What is Universal Design for Apartment Homes?

We’ve all had the experience of viewing a potential apartment and it doesn’t… feel right. Doors are too short, outlets are in odd places, or some aspect of the space doesn’t make you feel like you can use them effectively.

It can be hard to imagine a house or type of apartment that was built and designed to please and be used by everyone. But in fact, there are.

Intended to break down the physical and mental barriers of a space, universal design is a unique type of architecture and interior design. He seeks to make a space accessible to people of all ages and abilities. But what does it look like, exactly? Let’s explore the world of universal design and how it works in apartments.


What is Universal Design?

Also known as barrier-free design, universal design is an architectural style that creates a space free of barriers or obstructions, making it usable and enjoyable for everyone. This includes people with disabilities, seniors and multi-generational families. Essentially, a universal design apartment aims to make life easier for its inhabitants.

The concept of universal design was created in the 1960s and invented by architect Ronald Mace. It aimed to make living spaces more accessible and equitable for everyone while making them attractive and stylish.

There are seven principles that must be followed for a space to be universally designed. These principles are fair use, flexibility, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, error tolerance, low physical effort and size and space of approach and use.

For tenants, this means a space that is easier to enjoy. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly apartment or need to move in with an elderly relative, the inclusiveness of a universal design apartment makes it a good choice. The same is true for tenants with disabilities.

What does a universal design apartment look like?

Creating a barrier-free apartment space means removing barriers. Here are some features you can find in a universal design apartment:

  • No stairs or steps at entrances
  • Walk-in showers instead of tubs
  • Hallways and doorways at least 32 inches wide
  • Non-slip flooring or hardwood floors in areas like the bathroom and kitchen
  • Levers on the doors instead of door handles
  • Open concept floor plans with less enclosed space
  • Motion Activated Lights
  • Comfort height toilets set 17 to 19 inches from the floor
  • Outlets located higher on the walls in accessible and easy-to-find locations
  • Counters and cabinets of variable height in the kitchen

For an apartment in an apartment complex or building, ideally the entire building would also have universal design elements. This would include elevators, levers instead of door handles, and level floors with no steps or ledges. Even if redesigned, some unit types, like walk-up apartments, will never fit the universal design.


Benefits of universal design in apartments

There are many advantages to choosing an apartment created in the universal design format, including:

  • Adaptability: Furniture, decor and layout can be easily changed thanks to the open layout
  • Safety: From children to elderly parents, universal design apartments are safer for everyone
  • Aesthetics: Open concept homes are very popular, making your apartment both trendy and functional.
  • Aging with you: A good universal design apartment can accompany you throughout your life, as it was created for everyone, from children to the elderly. As you grow and your needs change, the basic format and design of the apartment should always meet your changing needs. All you have to do is change the furniture, layout or decoration according to your needs.
  • Good Market Value: The universal appeal and use of these apartment types means they will always be in demand

Disadvantages of universal design in apartments

The very foundation of universal design is that it optimizes a living space for everyone. But there are still downsides to considering renting a universal design apartment.

  • Limited privacy: lack of walls and increased open spaces can reduce privacy
  • Expensive to change or renovate: If you want to turn your apartment into a universal design apartment, it is an expensive process due to the complete overhaul and redesign of the space.
  • Not Always ADA Compliant: Even though Universal Design is meant to be accessible to tenants with disabilities, that doesn’t mean it’s always fully compliant with accessibility laws, regulations, and design standards.
  • Cookie-cutter: If you like apartments with lots of unique style and character, a one-size-fits-all apartment might not be for you. Since it has to follow a set of rules and principles, the design can be very similar to other units like this
  • The overall complex is not suitable for universal design: the main complex may not offer the same accessibility or inclusiveness features or the same design


Where can I visit a universal design apartment?

If you want to visit a house or apartment that was created using Universal Design to see how you like it, the good news is that they exist everywhere. Online, you can search for “universal design apartments” in a particular city or region to see what’s going on.

On Apartmentguide.com you can also select apartment search filter options such as independent living, senior living and disabled access. While these types of units may not exactly fall under the banner of universal design, these types of dwellings were likely created with universal design in mind to improve access and usability.

Another place where you see universal design in action is at Universal Design Living Lab (UDLL) in Columbus, Ohio. Technically, this living lab is a single family style home. But it still serves as a great example of universal design and is a great place to see many of its principles in action.

Homeowners Rosemarie Rossetti and Mark Leder had their home reimagined to incorporate universal design after Rosemarie suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the waist down. As things stand, their home did not allow Rosemarie to live or move around independently and use the space efficiently, so it was modified to suit her needs. Videos and a virtual tour are available on the UDLL website, and appointments can be made to view the house in person.

Living in an apartment with universal design

No matter who you are, a universally designed unit can make apartment living easier on your mind and body.

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