American Hardwood Information Center

Warmth, Style & Durability. Treasured for Generations

Hardwood Cabinets Enhance Universal Design

Warm - Durable - Functional
Making a home more accessible and barrier-free, yet comfortable and beautiful are the desired aims of Universal Design. A term coined in the 1980s by architect Ron Mace; Universal Design is defined as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." And for the now aging Baby Boomer generation, which comprises about one-third of the U.S. Population, Universal Design is just what the doctor ordered.

American Hardwoods and Universal Design
Because Universal Design makes homes practical and user-friendly, these active, older adults are seeking Universal Design as they contemplate future health and mobility issues. Whether remodeling or buying, they want to remain in their homes and continue to live independently. And to satisfy their desire for a warm, beautiful space, incorporating American hardwoods into the homes makes them attractive and inviting places in which to live.

According to the American Hardwood Information Center (www.HardwoodInfo.com), "when it comes to Universal Design, American hardwoods are the all-natural choice for sturdy, attractive and healthy design materials. The wide range of species - oak, cherry, walnut, poplar, maple, and more, provide a spectrum of colors and grain patterns to satisfy any decorating scheme." Universal Design and American hardwoods - a perfect match.

Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet, Inc.

Kitchens: More than Food
Modern kitchens have evolved into being more than a place for food preparation. Because they are now family gathering places, even centers to entertain guests, they need to be comfortable, convenient and safe for everyone, whether standing or seated, young or old, tall or not-so-tall. Universal design makes that possible. A key component to making a home barrier-free is the use of adjustable-height work areas and unique cabinetry. Wall-mounted cabinets, for example, leave floor spaces clear and easy to clean. Add an all-natural material like American hardwoods, and you have a healthy, beautiful kitchen as well.

Here are some design features to consider when remodeling a kitchen to raise the level of convenience and usability for everyone:

  • Varied-height cabinets and countertops will accommodate multi-cook families, so that parent and child may prepare a meal together.
    Make components accessible whether standing or seated.
  • Sliding drawers, rollout shelves and Lazy Susans make items easier to reach.
  • At the base of floor cabinets, keep the toe/kick space deep enough to accommodate wheelchair users.
  • Lower cabinet doors and drawers will require reinforced hardware in case they are leaned on for support.
  • D-shaped or lever-style handles and magnetic touch-and-release cabinet doors are perfect for hands of any size or strength.
  • To allow full use of the cabinet door frame consider swing-away hinges.
  • Under-the-counter refrigerator drawers and other flexible appliances make a kitchen more accessible for someone wheelchair bound.

Bathrooms More Accessible
Similar Universal Design ideas can be applied when remodeling a bathroom:

  • Vary the height of vanities to lessen the need to crouch while shaving.
  • Provide seated users with adequate under the sink knee space.
  • For additional storage, consider a cabinet on wheels, easily stored under the sink and movable.

Incorporate solid hardwood cabinets, vanities and flooring into the design and add a degree of elegance to a very important room. Don't worry about water damage. Today's water resistant finishes form a watertight seal protecting the wood yet allowing it to expand and contract, normally.

Cabinets All Through the House
Throughout the home, cabinets are becoming more and more popular and very practical. Built-ins and wall-mounted cabinets are particularly favored because they provide open floor space to accommodate residents and guests utilizing wheelchairs, walkers and canes. Cabinets in media rooms house and hide electrical components. Overhead and under-counter cabinets in home offices provide needed storage and filing solutions. Larger bedrooms often feature a breakfast bar containing cabinets for storage, a small refrigerator and countertop space for brewing coffee. Walk-in closets with built-in drawers, pull-out trays and multi-height hang bars help keep everything organized and easily accessible. And according to JNK Products, an online source of home improvement products, imaginative garage storage cabinets can increase livable space in a 1,600-square-foot house by as much as 25 percent.

Add style and excitement to the mix. Cabinets constructed of solid hardwood easily complement existing furniture and room decor and will add a level of quality unmatched by other construction materials. With a host of species to choose from, major cabinet makers are embracing these ideas with special lines and features that blend the concepts to add function, comfort and beauty.

Healthy, Attractive Materials
Hardwood floors are commonly found in Universal Design plans. They provide easy maneuverability for wheelchairs, mobile storage units and mobile cabinets and simple regular maintenance such as dust mopping, sweeping and vacuuming keep wood floors looking great.

In addition, American hardwoods are non-toxic and do not trap allergens such as mold spores and dust. For this reason, they often are recommended by doctors for individuals with allergies or asthma.
A Perfect Match

As a reminder, then, before beginning any home remodeling project, the National Kitchen and Bath Association suggests these questions to help guide the design: Will the remodel help assure that all people, regardless of physical ability, size or age, will be able to access and use the space? Will the remodel allow you to enjoy your home safely as you get older, without the need for adaptation later on?

Confused as to where to begin? For those looking to add the functionality and comfort of Universal Design, from cabinet and appliance makers, to architecture and design websites, a simple key word search, "universal home design," on any of the internet search engines is a great place to start. Then for an especially accommodating and great-looking Universal Design home, enjoy the best of both worlds by incorporating the timeless beauty and warmth of American hardwoods into your plan.

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