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Universal Design A Great Fit for Baby Boomers

From fashion trends to purchasing priorities, the wants and needs of the Baby Boomer Generation have shaped American culture, industry and society in profound ways.

As members of this influential demographic sell their large single-family homes and downsize into condominiums, these active adults are also looking to engage in life and enjoy their retirement years as fully as possible.

That’s where Universal Design comes in. Inspired by the needs of Baby Boomers, Universal Design is a series of inter-related amenities incorporated into an overall design that makes living spaces “usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

On a practical level, Universal Design allows for the day in which mobility and energy of Baby Boomers may be reduced.

For example, designers can create easily accessible, functional and beautiful bathrooms by integrating a large turning radius, wide doorways and lever handles allowing those in a wheelchair easy access. Eliminating steps or floor-height differentials and incorporating broad doorways and hallways throughout are touches that take into account the potential for future lifestyle changes.

An eat-at kitchen counter with easy access to pantries and storage spaces and featuring lever handles in lieu of doorknobs is a small, but important, convenience for those with physical limitations.

Wide Hallways Help

Wide hallways and bright and appropriate lighting create clear lines of sight serve to reduce dependence on sound for those with hearing difficulties while simultaneously creating beautiful open spaces that are commonly sought after today.

Rocker panel light switches, non-slip surfaces, and changeable counter heights are other ways that creative architects and designers can improve flexibility and ease of use without sacrificing style.

Designing a truly universal living space that is simultaneously practical, intuitive and appealing can be a challenge, particularly when those design goals not only offer low maintenance, barrier-free, lifestyle-rich design, but do so in a manner that is affordable.

A single-story layout is perhaps an obvious and necessary concession to practicality and accessibility, but the truly innovative features of a Universal Design are the many ways of providing universal access, comfort and convenience without sacrificing quality or style.

Great Room Popular

A large central space like a great room or grand living room can set the tone for the entire layout, which may use cathedral ceilings, divided-light windows and distinctive fireplaces as architectural details that serve as visual and conceptual focal points. Large numbers of sizable windows can create abundant natural lighting that helps a space feel open and inviting.

A large central room can also virtually eliminate hall space and transition areas creating a series of largely contiguous rooms. Eliminating potentially wasted space is not only an efficient and attractive design choice, but also promotes room-use flexibility.

The ultimate compliment paid to Universal Design residence is that while it provides an ideal venue for mature residents, it doesn’t feel like a space that has made any design concessions. The high quality materials, the sophisticated, contemporary and timeless design, and the thoughtful luxuries and conveniences make a Universal Design condomnium a place that anyone would be happy to call home.

Nanette Overly is vice president of sales and marketing services with Dublin, Ohio-based Epcon Communities, which develops condominiums nationwide.

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