What an accessible home looks like

As more builders get the hang of the Livable Housing Design guidelines, the more creative the designs. And the more we see the concept of universal design in action.  Too many people associate accessibility with ugly public bathrooms, but the pictures below show that’s not the case. They show what an accessible home looks like. 

Good examples of universal design are difficult to find. Because universal design is invisible until pointed out, pictures alone do not tell the story. 

Thanks to Taylor’d Distinction for allowing the use of their pictures. They are based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Looking forward to the day when there is no need to have a separate section for “accessible housing”. It should be considered mainstream. After all, how many of us can invite a wheelchair basketballer into our home? See more on the quest for mainstream universally designed housing

Kitchen with white benches contrasting with the light brown floor.

Contrast between floor and benches

Kitchen island bench with timber finish giving colour contrast.
Timber finish contrast with kitchen bench
Bathroom design with dark tiles and floor and white bath and vanity bench.
Vanity bench has easy access
A white Labrador dog lays at the opening to the level access alfresco.
Level access alfresco
A stainless steel level handle.
Lever handles good for poor dexterity
Shower recess with half screen and hand held shower.
Shower recess with half screen
View into the bathroom through a wide door.
Wide doors throughout
Level access to the outdoors.
Level access to the outdoors
Light switches with large rockers.
Larger rocker switches easy to use
Laundry with white fittings. Washer and Dryer raised up.
Raised washer and dryer good for all backs

A view of the kitchen showing the bench height over and access to another room.Circulation space and bench height oven

Timber staircase with handrails both sides.
Handrails both sides for safety
A person with a four-wheeled walker rolls over the level threshold.
Level threshold gives access for all

 

Universal design in the kitchen

Picture shows a kitchen in timber tones. There is an island bench with an induction cooktop. Drawers replace cupboards. Universal design in the kitchen.
Universal design in the kitchen

The Center for Real Life Design at Virginia Tech renovated two kitchens to incorporate many universal design features. One was designed for a multi-generational family, including an older grandparent and a child with autism spectrum disorder. The other was planned as a multifamily kitchen. These examples show how to do universal design in the kitchen.

The Center’s webpage has an article that explains the design features, and several pictures illustrate the outcomes. The first part of the article is about the Centre, and the second part has detailed explanations.

Julia Beamish also published an academic article on this project that can be accessed from Ingenta Connect: Real Life Design: A Case Study in Universal Design. You can also access on ResearchGate and ask for a copy.

A related article by Sandra Hartje, also available through Ingenta Connect, is Universal Design Improves the Quality of Life for Individuals, Families and Communities. It’s about why it is important for families and communities to design universally rather than how to design.  

Kitchen lighting

A modern kitchen with a bowl of fruit in the foreground and a stove and microwave in the backgroundLighting is of particular importance to anyone with low vision. And people who wear glasses also need good light to see what they are doing. And more light isn’t always better if it produces glare.

Doug Walter writes in ProRemodeller magazine about research in kitchen lighting. He says, “Most kitchens are woefully underlit. Lighting is often an afterthought, yet even when it’s carefully planned, designers and lighting experts often don’t agree on which lamps work best in particular fixtures and where those fixtures should be located.”

In the absence of any standards, the kitchen designer or the homeowner to have to work it out for themselves. The article offers practical and technical advice about lighting the kitchen. 

The title of the article is Recessed Kitchen Lighting Reconsidered. Doug Walter also wrote The Right Way to Light a Kitchen

 

Creative bathroom designs

A long black sink shaped like a shelf hangs longways from the wall. The backwall is full length window and it is difficult to see the tap. It looks very modern.Todd Brickhouse’s latest Newsletter has some interesting pictures of bathroom designs. All are wheelchair accessible and look really good. 

While these designs are great for wheelchair users, there are others who might find these designs tricky to use. A case in point is a cantilevered sink against a glass wall. Maybe in real life it doesn’t trick the eye as much. However, I wouldn’t classify these designs as universal design. Anyone with perception problems would be confused with the sink. Have a look and see what you think. 

What the pictures clearly show is that accessible and universally designed bathrooms can look good. There is no limit to creative design.  Pale marble tiles line the walls of this bathroom. There is one long shelf with a mirror behind. A bath with a hand held shower is fitted just above the bath rim.Of course, a custom design for your own home should work for you if not others. 

This newsletter also has a picture of a man who got a tattoo of a cochlear implant on his head to make his daughter feel more comfortable with hers. 

Todd also has a magazine. He is based in New York. 

 

Stylish bathrooms with UD

A step free shower with a glass partition.The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.

Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.

 

Latest bathroom trends include UD

Bathroom study front coverRenovations are an important part of the home building industry. There is a push for older people in the US to consider designs that will allow them to stay put as they age. But are builders on board with this? It’s no good waiting until a client actually needs the features because by then, they will often not have the wherewithal to organise it. So it could be institutional care or a restricted lifestyle from there on.

The 2018 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study is a comprehensive report that has some interesting statistics about the age at which people might start thinking of their future needs and doing something about it. It also shows what they are actually doing in terms of renovation design. An interesting and easy to read study which supports the idea that these features should be designed into the home in the first place. It also features bathroom products and fittings.

See also the HIA information on stylish bathrooms with reference to accessibility. 

The future of kitchens

A kitchen with white cabinetry and a bar extension showing two place settings and chairs. The future of kitchens
The future of kitchens is changing

It is often quoted that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and that probably won’t change in the future. But what people might doing in the kitchen could change significantly. A blog on a product website lists five key design features for the future of kitchens: connectivity, sustainability, ease of use for all, and the rise of professional products. 

