Universal Design & Whole House Remodel

“Universal Design offers a choice to stay at home. If you are already planning a remodel, I always encourage homeowners to incorporate features that make their home more accessible, be that now or in the future. And it doesn’t have to look like a hospital. We can meld these elements into your home’s aesthetic so that it offers beauty and accessibility in equal measure,” explains Harrell Remodeling Designer, Debra Winston.

Here are key takeaways on how to include Universal Design features in your home on a scale both large and small.

Start at the Street

As you enter and depart, consider the various obstacles for those who may have mobility challenges. Many homes have a step up to the front door and creating a zero-step threshold via an inclined surface is an ideal way to remove this situation. The inclined access can be at a back or side door, can be made from decking, concrete or any other smooth surface. Integrating it into the surrounding landscape as well as the aesthetic of the house itself makes it appear as a purposeful design element.

Consider adding handrails to any exterior stairs, having well illuminated pathways, porches and entryways. A lighted house number is a code requirement but also enables emergency responders to more easily locate your home.

Backyards & Garden Spaces

Garden and yard spaces can be created or modified with Universal Design principles. Remove any tripping hazards such as stepping-stones or uneven surfaces where possible. Porches and decks should be enclosed with railings or large potted plants, both serving as a barrier against falling. If there is more than one step leading to a deck or other outdoor space, add a handrail for safety and accessibility. All hand and guardrails should be 42 inches high. (If the guardrail also serves as a handrail on stairs, it can be at 36 inches high.) The space between vertical railings must be no more than 4 inches wide.

Entryways

Entry doors should be a minimum of 36 inches wide and should have a peephole at an accessible level for all residing within the home. At the point of entry, there should be a beveled transition or low-profile threshold to allow easy passage of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. A bench or landing for placing bags while opening the door also is desirable.

Garages

If the garage is the primary entry point, eliminate clutter to create a clear path to get into and out of a vehicle as well as enter the residence. If the entry into the house from the garage has more than one step, a ramp may be necessary.

The Interior

Multi-Level Homes

Many people have two story houses, which can be made accessible if there is at least one bedroom and a full bath on the main level.

Residences with multiple levels can be made fully accessible by installing a chair lift or an elevator. The opportunity for each is dependent upon the space available and the overall layout of the home. Budget plays a significant part as well.

Chair lifts are the less expensive option and require a landing area at the top and bottom of the stairs for the user to easily enter and exit. Elevators can be installed internally or externally and should be spacious enough to accommodate a person in a wheelchair plus one additional person. During a major remodel, a home can be redesigned with an elevator shaft (hallways and closets are great areas to use) but professional installation of an exterior lift can solve access challenges without “tearing up the house,” Debra explains. Installation should always be performed by a licensed elevator contractor.

Lighting & Electrical

Proper illumination in every room of your home is a key to Universal Design. Task lighting, ambient lighting and dimmable lights that offer visibility at night make a home safer and more navigable. When possible, install light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats at levels accessible to those who are seated.

Flooring

If you plan on replacing flooring in your home, strive for a seamless transition from one space to another. Using the same flooring throughout when possible avoids the need for transition strips, making even inexpensive flooring appear high-end. If this isn’t achievable, thresholds of ½ inch or less create a smoother flow and a reduced tripping hazard. Taping or securing area rugs – or removing them altogether – eliminates tripping hazards.

Hallways & Doors

If you have the opportunity during a remodel, increase the width of hallways and doors. Most interior passageways should be 36 inches wide, but an additional six to 12 inches makes them more maneuverable, comfortable and flexible.

The typical interior door is 32 inches wide with some as narrow as 26 inches. Increasing doorways to 36 inches allows for easy passage, especially for those using mobility devices. If doorways cannot be made wider, there are some opportunities to widen doorways by using specialized offset hinges. These move the door out of the pathway when opened, increasing the passageway by 1-3/4 inch. Installing levered handles allow all doors to be opened and closed by those with limited grip or hand strength.

Bathrooms & Kitchens

Bathrooms with Universal Design elements can ensure homeowners can live comfortably and safely in their own home. For more specifics on integrating elements of Universal Design in bathrooms, refer to our blog on this topic.

As the heart of the home, implementing Universal Design principles in your kitchen also greatly enhances its long-term livability. Learn more about how to merge these elements into your kitchen by reading our Kitchens & Universal Design blog.

Laundry Rooms

Front loading machines set on pedestals provide ideal access while offering additional storage at a low level. Having a rolling laundry basket is also a plus.

