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Home Trends by Melissa Birdsong

RISMEDIA, August 4, 2008-Thoughtful design can create a home that’s more usable by people of all ages and abilities-a home truly designed for life.

Have you ever struggled to open a door with arms full of groceries, tried to take a stroller up the front steps or maneuver a wheelchair into a too-narrow bathroom? If so, you’ve experienced the challenges of dealing with less-than-thoughtful home design. Universal design is a philosophy borne out of the need to make homes and other buildings more accessible and more usable for most people, regardless of age or ability. Creating a home that makes life easier, safer and more comfortable for the people who live there, and the people who visit, is at the heart of this idea.

Universal design is a guiding principle that, when applied, makes every home family-friendly for all. Fortunately, better functionality and good aesthetics are not mutually exclusive. The best home design incorporates both, and home buyers are demanding that their homes support healthier living without sacrificing style. With better planning, a home becomes more useful-and more marketable-to a broader audience of potential buyers.

Savvy home buyers are looking for cues that communicate livability and maneuverability: wide, no-step, zero-threshold entryways; a main floor master suite and seamless transitions from room to room. Little things make a big difference. Lever handles instead of knobs are easier to grasp when opening doors or turning on faucets, whether you’re dealing with arthritis or just slippery hands. Integrating “layered” lighting-general, task and accent-supports better vision for both young and old eyes. And those stylish rocker switches are much easier to turn on and off with a free elbow than the standard toggle.

A kitchen designed for versatile activities and family members opens up possibilities: varying counter heights, open-base cabinetry to allow stools, and easy-access side-by-side refrigerators reduce fatigue. In the bath, low- or no-threshold showers with integrated seating and adjustable handheld showerheads, taller toilets and grab bars-always grab bars-help prevent falls whether you’re young or young at heart.

So the question is not why build accessibility into a home, but rather why not? Issues in existing homes can be addressed with modifications and upgrades. For new construction, making simple adjustments to the plan before building begins can often cost just a few hundred dollars extra. Many consumers are putting greater emphasis on health and well-being, and having a home that supports a safer, more comfortable life while still delivering charm and curb appeal add up to a winning proposition.

Melissa Birdsong is vice president for Trend, Design & Brand, Lowe’s Companies, Inc.

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