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Home Improvement

Universal design recognized as smart design

10/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Staff Writer

Remodeling trends come and go, but one trend has evolved into an improved design movement focused on increasing accessibility for everyone in the home. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry recognizes universal design projects as proven design solutions for not only aging-in-place, but for families with special needs or anyone who wishes to move about his or her home freely, without barriers.

Russell Long, president of Aloha Home Builders based in Eugene, Ore., is a pioneer of universal design, remodeling his home to fit the accessibility needs of his 16-year-old son, who was born with cerebral palsy.

Though Long’s accessibility needs might be greater than others, he always communicates the benefit of universal design to all of his clients.

“Most people don’t think about universal design until it’s too late,” he said. “A healthy person can be injured or need to care for a loved one who is aging, and suddenly, your needs have changed.”

Long believes many of the design elements incorporated into his project, which won a 2012 Northwest Regional CotY Award in the Entire House $500,000 to $1 million category with Universal Design Project Recognition, are convenient and luxurious, as well as functional and wheelchair accessible. For example, the universal design features from his project include:

  • Zero barriers, which means there are no steps in the home, especially for entryways. All living quarters are on the first floor, with the exception of an upstairs area that was converted into an apartment with the purpose of housing a caregiver at some point.
  • Wide hallways, open living spaces and dual entries in all rooms. These are common design elements used in wheelchair accessibility. Long’s hallways are more than 5 feet wide, and living spaces are expanded so wheelchairs can move around furniture easily. Also, two entryways in all rooms — including the living room, dining room and kitchen — allow for ample traffic flow throughout the house.
  • Microwave drawers and/or refrigeration drawers. These also are common in universal design, but Long said it is also a stylistic feature for those who prefer to showcase beautiful cabinetry and granite countertops rather than a microwave taking up counter space.
  • Hardwood flooring, which is superior over carpeting for wheelchair accessibility. Long removed all carpeting on the first floor and installed engineered hardwood flooring throughout the entire floor, only covering certain areas with rugs. The new flooring also allowed for a five zone, energy-efficient radiant heating system throughout the house, which couldn’t have been accomplished with carpeting.
  • A ramped pool entrance is a unique design feature developed by Long to make it easier for his son to be transferred in and out of the pool safely. However, once installed, the ramped entrance doubles as a bench for guests to sit on while they enjoy the pool.

The key to universal design, according to Long, is to come up with design solutions that address current needs and future needs down the road.

“We tried to think of solutions that could easily be added or taken out if we needed them or decided to sell our home one day,” Long said.


This information was provided by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

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