Universal Design is a way to make your entire home livable for all stages of life, for people of all abilities and ages. It is a worthwhile investment to incorporate elements of Universal Design. These principles can be implemented all at once during a major remodel, in specific rooms, such as during a kitchen or bath remodel, or anytime you are considering any type of upgrade, including flooring, door hardware or lighting. Explore more about Universal Design on our website.

Founded in 1985 by Iris Harrell and 100% employee-owned, Harrell Remodeling Design+Build has been creating distinctive homes for 35 years. To learn more about Universal Design and how it can make your home more livable for years to come, we invite you to talk with one of our Designers. Feel free to email us or call our Palo Alto office at 650-230-2900 to schedule a meeting to talk more about Universal Design.

Harrell Remodeling Designers Win Multiple NARI META Awards

Two of Harrell Remodeling Inc.’s Designers were honored recently at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) Silicon Valley awards gala. Gloria Carlson and Debra Winston received coveted META Remodeling Awards for multiple projects that transformed the homes of three Harrell Remodeling clients. Both designers have received META honors in the past but, as Gloria shares, “A large part of the award is the fact that we’ve solved very unique problems, making dramatic and often life-changing transformations in our clients’ homes. Clients love to feel that their needs were met but in such a way that their home was acknowledged as an award-winner.”

META, short for metamorphosis, “signifies the transformation process and beautiful results that can be accomplished through a remodeling project.” The Silver, Gold and Platinum awards are categorized by project price point and include everything from interior redesigns of kitchens, baths and living spaces to residential landscape design to entire home remodels.

Designer Debra Winston won multiple META Gold awards for two projects within one residence, which incorporated Universal Design principles to enable the homeowners to age in place. The first project took a small, outdated master bathroom from “Blah to BLING” while the second Gold award winning project transformed the compartmentalized floor plan into a spacious and dramatic interior.

Blah to Bling

Two META Gold awards for Residential Bathroom under $100,000 & Universal Design Bathroom

“This couple isn’t afraid of color or of embracing their unique style and personality in the home,” Debra remarks. “This project definitely proves that Universal Design can be beautiful and functional.”

Dark, dated, and depressing, this original San Jose master bath was small and was not wheelchair-accessible. The corner shower was much too small for assisted bathing and had a high curb that created an entry barrier. Debra reconfigured the area, more than doubling its size by taking space from the hall bathroom. In its place Debra designed a stunning spacious roll-in shower with teak folding bench, grab bars, and a handheld shower to make bathing safe, easy and accessible. The wall-hung Toto Washlet toilet and white high-gloss floating vanity with Silestone quartz white platinum counters are functional and attractive. The “bling” comes from wall, floor, and backsplash tiles with burnished metallic finishes, glittering mosaics, and silver “ribbon candy” pendant lights that add sparkle.

Debra relates, “One of the wife’s guilty pleasures is collecting fragrances and nail polish. To display her collection in style while offering easily accessible storage, we added was a 16-inch X 5-foot Robern medicine cabinet.”

Dark to Dramatic

META Gold Award for Residential Interior $250,001-$500,000

The same homeowners also needed to convert the entry, kitchen and great room of their home to increase functionality and accessibility. The existing 1950’s kitchen was dark, narrow, and closed off from the living space by a 16-foot long wall.

Removing the entry coat closet and the dividing wall created an open floor plan, allowing ease of movement and linking the great room and kitchen together. The same glossy white cabinets grace the updated kitchen and are accented by vivid glass “wavy” backsplash tiles and matching pendants above the contrasting dark island. The kitchen is illuminated with recessed lighting and a skylight.

Luxury vinyl plank flooring extends into the great room, which had a dated brick fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases with scalloped wood trim, all which had been painted white. The space was transformed by applying concrete over the existing brick for an industrial look, adding metal mesh door panels to the bookcases, and matching the color of the kitchen island. Floating shelves and an edgy wallpaper transform the space into one that is functional, accessible, and captures the homeowner’s distinct style.

“The homeowners aren’t afraid to be bold with color, texture, and design,” Debra explains. “In their previous home, they used a small-run “stealth print” wallcovering and decided to continue this adventurous design aesthetic by incorporating a fanciful skeleton wallpaper as a feature wall in their new great room.”

Last but not least, all interior doors were painted a charcoal gray, and the home’s exterior was modernized, removing the dated scalloped facia and adding horizontal cedar plank siding. The stucco was painted a deep teal and the exterior entry door a bright orange, creating curb appeal with significant WOW factor.

Small to Spacious & Stunning

META Gold Award for Residential Interior Remodel $100,000-$250,000

Harrell Remodeling Senior Designer, Gloria Carlson, was a META award winner for her transformative design on a two-story Menlo Park home. The layout of the client’s home restricted her ability to age in place as there was no bed and bathroom space on the main level that offered the necessary accessibility.

