Home  >   Blog - Interior Design & Decorating  >   WHAT IS UNIVERSAL DESIGN?



Perfect for Young & Old

I was just writing about modifications that baby boomers may need to make to their homes if they plan to stay in them as they age and it got me thinking about Universal Design. If the principles of Universal Design had been applied in a home from the start, there would be no need for a bathroom remodel or other home improvements in order to accommodate easier access or create a safer environment. All areas of the home would be safe and accessible already. Pasadena contractors and interior designers are experiencing more frequent requests from older clients to incorporate Universal Design into renovations.


For something to be considered a Universal Design it has to follow a set of principles to create products, buildings and environments that are both aesthetically pleasing and accessible to as broad a range of people as possible, regardless of age, ability or status.

The idea of Universal Design came about as a reaction against many handicapped accessible spaces or adaptive technology that were downright ugly and created a real divide between able and disabled people.

Some examples of Universal Design are:

  • Sidewalk ramps that make life easy for people in wheelchairs but that people can walk up as well
  • Clear large print labels to help people with limited vision
  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
  • Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting

How many times have you squinted to read the ingredients on prepackaged food or struggled to read tiny instructions. We could certainly all benefit from larger print!

The term Universal Design is generally attributed to Ronald L. Mace. In 1997 at North Carolina State University, he led a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers to develop the 7 principles of Universal Design, which are:

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use

As life expectancy continues to improve and baby boomers are redefining retirement, Universal Design makes a lot of sense and is growing in popularity. I love the idea that so many of these adaptations work just as well for young children as they do for their grandparents.

By Jane Noble