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Universal design makes sense for every home

  • March 15, 2008
  • Bruce Bromley

 By Rose Bennett Gilbert Thursday, March 13 2008, 02:34 AM EDT

Q: We are looking down the road to when my wife will probably be dependent on a wheelchair, given her medical prognosis. We’d already planned to build a retirement home in a resort community, so now we’ll just make whatever adjustments are necessary. Here’s our question: is there a good source for ideas on architecture for the handicapped?

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My wife is worried that our new house will look ugly if we adapt things for her wheelchair.

A: First, a bit of attitude adjustment seems in order here: ditch the word “handicapped.” Next, what you’re talking about is “universal design,” and that’s not just PC-speak. Since the 1990s, the design and architecture communities have been determined to make public places equally accessible to all people: small, tall, left-handed, wheel-chaired, deaf, blind, whatever.

Now that same loving kindness has been focused on private homes, too, which means that no matter what challenges life may inflict – including adjustments to old age – anyone can go on living a productive life. No sentimental sop, this. Universal design translates into freedom, function, and – tell your wife – smart fashion for the home.

It’s also just plain smart. Universal design, aka “accessible design,” allows us to “age in place,” staying in our own homes, surrounded by our own things, safe in our known domestic world.

And that world can be totally, unselfconsciously attractive. To wit, the high, wide and handsome living space in the photo we show here. Uncluttered, graciously open floor spaces and easy-access sliding doors to the outside are designed with a wheelchair in mind. But who’d guess? And who cares?

We borrowed this photo from a new book you’ll find both informational and inspirational, “Universal Design for the Home,” by Wendy A. Jordan, an award-winning writer and regular contributor to www.hgtvpro.com (Quarry Books is the publisher).

Wendy shows and tells in 200-plus pages how to rethink home design in such stylish, good-sense ways that, she says, choosing to apply universal design becomes a “why not?” decision.

Q: The Super Bowl did it! I have to find a way to get my husband’s big TV out of our bedroom – and out of my sight! But we have a small apartment, and the only other place for the TV would be in the living room. I grew up in a family that left the TV on all the time, even during meals! I vowed then not to let it dominate my grown-up life. What to do?

A: Help is on the way. As you are not alone in your loathing of that intrusive “small screen” (as opposed to big movie screens), it was inevitable that other offended TV viewers would come up with innovative ways to hide the set.

A number of top furniture manufacturers have outfitted consoles, bed footboards and cabinets with mechanisms that raise and lower the TV screen at the touch of a remote control. Among the resources to check out: www.hookerfurniture.com; www.stanleyfurniture.com; www.slighfurniture.com, and www.sauder.com. Now comes a novel approach to hide-and-seek TV: a decorative tapestry that hangs on a motorized rod and raises and lowers by remote control over a flat-screen, wall-mounted TV. Brainchild of home furnishings manufacturer Andrew Kane, the tapestry can be any size up to 90 inches long and 12 pounds heavy. Kane’s company ( www.tapestriesltd.com) cuts the rod to fit and ships it with a motorized unit that’s powered by either a 12-volt battery or AC wall plug.

The set-up costs under $400 (plus the price of the tapestry and decorative brackets).

But what price domestic bliss?