To achieve a functional, accessible, and beautiful master suite, Gloria reconfigured the existing floor plan, which included a barely usable ensuite “micro” bathroom and small closet, with an adjacent sub-standard “bedroom” that was too small to be used as one.

By incorporating the footprint of the second bedroom, Gloria created a luxurious master bathroom and walk-in closet, both 3-1/2 times larger than their original spaces. The once infinitesimal closet was expanded to a walk-in closet, allowing the owner to store all of her clothing in one place whereas before, it was scattered in various closets throughout the home.

A large shower includes accessibility features such as a low curb, folding teak bench and grab bars. The client and Gloria worked together to lay out the shower tiles to mimic hot air balloons floating skyward, reminding the homeowner of one of her favorite getaways.

Gloria interspersed numerous other personal touches reminiscent of vacations including custom cabinet knobs made from stones found near the owner’s beloved mountain cabin on the double vanity and seated make-up area.

“The homeowner is a tall woman and she wanted the bathroom designed to comfortably fit her height,” Gloria explains. “Now she has a master ensuite bath that not only fits her personality but her stature, enabling her to comfortably and safely live in her home for years to come.”

Baker’s Dream Kitchen & Functional Garage

META Gold Award for Residential Interior Remodel $250,001-$500,000

Gloria designed a dream kitchen for another Menlo Park client, a close-knit family that loves to bake. Their adult son is a professional baker while the husband makes 1,000 truffles at a time multiple times a year. Their kitchen was attractive yet the confined space was not conducive to the cooking and baking functionality this family desired.

“This family is very unique and as such, had very specific requirements and challenges to solve in their home remodel,” Gloria states. “Not only were they avid bakers and chefs but they had a menagerie of exotic pets whose needs they also wanted to embrace in their remodeling project.”

Significant changes to the structure were made to create the dream kitchen that fit the family’s lifestyle. A load-bearing wall was removed, and a massive engineered beam inserted into the ceiling framing opened the kitchen and dining areas. It also allowed for a large island with seating for four, a lower counter area for the son’s baking while the husband used the large, higher portion of the island for making his truffles. With so many special baking appliances and accoutrements, storage was at a premium. Appliance “garages” were added for mixers and other large items while overflow storage was added to the home’s garage. The end result is an open, expansive space filled with natural and artificial light, colorful cabinets, plentiful prep space and storage, high-end appliances, and a mosaic backsplash, which is a nod to the family’s Spanish heritage.

The garage itself also underwent a significant METAmorphosis, transforming it into a fully functional space for laundry and overflow kitchen storage. Gloria also designed a secure location to store high-end bicycles in addition to a separate area for storing food for their tortoises, iguanas, snakes and other reptile pets.

Founded in 1985 by Iris Harrell, Employee-Owned Harrell Remodeling, Inc. has been transforming distinctive homes for 35 years in the Bay Area. If you are considering a METAmorphosis of your Silicon Valley or Mid-Peninsula home, Harrell Remodeling’s award-winning Design + Build team can make your residential dreams a reality. Explore our website to see more of our projects, learn about our company or to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Universal Design and Kitchen Remodels

Genie Nowicki is one of Harrell Remodeling’s Universal Design experts. Passionate about creating living spaces that are functional, accessible, and beautiful, she explains how Universal Design can be incorporated into a kitchen “in small bites without major design changes.” Or, if a homeowner is undergoing a full kitchen remodel, more comprehensive changes can be integrated into the overall design.

“I fully believe that homeowners should take advantage of making their home accessible whenever the opportunity presents itself,” says Genie. “Many people think that Universal Design products will make their home look and feel like a hospital but in reality, they are beautiful. When a space is properly designed, you’d never realize it was created to be accessible. And accessibility can benefit the entire household.”

The Small Bite Approach

Even if you don’t plan to undertake a major kitchen remodel, there are still Universal Design principles that can easily be applied. Cabinet hardware and faucets can easily be changed, appliances can be upgraded to those allowing easier access, and existing cabinets can be modified using special storage solutions, drawers, and unique shelving units that extend outward.

