Skip to main content
Helpful Remodeling Tips

Aging-in-Place? Why Universal Design Matters in Your Home Remodel

Northern Virginia is a great place to live! We love working with families who enjoy the benefits of living so close to the Nation’s Capital, but prefer the green space, lake living and community feel of Reston and the surrounding areas. Many of our clients moved to this area “for a few years” and ended up staying. In many cases, they have lived here for 20 or 30 plus years – or, in one case, since Reston was founded in the late 1960s!

With the Reston lifestyle being so hard to beat, many homeowners are choosing to age-in-place and remain in their homes. There is also an increasingly common trend of multi-generational living, with parents or in-laws moving back in with their family. When it comes to home remodeling, this creates the need for separate space and privacy for independent living, but with special considerations. This is where Universal Design comes in. Defined as “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability”, it means that when it comes to time to remodel, spaces are designed accordingly.

Although every family’s needs are different, here are some universal design considerations for your home remodel.


  • Universal design starts at the entrance: it needs to have 32-inches of clear width, which requires a 36-inch wide door
  • Add an exterior sensor light at the entrance, focused on the door lock which can be hard to see
  • Add a cover to the porch, and a place to put packages at an accessible height
  • Place the doorbell in accessible location
  • Ensure good lighting throughout (dimmable lighting is a great solution for ambience vs. floor and table lamps)
  • Main living should be on a single level, so include a full bath
  • There should be no steps up or down between spaces (this also applies to the exterior entrance; at least one entrance with no step is required as well as exits to decks, patios or balconies)
  • Even small differences in levels are trip hazards, so thresholds should be flush
  • If you are installing windows, lower them or have taller windows with a lower sill height with low maintenance finishes and easy-to-operate hardware
  • Thermostatic or anti-scald controls throughout
  • Use contrasting colors (especially in flooring and between walls and furniture) to aid in wayfinding and moving around


  • Additional clear/turn space is important: ensure there are 36-inch wide interior doors and 5-foot by 5-foot clear/turn space
  • Install raised removable base cabinets with additional kick space underneath, or at least try raising the dishwasher for easier access
  • Add rollout trays or lazy susans in lower cabinets
  • Lower the height of upper cabinets (usually 3 inches lower than conventional height)
  • Have open cabinets for ease of access of frequently used items, or pull down shelving
  • Install adjustable and/or varied height counters
  • Be sure countertop edges and corners are eased or rounded and, if possible, add accented/contrasting color
  • Not an exhaustive list, but when it comes to appliances:
    • make sure they have easy to read controls
    • use electric (preferably induction) cooktops with level burners, front controls and a downdraft feature that pulls heat away from the user. Lights to show when a surface is hot are also a good visual aid
    • install side swing ovens at a lower level
    • buy a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer
    • install the microwave at a lower level so food is lifted out at a more convenient (and safer) level
    • consider a dishwasher drawer
  • Use levered handles
  • Lighting – place additional task lighting in work areas
  • Faucets: pull-out or motion sensor activated faucets are easier to use
  • Non-slip flooring helps prevent falls and is easier on joints


Photo Credit: Potter Construction

Photo Credit: Potter Construction

Many of the Kitchen considerations also apply to Bathrooms, but in addition:

  • Include better supports in the walls for immediate or longer term installation of grab bars
  • Install lower level vanities, or adjustable height vanities
  • Pedestal sinks are easier to navigate around
  • Install a curbless shower to avoid falls
  • Add a fold down, built-in or portable seat in the shower
  • Locate tub and shower controls near the entrance so they  can be turned on and adjusted without being underneath the water
  • Add dedicated outlets that can be used for special lift seats into wider tubs, for use now or in the future
  • WC – standard toilets are 17-19 inches high, install one that is 2 ½ inches higher or height adjustable

At Synergy, we’ve worked with a range of clients who require special considerations for their home remodel from a universal design perspective. One of our talented Interior Designers, Emily, is a Universal Design Certified Professional (UDCP) and is skilled in creating accessible spaces for all people, not only those who wish to age-in-place, but also families with special needs and families who are forward thinking.

Ready for your home remodel? Find out why us and learn more about our team!

Leave a Reply