Interior designers have a keen eye for design trends—color pallets, lines, patterns, textures. But many, like Jennifer Johnson, UDCP, co-owner of Sinjin Studios, are combining that artistic eye with long-term solutions to space usage and products.
Johnson’s dual skillsets in interior design and universal design allows her to better communicate the benefits of universal design without it having the stigma that it would make the home look like an institution. “When I would bring up universal design to clients I would get a blank look, which would turn into discomfort for clients who believed it would make their home look weird and increase project cost,” she says.
But Johnson, whose practice is based in The Colony, Texas, has found a more relatable way to introduce universal design to clients. “I tell them it’s similar to buying children’s clothing one size up, so that they can grow into their clothes and have longer use of them.”
Johnson says using that metaphor to describe universal design has eliminated client pushback.
“It [universal design] actually sells jobs now,” Johnson. She says bringing the long-term practicality of universal design into the equation serves as a nice surprise for clients who are used to remodelers doing as they’re told without any thought or guidance.
“Once we start to work through the process, clients appreciate the thoughtfulness and technicality of planning and thinking through the best design solution for their use over the long-term,” Johnson says.
Johnson’s universal design tips
Much of the universal design elements are incorporated early on in the remodeling process in what Johnson refers to as “invisible design.” These elements are incorporated behind walls and during the remodeling process to make universal improvements more convenient in the future.
Put lighting systems on separate circuits. Lighting needs increase as people age so adding another circuit in certain rooms—such as bathrooms—makes it convenient to add light sources down the road. “It takes a little more wiring and cost upfront, but it doesn’t require homeowners to break through walls later on,” Johnson says.
Blocking in walls. Blocking in walls, whether in bathrooms or hallways, where a handrail might be needed one day is a no-brainer to Johnson.
Tiling floors behind vanities. Cutting tile to the edge of a vanity is one shortcut Johnson will not take. “By tiling from wall to wall, it makes it easier to switch out vanities that are different heights or wheelchair accessible,” Johnson says. It’s also a perk for resale, so that new buyers aren’t tasked with tracking down the unfinished tile when they make changes.
Multi-layered countertops. Countertops at regular and lower heights allow full use of that space, regardless of age or height. “I always fight for this! I’m nearly 6-foot tall and I have been dealing with height issues all my life,” Johnson says. She also adds that making things more accessible to children at lower heights makes them more independent and reduces accidents associated with climbing.
Furniture considerations in universal design
The height and depth of a chair or sofa is an important factor in the furniture selection for a universal design client. “A deep, plush sofa can be very difficult to get up from when you have an impairment,” she says. Also, smaller furniture creates more open space for maneuvering around a room.
Finally, if your client is set on a certain piece of furniture, but it works against the individual’s accessibility needs, there are options for customization. Johnson has close relationships with local upholsters and furniture-makers that can either customize a piece, or adjust an existing piece to fit her client’s needs.
Interested in pursuing a certification in Universal Design? Visit NARI’s Website to find out when the next Universal Design prep course will take place.