Dennis Gabor, a Nobel Prize winner in physics and the inventor of holography, challenged the scientific community by stating, "The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented." When it comes to the home building industry, we certainly cannot predict the future, but through the incorporation of universal design, we may be able to invent the future, creating homes that can adapt to a family’s changing needs.
Mary Jo Peterson, author of "Gracious Spaces" and nationally recognized expert in universal design, helps redefine the idea beyond merely the inclusion of grab bars and ramps saying, "Universal design strives to support the lifestyle we wish to live through convenience and support. And when it's done right, you don't know it's there until you benefit from it."
Incorporating universal design into the BUILDER KB ProjeKt Concept Home that will be on display in Las Vegas in February 2019 doesn't necessarily require more expense; it merely requires more thought during the design process. It needs to begin when an architect's pen meets paper for the first time and includes bubble diagrams that rethink the traditional spatial relationships.
In the case of this BUILDER concept home, it was an inclusive process involving both the design and development team considering ideas like locating the laundry room near the master suite and providing an option for a "horizontal laundry chute" to drop your laundry from the closet or dressing area into a hamper in the laundry room. Ultimately, the team decided to not only have a laundry downstairs to serve the master suite, but a second one upstairs for the kids’ bedrooms or what might become a future rental unit.
Universal design is not just for an aging population, although that’s often how it’s perceived. It's about providing convenience and support for everyone from grandma to grandchild. It was purely by chance that the home my family moved into 24 years ago had a plug outlet paired with the light switch in the home's main hallway. We quickly learned it was a great location for a nightlight for the hallway, and it wasn't long until I realized that was the outlet we used every time to plug in the vacuum cleaner. No one noticed it until we realized the benefit of not having to bend over every time we needed to plug in the vacuum. And, it's not just the convenience for an aging adult with a bad back, but also a young mother with a baby in her arms. That is true universal design, creating a living environment that benefits everyone.
One of the major design goals of the KB Home ProjeKt, Where Tomorrow Lives, is to create a home that could serve as a starter family home and then adapt to be an empty nester home and beyond.
According to Mollie Carmichael of Meyers Research, in a recent survey of mature couples and retirees, the top choice for housing was to stay in their existing home, or as some refer to it, "age in place." I prefer to call it a home that meets a resident’s changing needs because the only thing that should “age in place” is blue cheese.
It is through the incorporation of universal design in every home, that any resident will be able to gracefully live in their home as their needs change. This means designing homes that allow for single-level living or provide the ability to add a lift as needed; the elimination of level changes on the ground floor and widening door approaches at the most utilized areas to allow for the potential need for "strike-side clearance" (i.e., the level maneuverable area required adjacent to the pull-/push-side of a door used in accessible paths-of-travel to allow wheelchairs users to approach and then open the door).
Once again, though, when done properly, the result should be the feel of a more elegant entry to the master suite and a more generous master bath rather than a space that is for the purpose of accommodating a resident in a chair. Anyone who has ever stubbed a toe on that bottom sliding door track stepping out of the traditional combo tub-shower can appreciate the pleasure of stepping out of a zero-threshold shower. New advances in operating systems, like the motion- and touch-activated faucets from Kohler can make living in a home easier for anyone from a youngster who may not be able to reach conventional controls or someone with arthritis who has difficulties with gripping them to a dad with muddy hands who doesn’t want to get the faucet dirty, too. These are all universal design concepts included in the KB Home ProjeKt.
As Dennis Gabor went on to state, "It was man's ability to invent which has made human society what it is." It will be up to the home building industry to invent homes that will make ageless living what it should be and the KB Home ProjeKt, Where Tomorrow Lives, will help show the way.