Accessible designs needn’t sacrifice attractiveness

Many products and architectural features have been developed to aid accessibility in public spaces and workplaces. Single-family houses, apartments and condo units are now also being designed with greater emphasis on equal access.

If you’re planning a new home or a major makeover, your architect and/or interior designer will likely be aware of the general provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. But be sure to inform your builder and designer of any personal requirements in this regard — not only at present but potentially in the future as well.

Aging boomers should especially be aware that their comfort and safety can be impaired by room designs that fail to take account of physical limitations.

Q: I’m planning to redesign my home to make it more responsive to the needs of my parents, who recently moved in with us.

A visit to a friend in a retirement community has given us ideas for facilitating elderly persons’ use of bathroom fixtures and kitchen equipment. But I must admit that the shower and tub in this friend’s apartment were sadly lacking in visual appeal.

Can you offer some suggestions for renovations that will make my parents feel comfortable while not making the younger members of my family feel as though they’re living in a nursing home?

A: Many manufacturers understand that there’s a growing demand for easier-to-use appliances and fixtures. And it isn’t confined to the elderly and disabled; millions of others also want products that function effortlessly.

Bathrooms, kitchens and home offices have long been the focal points for enhanced accessibility. Now, however, we’re seeing greater attention of this kind being given to beds, seating pieces and even dining room accessories.

In many cases, accessibility depends as much on a product’s placement as on its design. Laying out a room to accommodate those using wheelchairs or walkers also does not have to involve modifications that compromise designs that younger family members find appealing.

The sort of information you’re seeking isn’t concealed in some book of secrets. It’s readily available online from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Just visit www.hud.gov/groups/disabilities.cfm.

Most major manufacturers of plumbing fixtures and kitchen equipment also offer ideas and choices on their own Web sites.

One example of what’s known as universal design is the Finestra walk-in bath, shown in the accompanying photo. Jacuzzi designed this fixture with all sorts of options, almost all of which are easy to operate.

Kohler, American Standard and other makers of bathroom equipment also offer universal designs with considerable visual appeal. There’s no reason to choose between attractiveness and accessibility.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at rsca@ritastclair.com.

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