A Welcome Home

January 24, 2010

A vivid and powerful memory from my childhood is of my grandmother, who was wheelchair bound, visiting our home in the 70s, well before the American Disabilities Act was in place. Because her wheelchair didn’t fit anywhere, and because of our stairs, my grandpa or my dad had to carry her everywhere – into our house, into restaurants, into the bathroom. 


Me with my grandma and mom

She was sweet, joking about being a bride being carried over the threshold, but she must’ve felt humiliated at times. Now as my parents age, their home is becoming a more difficult place for them to live. I’m sure this is true for most of their fellow baby boomers.

In my last blog, Master Planning, Dreaming Prudently, I wrote about how careful detailing of construction and repairs is a top priority when considering the sustainability of a home, and how thoughtful design for current and future needs is critical to efficient building and decision-making throughout the years. High-performance, quality design and construction helps to assure that the building will remain useful and vital and will not be demolished to become landfill.

To really meet this goal of the viability of a home for generations, the design of a renovation or new home should also include planning for future changes in the family structure, or changing abilities of family members. Universal Design is the design of buildings for all people, regardless of age or abilities. Universal Design can be followed exhaustively or minimally, depending on the objective. At minimum, it makes sense that every home, when possible, has an entry that is at ground level, and a bathroom on the first floor that is accessible or could easily be made accessible.

With these features in their home, the owners are able to stay if their or their family members’ abilities change, with some minor changes to create a first floor bedroom if one doesn’t exist. Their home is also welcoming for older and less-able guests.

pnk house

Some welcoming folks at a non-greenbridge designed home

AARP, a leading advocate for universal design, lists five common features of the concept on its web site:

No-step entry: No one has to use the stairs to enter the home

One-story living: Places to eat, bathe and sleep are all on one level

Wide doorways: Doorway design takes into account the width of wheelchairs and walkers

Wide hallways: Hallways are wide enough for easy access between rooms

Extra floor space: Open floor space allows for extra comfort and mobility

With care, the concept of Universal Design can be seamlessly integrated into a homes’ design.  In this design for a Newburyport family, the addition included an entry at ground level and wide doors and access to a first floor three-quarter bath.


For more information, please visit the AARP website or the American Institute of Architects Universal Design Resources or as always, feel free to contact me with any questions or to discuss further.  juli@greenbridgearchitects.com

With best wishes,



5 Responses to “A Welcome Home”

  1. S. Pike Says:

    Great post Juli..love the personal story and connection with “thoughtful design.”

  2. Dedrei Says:

    The illustration under the description of the house designed for a Newburport family does not follow the main UD principle of a no step entrance. Both of those doors, while maybe being wide enough, would stop a wheelchair in its tracks because of the high threshold. Is this an oversight, or did you not know this?

  3. greenbridge Says:

    Hello Dedrei,
    You’re absolutely right, and although the step requires that a person in a wheelchair have assistance, it is preferable to steps. In this case we needed to balance the extreme weather expected at this location with having a perfect accessible solution. Part of what UD includes is awareness and understanding while design decisions are being made. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Jessica Says:

    Great Post, Juli! Universal design is the most important aspect of home design, this was drilled into me by one of my professors in design school. I’m hoping that the ADA standards will soon become accepted as mainstream standards in home design. I keep trying to get the HFH affiliate I work with to incorporate these principles, but unfortunately cost per sq. foot always trumps better design.

  5. greenbridge Says:

    Thanks Jessica, I completely agree. And even for the average homeowner, it is hard to make the case when other items must be sacrificed (such as storage space in order to get a larger hallway or floor space). You’re right though, it’s better design, and often these changes make more pleasing spaces.

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