In the last eight years, that story has changed. Every home I have designed has included a conversation about the owner having the desire to stay in that house as they grew older with the ability to design in features that made rooms useable, even if physical disabilities came to be a reality. Along with designing for disabilities has come the concept of universal design, which basically means designing a space to be used by all ages and all abilities.
With the aging population, the focus seems to be concentrated on designing for diminished ability that comes with age. It also means design for all disabilities and sizes and ages. A 5-year-old may have trouble navigating a standard three-foot-high counter, light switch, a can opener or even a door. By designing in the realm of universal design, the designer focuses on how whatever is designed can be used and enjoyed, no matter what the circumstance and ability.
And so it is with the house my wife and I are building across the street from the house we lived in for 19 years as our children went from elementary and middle schools through high school and finally college.
During that time, our neighbors aged along with us. Their children played on the lot we eventually built on and then also grew up and moved away. When we acquired the lot eight years ago, we started thinking about the idea of designing a house to meet our needs as more mature adults now being classified as empty nesters.
That home of 19 years met the needs of two young, healthy adults with three kids who were energetic and physically active. During those years, I was running, riding a bike, playing golf and playing tennis as well as coaching youth sports. It didn’t matter that all the bedrooms and the full baths were upstairs. There were no issues with walking stairs 20 times a day.