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Universal Design Can Help People Age in Their Homes

Fewer steps, wider doors may prevent having to move

Seattle contractor Leif Jackson recently helped a couple remodel their one-story home to make the kitchen, bathroom and hallways accessible for the wife's wheelchair.

See also: What is Universal Design?

The tricky part? "It was really important to the client that things not look, in her word, 'gimpy,' " said Jackson, who owns Jackson Remodeling with his brother, Erik.

Jackson's solution was to tap into the increasingly popular concept of universal design, which makes homes accessible for young and old, healthy and infirm, without making the homes look sterile and cold.

The trend is fueled partly by the economic downturn that has propelled people to remodel rather than buy a new home. But the real engine behind universal design is a desire to age in place.

An AARP national survey in November found that two-thirds of those age 45 and older want to remain in their homes as long as possible. The percentages tend to increase, up to 90 percent, as people age. Architects and designers have responded by creating ways to make homes safe and livable for all stages of life.

Once an issue just for older people, universal design is now more broadly applied to all ages and all stages of life.

"It's becoming increasingly more popular and available," said AARP spokeswoman Nancy Thompson.

Jackson sees more people among his clients planning ahead, "even if they're able-bodied now. They want to age as much as possible in their own homes."

Aging boomers have pushed architects to focus more on multigenerational housing, said Grace Kim, cofounder of Schemata Workshop in Seattle. Boomers are eager for designs that allow them to live with their kids or parents. They want space for a stroller or a wheelchair but don't want a home that looks "scary and institutional and weird," Kim said. "Universal design isn't just about grab bars."

Next: What's in a winning Universal Design home? >>

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