Simple Universal Design Solutions

  • Cabinet hardware: install pulls instead of knobs
  • Faucets: Install a single lever faucet to the side of the sink to allow for easier reach
  • Drawers: use full extension for increased accessibility
  • Base Cabinets: Use roll-outs and drawers versus shelves
  • Upper Cabinets: Forego a backsplash and have cabinets come all the way down to the counters
  • Storage Accessories: Installed inside cabinets, these make items easier to reach
  • Dishwashers: Choose an appliance manufacturer, like Fisher Paykel, that offers dishwasher drawers rather than doors.
  • Refrigerator: Choose a unit with the freezer drawer on the bottom
  • Wall Ovens: Install at a comfortable, reachable height. A better choice than a one-piece range
  • Microwave: Install at a level accessible to those seated or standing

Genie explains, “One of the most ingenious Universal Design products I’ve discovered is made by Hafele, a company that offers a variety of kitchen storage solutions as well as cabinet hinges. They have a hinge mechanism that allows upper shelves to pull out and drop down to a lower level, making them fully accessible to someone who is seated or has any issue with reaching high places.”

Incorporating Universal Design Into a Kitchen Remodel

Updating your kitchen is the perfect opportunity to maximize accessibility. It allows a design to be achieved that creates ample space and reachability alongside function and beauty.

Comprehensive Universal Design Solutions

In addition to those accessibility features listed above, the following solutions can be included when a kitchen is being fully redesigned.

  • Ample aisle space: A minimum of 48 inches between counters and one 60-inch diameter open space to allow a wheelchair to turn around
  • Counter heights: Standard counters are 36 inches but to achieve the best accessibility, 33 inches is ideal. Having counters at both heights creates multiple useable workspaces, with the lower counter also serving as an accessible space for young children or as a baking center.
  • Flooring: Smooth, non-skid surfaces with seamless transitions ensure durable, easy to maintain floors that virtually eliminate tripping hazards and allow for mobility devices to move easily in the space. Hardwood, luxury vinyl tile, engineered wood, porcelain tile with machined edges, linoleum, and sheet vinyl are all viable options.
  • Cooktops: Induction units are responsive and easy to clean. These electric appliances only heat the cookware; the surface itself never get hot, virtually eliminating the risk of fire or injury.
  • Stove hoods: Choose an appliance with a remote-control unit that can be mounted on the side of a reachable cabinet.
  • Outlets and switches: Place on the face of cabinets or at levels that are easily reachable by those in seated positions.
  • Lighting: Use of natural light sources in addition to LED fixtures create ample light. Recessed or surface mounted fixtures are ideal for overall illumination while under-cabinet task lighting should be installed at the front underside of cabinets. Decorative pendant lights over islands are also popular.
  • Counters: Polished black granite or quartz is a very reflective surface. This can cause a lot of glare making it uncomfortable to sensitive eyes when lighting bounces off.
  • Pull out breadboards: Create an instant, functional “roll under” work area.
  • Rolling carts or butcher blocks: These allow for easy transport of ingredients, dishware, or other kitchen items for those using mobility devices.
  • Appliance lifts: These mechanisms are installed inside cabinets and eliminate having to lift and move heavy appliances such as mixers. The appliance is securely placed on the lift which easily pulls up and locks into place. These mechanisms require a larger, 18-inch cabinet.
  • Roll-under sink and cooktops: By designing an open space beneath cooktops and sinks, individuals using wheelchair are able to get close enough to wash dishes and prepare meals. Drains and garbage disposals should be located toward the back of a shallow sink.

Genie explains that an additional level of thoughtful design is required when applying Universal Design, especially in kitchen spaces. The initial interview process is critical in understanding how the homeowners use their space, allowing a designer to problem-solve, often creating a functional solution that didn’t previously exist. Things like plumbing and electrical along with counters, storage, and creating ample space all need to be planned in advance.

“The kitchen is a very personal space and there are numerous ways to integrate UD products and principles, many of which depend upon the homeowners, their lifestyle and how they use the space,” Genie offers. “There is a unique motorized solution for sinks or cooktops. With the push of a button, the counter raises or lowers up to six inches. This product takes preplanning but adds an amazing level of accessibility.”

Incorporating Universal Design doesn’t require a significant kitchen remodel. There are many aspects that can be applied without major design changes. But if you are contemplating a kitchen remodel, integrating accessibility features is something to seriously consider, especially if this will be your forever home.

Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of Harrell Remodeling Inc.’s designers to learn more about Universal Design and how it can increase the functionality, accessibility, and beauty of your Silicon Valley or San Francisco Bay Area residence.

