Why We Consider Universal Design in Every Project

Tova Greenberg is a certified PRO Universal Designer.

When Tova designs a renovation, she always keeps universal design (UD) principles in mind to ensure homeowners of all abilities can enjoy their space.

“Small changes can make a big difference,” explains Tova. “Whether it’s grab bars for the bath, a wider doorway, or sloped entrances, these types of design accommodations make it easier for parents with strollers, someone with an injury, and people who want to age in place. We consider it a best practice for home renovation design.” 

Sloping walkway allows for easy access to the front door with one tiny step at the entry.

In the case of the “We Cut the Gas” project referenced in our newsletter, one UD feature is the sloped front walkway so there’s just one small step from the stoop to the front door. In addition, all the interior doors on the first floor, including the door to the full bath/shower, are 34″ instead of the standard 30″. (Tova noted that she prefers 36” wide doors, but space restrictions only allowed for 34”.) These UD enhancements help guests of varying abilities to visit comfortably and, according to Tova, “it will be helpful if the homeowner’s parents eventually move into the home.”

An example from another project  includes a curbless shower—these are growing in popularity—and grab bars that complement the other bathroom hardware (see below example).

Curbless shower with a grab bar, along with a soaking tub.

Tova became a NARI Universal Design Certified Professional in 2016 and is now a PRO Universal Designer. While universal design is a broad term that incorporates everything from ADA accessibility standards to slightly wider hallways, it starts with the understanding that everybody’s needs change throughout life and the built environment should strive to accommodate people of all abilities.

Tova explains that having UD in mind during a renovation costs a lot less than adding it later—and “you never know when you will break your leg in a ski accident!” In the past, many homeowners may have resisted UD elements claiming they looked institutional, but today there are many elegant options that can actually add beauty and convenience. 

Not to mention, UD may add value to your home. According to a 2015 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University report, it’s anticipated that there will be an increased demand for homes with UD elements because the U.S. population aged 65 and over is expected to grow from 48 million to 79 million by 2035. In addition, the number of households headed by someone over 65 will increase by 66%, to almost 50 million. 

So when Tova suggests a wider doorway, bath grab bars, and other UD design elements that you may not think you need, remember it can add functionality and beauty to your home while providing a built space that is welcoming for people of all abilities.