Designing a Good Home: Beyond the Obvious

This article is not a guide to choosing your “dream home”. This article does not contain the “items you should ask your designer”, as these items can be found on any website or Google search. We will not be focusing on these items as much as we can drill down into the design and discuss specific concepts that will make a real difference in our lives.

Your lifestyle and needs will be the first step in matching your home to it. Many home designers will use a “discovery process” to help you determine the essential elements of your home design. The process will begin with the layout of your lot, and then move on to items like privacy requirements, outdoor spaces, and work areas. This is a critical step in your project. However, it doesn’t often go deep enough to make your home last a lifetime.

Two key elements of home design are important: 1) Assessing the homeowner’s needs and 2) anticipating their future needs. You might be tempted to say, “Yeah…I’ve heard it all before!” Let’s look closer at what “current need” actually means.

Most home designers’ “discovery” processes focus on the space and use requirements of rooms. While this is a good thing, it doesn’t address the individual needs of those who live in the home. It is easy to overlook areas in the house that need modifications without completing a thorough assessment of the client’s functional abilities.

The design stage is rarely able to address the child’s needs and ability to live comfortably in the house. It is important to assess the child’s abilities and create an environment that supports them. You can add rods and shelves to the closet. These are some simple adaptive design elements. The rods and shelves can be moved as the child grows. Appliances are similar in that the controls must be easily accessible. The dryers and washing machines have front mounted controls that allow for their operation. Safety is also important. Safety is also important. A child trying to use the microwave located overhead can lead to disaster.

Although the example above is simple, it shows that design must be viewed from the individual’s perspective and their ability to perform daily tasks in the home. A good designer will assess the client and make the necessary design changes.

A designer has a few tools to help them assess the needs of clients. The Comprehensive Assessment and Solution Process for Aging Residents (CASPAR) is one of these tools. CASPAR was created for healthcare professionals to assess their clients’ ability to perform routine activities at home. This can also be used to determine the needs of persons with disabilities.

It may be difficult to predict the future needs of people, but it is possible to start by understanding the process. It is inevitable. People’s functional abilities decrease over time, regardless of how we feel about it. Well-designed homes will be able to adapt to changing needs and enable people to remain in their homes for longer periods of time.

Modern home design is starting to embrace universal design. Ron Mace, the founder and program director of the Center for Universal Design, gives us this definition of UD: “The purpose of universal design, or universal design, is to make life easier for everybody by making products, communications and the built environment more accessible by as many people as possible, at minimal cost, or even without additional costs.” Universal design is beneficial to all ages and abilities. Universal design principles are inclusive of people with disabilities. Therefore, UD can be applied to home design and addresses many of those who want to “age in-place”.

Universal design and adaptable design are two different concepts. Universal design is beneficial to people of all abilities and ages. Adaptable design makes it possible for the home’s design to be modified for specific needs. A two-story home could be designed with “stacked closets”, which are closets on the first and second floors that are aligned with each other. This allows for future residential elevators or lifts to be easily installed. A universal design feature is the installation of lever handles for doorways. These handle are more intuitive and easier to use than standard round knobs. This lever handle is also useful for anyone who might have to lift heavy groceries or use their elbows or forearms to open the door latch. Lever door handles are also easier to use for children.