Now trending: The ease of universal design

Project designed by Deborah Pierce AIA, CAPS, Pierce Lamb Architects; Photo: Kathy Tarantola Photography.

What’s important to owners building homes today?

Get the architect’s perspective in a survey of residential design trends. Read what Ellen Perko AIA, co-chair of the BSA Residential Design Committee; Mark Hutker FAIA, principal and founder of Hutker Architects; and Josh Safdie AIA, co-chair of the BSA Access Committee, have to say about what they’re seeing in home renovations, additions, and new construction.

  1. Now trending: Flexible storage, seamless space
  2. Now trending: A balanced, meaningful approach
  3. Now trending: The ease of universal design

This content first appeared in the Domicile issue of ArchitectureBoston magazine, winter 2016, volume 19, issue no. 4. All rights reserved. For more on Domicile, visit

The ease of universal design

By Josh Safdie AIA

Although many of our clients are people with disabilities, or older homeowners hoping to age in place gracefully, just as many are “typical” clients without disabilities, whom the average person wouldn’t expect to be interested in Universal Design. And they’re not—or at least they don’t think they are—yet many of the requests we get from them suggest otherwise.

The 21st-century sensibility is to aspire to a more streamlined, user-friendly way of life. We are seeing these Universal Design goals applied equally to renovations, additions, and new construction, in single-family homes and in multifamily apartment buildings. At the heart of its seven principles is the simple belief that products and environments should be “usable by all people.” Three are particularly appealing today.

Simple and intuitive use: The coffee table cluttered with seven remote controls is a thing of the past. With the increased connectivity of our technology, home systems operate simply and elegantly via smartphones or other wireless devices. Thermostats and security systems have had this capability for some time, but we are now seeing this user interface in home media, lighting systems, baby monitors, and even wall ovens.

Size and space for approach and use: We are designing kitchens, bathrooms, and other spaces in the home that are specific to residents’ unique sizes, shapes, or habits. Kitchen counters are set at 38 inches for an unusually tall couple, or a portion is set at 30 inches for a built-in kids’ station. Pocket doors to bathrooms and closets provide for more room in tight spaces, and oversize showers accommodate the family pet, a shower chair for Grandpa, or a portable baby tub.

Flexibility in use: Clients are carving must-have bonus rooms out of attics and basements, adding them to existing residences, or giving them prime real estate on the main floor of new houses. It’s the epitome of flexibility. Over a homeowner’s lifetime, the family might use this space as a kids’ play area, an entertainment center, a home office, a guest room, an accessible bedroom on the main floor of the home, or a private room for a live-in home health aide.

As we continue to become more diverse in age and ability, functionality trends will persist. How it works, more than how it looks, will be the standard by which good design is measured.