Ways to "Design for All" When Building A New Home

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[Universal Design is] the design of your home to make it more livable for everyone.” - Selwyn Goldsmith

You may have heard the phrase “Design for All” before, but what does that truly mean when applied to a home?

Design for All encompasses the wide field of making a home safe and user-friendly for everybody, whether they have a disability or not. This can span from automatic doors to something as simple as an electric toothbrush. It is the idea of equality for all, and inconvenience for none.

Universal Design is a narrower field of Design for All. It was Selwyn Goldsmith in his book Designing for the Disabled: A New Paradigm who really gave the first working definition for Universal Design: “[Universal Design is] the design of your home to make it more livable for everyone.”

This soon became the field of ergonomics: designing the home to optimize efficiency and use for all. Human factors specialists employ ergonomics when testing new products from manufacturing companies.

There are even more similar terms, including:

Aging in Place

Barrier-Free Living


Invisible Design


When designing your new home, there are several things to consider in order to make it more livable for everyone. At Granite Ridge Builders, there are several ways to incorporate or prep for Universal Design elements in a new home in the planning stages. Here are just a few things to consider when designing your new home:


The kitchen is one of the most important areas when designing a new home. Designing the kitchen with extra space between the island and cabinets can provide all-around ease of access. Sliding shelves in cabinets or pull-out drawers can also help with reaching items inside a cabinet. Washing the dishes becomes something everyone can do when you make simple adjustments to the sink such as lowering the basin, adding a pull-out sprayer in the faucet, and putting a kneehole under the sink, allowing for a wheelchair to pull underneath.


A lot of the same rules in the kitchen apply to the bathroom, such as lowering the sink and bringing it closer in – or a freestanding pedestal sink is good option too. Kneeholes in the vanity give space for putting on makeup. A lower or tilting mirror on the wall is very helpful for someone with a lower point of view. In the stool room, a seventeen-inch tall toilet is the recommended size, with eighteen inches on each side for wheelchair access. Measuring or bracing space for grab bars around the toilet and in the shower goes a long way in preparing for the time when you will need to use them.

Hallways and Doors

This is a place where invisible design comes into play. Invisible design is the concept that you can create your house to benefit all types of people without even noticing the difference. For example, four-foot hallways are recommended over the normal three-foot hallways for extra space for moving around. Doors with three-foot width can allow entrance for a wheelchair. Continuing with doors, a knob’s grip is something to think about. A lever handle is generally much easier to use than a twisting doorknob, because it takes less pressure to open a door. Sliding doors to the outside are made friendlier with a grip handle that is less resistant.

Thresholds and Showers

Minimal threshold is key here. Minimal threshold means that there isn’t such a tangible transition when changing flooring. This can be used when moving from sidewalk to front door, from wood to carpet, etc. Minimal threshold showers are very popular in homes right now. A five-foot radius inside a shower is recommended for wheelchair access. Our Drafting Specialist and Design Coordinators can discuss ways to incorporate these elements into a new bathroom design.


Everyone uses appliances for daily functions, so it is important to include appliances in Universal Design. Washing clothes is often easier with a front-load washer and dryer instead of top-load. The stove is a hazard waiting to happen, especially with open gas burners; you run the risk of catching your sleeve on fire if you have to bend all the way over the stovetop just to turn off the burner. Rather than taking the dare, it is better to have the controls on the front of the stove – additionally, find front controls that take less pressure to turn. Placing the microwave lower in the island instead of the conventional place of in the overhead cabinets can make using a microwave easier, especially for children or someone in a wheelchair. A rising trend is to install French doors on the oven to make it easier to open the doors.


Thick carpet may feel like a luxury on cold winter days, but it quickly turns into a problem for disabled people. Thick carpet padding can entrench a wheelchair’s wheels, making it extremely hard to move. Use thinner or firmer carpet padding instead for less resistance. Sheet vinyl in the kitchen needs an all-over glue-down for better grip on wheelchairs and walkers.


By the age forty, a person’s eyesight generally starts to decline. This means it is important to have more lighting in the house. Lighting on sensors and spotlights outside for walkways are options for night. Flat light switches, rather than the common flick switches, are helpful for people with arthritis.


Colors is not an area which one would commonly think of for Universal Design, but it plays a role too! Light and dark contrast help sight-challenged individuals to better discern objects and avoid trip hazards. Stained trim on the sideboards wears well and can take a couple knocks from a walker or cane while still looking good. Color is an aspect in your home that can be geared toward helping all, yet still make your house look amazing!

in Place

Did you know that you can actually save money by building a new home with aging in place principles as opposed to living in a retirement community? Take a listen to some of our Aging In Place tips and lifestyle changes that can help make you or your loved ones feel safer at home.

For All

Granite Ridge Builders is always searching for ways to improve our designs for ultimate efficiency and comfort. This episode of Between the Studs explores the concept of Design for All in terms of safety, convenience, and accessibility for all ages and abilities.


Accessibility? We've got you covered. Join the Granite Ridge team this week as we discuss making homes as usable as possible, regardless of disability.