universal design in a kitchen

Décor By Pamela Hope Designs

Happy 2023! With the start of the New Year, we think it’s prime time to cover interior design that welcomes all—regardless of age, size, or ability. Many have heard about “aging in place” design concepts, which address aspects that are important to home owners as they approach their Golden Years. Special accommodations can be made to homes to help residents navigate spaces so they’re able to remain in their homes longer than if these features aren’t included. This said, universal design covers a broader array of features, taking into consideration residents’ changing needs over their lifetimes. While you may be fortunate enough to be in tip-top shape today, accidents can happen that temporarily or permanently result in revised housing modifications. Furthermore, proactively taking into account life changes and the natural aging process allows you to live in a space that all types of guests appreciate and you enjoy gracefully. Let’s explore several elements that can help you transform your current home or construct a new build appropriately.

Prevent tripping hazards. Consider haphazards along walkways approaching your house. Uneven paths are challenging for nearly everyone and especially the young, the elderly and those visitors or residents who are facing medical setbacks such as walking on crutches or using wheelchairs. Frankly, walkways that are not level pose risks for all and can be easily corrected with steppingstones or repaving the footpath.

Indoors, secure loose rugs with non-slip backing or add a slip-resistant mat underneath to anchor them in place. Seamless transitions between types of flooring also help simplify navigating your spaces. When possible, avoid adding even one step up to another room since that can be a bit of a balancing act. Always move clutter such as purses, laptop bags, children’s toys and umbrellas to storage areas that are both out of sight and out of walking areas. Piles of items on the floor not only looks messy, it’s disorganized and possibly dangerous.

door levers are ideal in universal design

Photo Courtesy of Emtek and MyKnobs.com

Easy open doors. Opt for door levers like these, rather than doorknobs that can be difficult to grasp and turn. Levers are great options for those with arthritis or join pain in their hands. Levers are also easier to use when your hands are full of groceries, dry cleaning, etc. Simply press downward with an elbow and your door opens.

We look at door levers as another piece of art because they really can dress up your interiors. Above, we’re featuring the Helios Door Lever in polished nickel by Emtek for its simple lines and soft hue. Below is another lever by Emtek called the Select Passage in urban modern rosette, that has a textured finish for easy gripping. Beyond looks, Pamela Hope Designs always has our clients feel the levers since some like a daintier touch, while others prefer a sturdier texture. These two examples illustrate the vast options in finishes, colors and weights that are available for door levers.

universal design uses door levers rather than door knobs

Photo Courtesy: Emtek and The Strategist

First floor preferences. Consider having at least one bedroom and full bath on the first floor. Of course, this is easier to accommodate if you’re planning new construction. However, if you’re remodeling a home, you may be able to add on a first-floor bedroom suite or repurpose another space. Stairs are quite difficult to navigate on crutches or with some other health impediments. A second master bedroom is a welcome bonus to guests of all capabilities. A first-floor office or study can be used as a bedroom. We have changed out glass French doors to solid doors, added draperies for privacy and light control or installed film to obscure the glass to create a more private bedroom space. While these rooms may not have a closet, especially in older homes, many of them have built-in shelving and cabinetry which can work in a pinch.

If stairs are a must in your home, Better Homes & Gardens has fantastic suggestions for improving their safety: “Make sure the area is well-lit. Use contrasting colors for stair treads and risers, so the change in level is evident. Railings on both sides of stairs allow you to use either arm to maintain stability. Extending handrails continually from top to bottom and being sure to include them on landings provides continuous support.” We are designing homes with much better staircase lighting these days, including small lights near every step. We encourage our clients to install carpet stair runners. Not only are they a beautiful addition to a staircase, they are quieter, safer and provide a softer landing in case of a trip or a fall. They really help your pets too. Some dogs have difficulty navigating slippery wood stairs.

Everything within reach. Whether you have youngsters at home or someone who is wheelchair-bound, thoughtful placement of switches is important. Better Homes & Gardens suggests “light switches, thermostats, and other controls should be no more than 48 inches from the floor. Switches situated between 36 to 48 inches can be reached by most people, standing or seated.”

This idea is also crucial in the kitchen, even for the able-bodied. If you’ve spent any time standing on hard floors while you prepare an extensive meal, you appreciate this. Install kitchen appliances so that they can be accessed while standing or sitting. For instance, microwaves that are placed under countertops can be operated no matter if you’re sitting or standing. Pull-out options for trash and storage allows you to see all the contents without bending over and stretching for the item you need that is in the back of the cabinet. We love this cookware storage drawer with one shallow drawer for lids and short pans as well as a deeper drawer for bulky pots.

pull-out drawers for universal design in kitchens

Photo Courtesy: John Granen and Better Homes & Gardens

Photo Courtesy: Gordon Beall and Better Homes & Gardens


Many kitchens have wasted space that’s not large enough for standard drawers or cabinets. Thinking more creatively allows us to make good use of smaller spaces while also keeping kitchen equipment within  Why do so many of us store cookie sheets above ovens? Take advantage of slim space by adding sheet pan storage in a narrow pull-out drawer between the oven and more traditional cabinets.

Moving to the laundry room, front-loading washers and driers have grown in popularity for their accessibility. Plus, these help empower children to help with the laundry since they can easily help load the machines. For those shopping, the LG WM4000H front-loader received top scores from The New York Times in a recent appliances review. According to Digital Trends, “Appliance manufacturers and retailers often offer sales on the three-day-weekend holidays and others such as: Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July and New Year’s.” If you’re in the market for appliances that help you introduce universal design into your home, mark your calendars for one of these holidays.

LG WM4000H front-loader washing machine for universal design in the laundry room

Photo Courtesy: LG and New York Times’ Wirecutter

No matter which stage in life you find yourself, universal design means that your home’s features can be accessed and enjoyed by by all. That encourages everyone to feel truly at home. If you’d like help incorporating universal design into your home remodel or new construction, contact Pamela Hope Designs today.

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