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7 Design Secrets for a House You Can Live in Forever

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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The words dream house may conjure up fantasy amenities and custom trims. But smart homeowners also imagine a home they can live in forever -- with a young family, through busy midlife, and with many of the common physical limitations that getting older can bring, from arthritis to needing a wheelchair.

Universal design (UD) is the design of products and environments that are usable by most people, regardless of their level of ability or disability, and at little or no extra cost. From entryways to kitchens and bathrooms to bedrooms, they often increase the value of a home. UD brings together the principles of accessible design (meeting standards for handicapped access, using "adaptable" design, meaning "normal"-looking design that can be revised later for disabled use), ergonomic design (allowing people and things to interact most effectively and safely), and green design (environmentally friendly spaces). UD is sometimes also called "lifespan design."

These seven principles, set out by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, a national resource and technical assistance center, help inform useful design for all ages and stages of life:

1. Design that's equally appealing to all users

What it means

Wherever possible, universal design creates spaces that can be used by everyone equally and that are appealing to all. UD doesn't stigmatize any one group of users -- like those obvious wheelchair ramps tacked onto the fronts of older homes, for example.

What it looks like

  • At least one three-foot-wide, gently sloping, no-step entry -- meaning no porch step or tall threshold -- allows someone with a stroller, wheelchair, or walker to easily enter, without screaming "handicap entrance" to the mobile.

  • A lever-handled front door (as opposed to a round knob) can be a relief for sore or weak hands or anyone carrying packages, a baby, or a cane.

  • Mirrors placed where they can be seen from sitting and standing positions, such as a full-length or tilting mirror, mean you don't have to crane to see yourself.

  • Having no changes in floor levels throughout the main level of the house increases safety and accessibility and helps eliminate tripping. That means a just-walking toddler or an older adult who shuffles or has balance trouble can maneuver around as smoothly as someone using an assistive device, like crutches or a walker. And healthy people are less likely to trip and spill what they're carrying.