchored into a wall when a baby chooses to swing from it. And I know many shorter women who are grateful for pull-out drawers in base cabinets because they canâ€™t reach the shelves of their tall upper cabinets.
Â Universal Design is a concept that can be adapted to benefit many different lifestyles â€“ both young and old. Buyers should ask themselves a series of questions to determine what features best suit them and their future in the home:
What type of support network do I have?
What is my financial status?
Â Have I ever experienced reduced mobility?
How long would I like to live in this home?
The last question is one that has become more and more of a determining factor in todayâ€™s economic climate. Surveys tell us that boomers want to age in the same place. I think we are on the right track if we can build a home that buyers can live in for the rest of their lives, even if life changes on them.