Universal Design: Good for the Golden Years  

Updated on May 22, 2014

By Adrienne Akin Faulkner, RID, LEED Green Associate, IIDA, ASID
President and Founder, Faulkner Design Group

The ideal senior living space has to reflect the body, mind and spirit of the golden years, without neglecting the specialized needs and services that often come with age. However, the design must also enhance a resident’s independence while maintaining their dignity, mobility, health and safety. 

So when it comes to a functional standard of design applicable to all walks of life, the idea of—and the need for—Universal Design with a Universal Understanding® of holistic living remains uncontested. Developed years ago, Universal Design combines ADA regulations with everyday functionality to create a stylish, uniform living space appropriate for everyone, no matter their age, challenges, mobility or abilities. 

Properly implemented, Universal Design provides residents of all kinds with a universally accepted, universally functional, well-designed living and working space that promotes a better quality of life. In other words, Universal Design is the ultimate execution of sustainability and life-made-easier. 

For more than two decades, Faulkner Design Group, a Dallas-based interior architecture and design firm, has taken the necessary steps required to implement these universally accepted standards into the majority of its senior living communities. Universally designed spaces typically include:

Open floor plans. Fewer interior partitions and walls mean that there are fewer corners and passageways to navigate. Not only are these types of floor plans conducive to a variety of furniture arrangements, but they offer more flexibility and manageability for residents in wheelchairs and those with walking aids.

Adjustable or varied workspace heights. Conventional countertop heights are arbitrary, but “accessible” heights are more convenient and very easy to accommodate from a design point of view. Lowering countertops by a few inches makes it easier for everyone to access work surfaces without exerting effort.

No-step entryways and transitions. It’s all too easy to trip on uneven flooring, rugs or slight step-ups between rooms, and anyone can fall down on a slippery floor or staircase. These hazards should be minimized in all types of buildings—especially properties for those 55 years and older.

All room transitions, as well as transitions from indoors to outdoors should be seamless as well. AARP recommends incorporating entries that don’t require stepping up or down, as this would make it possible for anyone to enter with ease. This also applies for curbs, as eased-edge curbs and ramps are much more user friendly for outdoor parking areas.

Easily opened doors and drawers. Gone are the days of struggling to open a door or drawer that just won’t budge, or is too heavy or cumbersome. Universally designed doors and drawers don’t require the use of extreme strength, fine motor skills or body weight to lever them open. Over-door sliders can be opened with just a small nudge of the finger, as long as one uses the correct hardware. Under-counter cabinets are hard to access, so drawers make much more sense.

Conveniently placed switches and fixtures. In universally designed spaces, switches and outlets aren’t hidden or obstructed. They are located at a convenient height, reachable by each and every resident. Additionally, faucets, which are frequently overlooked, should include a 30″ sink with the faucet and taps on the side so people of all sizes and abilities can easily wash their hands.

Universally designed spaces have a higher perceived value and longevity, and are seen not only as innovative, but also forward thinking. Universal Design simplifies life by making products and environments more usable and flexible for as many people as possible. 

A beautiful and functional living community lets senior residents spend the best years of their life in an environment that fosters independence, vitality, mobility and community, with as little effort and challenges as possible. 

Adrienne Faulkner, RID, LEED Green Associate, IIDA, ASID, is president and founder of Faulkner Design Group (FDG), an award-winning interior architecture, design, procurement and installation firm, offering a wide range of design services to its clients. Drawing upon decades of experience in interior design and architecture, Adrienne leads FDG’s team of talented, highly experienced and tenured professionals in creating innovative, sustainable and award-winning housing solutions worldwide.


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