Premier senior designer, Genie Nowicki, is certified in numerous forms of design and the recipient of multiple awards. Genie joined the Harrell Remodeling team after years of running her own successful design business. Beginning her career in the world of income tax planning, she made a career leap in 1990 to the equally “detail and code-filled world” of kitchen and bath design. Genie obtained her Certification in Professional Kitchen and Bath Design in 1992 and achieved her Certified Kitchen Designer (CID) and Certified Bath Designer (CBD) status in 1996. After passing another rigorous examination, she became a Certified Interior Designer (CID) in the State of California in 2002 and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) in 2006. Her experience has included residential interior design, kitchen and bath design, barrier free/Universal Design, lighting design, and participation in numerous showcase houses in the Bay area, as well as several commercial projects. Genie prides herself on listening to her clients and providing timeless design work that is appropriate to her clients, their lifestyles, and their homes. Her excellence in design has been recognized with awards, projects published in local and national magazines, and a Sunset design book, and an article she wrote was featured in the Fine Homebuilding Kitchen and Bath Annual Issue.

Three Style and Design Trends

Three trends, styles and designs that are on the forefront of our designing minds these days…

1. Designed for Aging

Many Designers are becoming certified aging-in-place specialists (CAPS), in response to the growing need to identify ways to help aging baby boomers “age gracefully” in their homes, for as long as possible. Universal design is one such trend that is coming to the forefront of main stream design for homes.  Look for easy kitchen and bath upgrades to enhance functionality, comfort and safety. Features such as wide hallways, enlarged and zero-step walk-in showers, wall hung vanities and lowered countertops blend seamlessly into the design so that the home does not have a clinical or institutional appearance.  (zero-step shower and wall hung vanity are shown to the left)

2. California is All About Outdoor Living

Outdoor living is here to stay. The yard and garden become a part of the floor plan when sliding glass doors or retractable glass walls such as nana-walls™, open up the home and lead to patios and decks, either covered or open to allow for natural light. Outdoor rooms may even include kitchens with sophisticated sinks and grills, including features such as built-in fireplaces, eco-friendly fire pits that burn clean fuel (ethanol) , LED lighting in a variety of colors including water-proof rope lighting discreetly hidden along fences, pathways or decking.

3. Glass Backsplashes

Be on the lookout for back-painted, solid glass panel backsplashes in contemporary settings, which provide a colorful yet ultra-clean, sleek alternative to the more traditional tile backsplash.  This sleek look can also compliment a kitchen or bathroom that has busy patterns in the cabinets, flooring or countertops.  Glass will provide a simple backsplash will not compete with the surrounding textures, and add either a pop of color or neutrality to your space.  (mustard glass backsplash in the photo to the left)

Article Credits: Ciro Giammona – President and General Contractor

5 Universal Design Concepts in Bay Area Home Remodeling

One of the growing trends for home remodeling projects in the Bay area is universal design. The basic idea is that various elements make it easier for people of any age to live in the home comfortably and safely. From toddlers to senior citizens, universal design creates a non-restrictive environment that is convenient in day-to-day living and life-enhancing for those with physical restrictions. Here are 5 universal design concepts to consider for your next Bay area home remodeling project.

1. Elevators – Home elevators and vertical lifts are common choices for improved transportation and safety. An alternative or addition to stairwells, they are useful for family members using wheelchairs and walkers. They are also helpful for people of all ages with unsteady balance or sore muscles. Residential elevator design is far from what you see in office buildings. They can be custom designed for nearly any shape or size and are made from many different materials, from clear tubes to elegant wooden or gated metal structures. Elevators can provide transport from floor to floor or in shorter distances from level to level, as in a sunken living room.

2. Wide Doorways – Trying to roll a wheelchair down the hall, whether it’s a child with a broken leg or an aging parent, can be challenging with older architectural width standards. Many older houses have narrow doorways and hallways which restrict passage from one room to the next or one part of the house to another for anyone in a wheelchair or walker. This can be remedied in your next home remodeling project.

3. Open Spaces – Open spaces make mobility easier. Passing from one room to another means negotiating walls by going around them. Minimizing walls not only improves pathways, it also allows for a better line of sight for parents keeping an eye on young children.

4. Bathroom – A Bay area bathroom remodeling project is a prime place for universal design. Showers with no threshold and built-in bench seating remove tripping hazards and improve comfort while bathing. Toilets that are 17 inches high instead of the former standard of 14 are easier to negotiate, especially for family members with sore backs and bad hips. Non-slip flooring and handrails improve footing and balance.

5. Storage – From bedroom closets to kitchen cabinets, storage design plays a significant role in most Bay area remodels. D-shaped handles are easier to use, requiring a lighter hand grip and less dexterity. Overhead compartments and placement of shelves close to the floor can be minimized or automated.

When you’re planning a home remodeling project, our experienced Design + Build team can help you discover a variety of universal design concepts that will enhance your quality of life in the present and for the future.