Below is a video where researchers and designers from around the world were asked how they thought kitchens will evolve. Their ideas on the future are worth looking at. There are some neat ideas at the end of the video. You can choose English subtitles in the settings.

The techno kitchen

Much has changed with electronics entering this design space. The soft touch openers for drawers and cupboards and height adjustable work benches and sinks are just the start. And they make the “techno” kitchen easy to use for everyone regardless of height and dexterity. Indeed, a universal design approach. As these easy to use fixtures appeal to all it won’t be long before these features are standard. The video below shows some of the latest. However, motorised adjustable benches can be a trap for fingers. You can see the potential for this in the video too.

A Useable Kitchen

View of a kitchen showing white drawers with D handles, an oven at waist height and a small breakfasr barA useable kitchen is a must and it is often the details of the design that make the difference. Once the overall working space has been thought through, the fittings become the focus.

Lifemark in New Zealand has partnered with Blum kitchen products and fittings that help make any kitchen more functional regardless of level of capability to open, grasp, or carry things. Drawers instead of cupboards are now standard in kitchen design, but storing items logically and tidily is another matter.

How to make your kitchen more usable covers workspaces and cabinetry, flooring, colour contrasting, taps and handles.

Other ideas

This item from a Todd Brickhouse Associates newsletter includes some good kitchen design ideas. Scrolling down the page, you can see a picture of a pull-out table that nests neatly under the kitchen bench and over the storage drawers when not in use. Colour contrast is mentioned as an important feature. Another idea is a dual height island bench which has multi functional use. The newsletter includes other items that are probably more specific to north America and also some disability specific items.

 

For a more academic article see Analysis of kitchen design to include UD. It takes an architect’s perspective.

For a product and futuristic take on kitchens see The future of kitchens

Small bathroom design and UD

picture of a free standing bathtub with a shower behind in teh cornerHome design magazines now feature larger bathrooms with larger fittings, such as freestanding bathtubs. The room has gone from being a purely functional space to one of relaxation and wellbeing. Consequently the design of smaller bathrooms is somewhat ignored. Designing for Small Bathrooms by Sivertsen and Berg, of Oslo and Akershus University of Applied Sciences, Norway, seeks to address this. Their research question was how to achieve the same sense of wellbeing in small bathrooms using universal design principles. This article requires institutional access or it can be purchased for a small fee.

AbstractThis paper will focus on how to design a series of bathroom products that work well for small bathrooms using the principles of universal design. In home culture research, Quitzau and Rřpke has studied bathroom transformation from hygiene to well-being. Bathrooms are one of the rooms in apartments that do not have good solutions for small spaces. This is unfortunate since it is the bathroom that has the least amount of space in urban apartments. This leads many people to have too little bathroom space due to furniture, toilets, showers, etc. In today’s society, the bathroom is no longer just a purpose room. It is used for relaxation and wellness. This has led to a trend where large furniture, such as freestanding bathtubs, dominate today’s market. This in turn allows the few solutions that exist for small bathrooms to remain poorly conceived. The research question was therefore how to create solutions for small bathrooms to get the same sense of well-being as in larger bathrooms through universal design principals. The principles of universal design, observations and in-depth interviews were used in the study. This study can help to create a greater understanding of how to design small bathrooms. It will be relevant in a cross disciplinary field, including for professionals in plumbing, product design and technical solutions. This will also increase the well-being of users of the bathroom.

Analysis of kitchen design to include universal design

Stylised drawing of a kitchen, somewhat 1950s style with pink and blue colours. Analysis of kitchen design to include UD features.Australian developers claim apartment living is the top choice for downsizing to a home with level entry. However, level entry into the home is only one universal design feature. When it’s time to upgrade the kitchen, this this is also the time to include universal design features. 

While apartments usually provide a level entry, the internal design of the dwelling may not support people as they age. Apartment kitchen design is an important consideration and is tackled in an article from Korea. Wheelchair circulation spaces are the key element which means the designs suit other mobility devices. The article includes several drawings of different sized kitchen layouts based on the analysis of user reach range and other capabilities.

The title of the article is, Application of Universal Design in the Design of Apartment Kitchens. There are technical specifications included. 

The authors note that the need for specialised housing designs for people with specific limitations are still needed: “But a better alternative is to make common housing more accessible, usable, and universal for the highest number of people with varied capabilities”.

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to suggest designs for apartment kitchens without major redesign for the elderly or the disabled, who are a fast growing population in Korea. According to the concept of universal design and the need to support various users as much as possible, five criteria for analysis were developed based on research on the mobility of wheelchair users: clear floor space, work flow, universal reach range, area for later use, and safety. Using the criteria developed, the accessibility and usability of five kitchen subtypes were investigated through the analysis of architectural documents.

The result shows that kitchen layouts in Korean apartments are typically difficult to navigate for wheelchair users. Modification of the locations of the refrigerator, sink, and range was mainly required for appropriate clear floor space, work triangle, and countertops. Moreover, alternatives to five unit types were suggested without the need to increase the current kitchen size. For application of universal design to kitchen design, considerations for not only the size, the shape of the kitchen and its appliances but also for clear floor space, work triangle, countertop, reach range, and knee clearance formed by the location of each appliance are required.

KY Kang and KH Lee, Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering.