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Post Line Flat Extension Wire by Chen Ju Wei

Few things are uglier – or more dangerous (especially to the elderly and disabled) – than extension cords running across the floor to reach distant, inconvenient outlets.  In the ideal world, of course, we would install new local outlets, including in the floor, right near where they are needed, but this isn’t always possible for one reason or another, including budget and renting one’s home rather than owning it.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find a cord that is completely flat, and would not bulge up and create a tripping hazard, even under a rug?

This brilliant design by Chen Ju Wei would solve this problem elegantly.  Too bad it’s only a concept – at least for now.  Let’s hope it actually gets into production soon.  The geometric pattern of the wiring is even beautiful enough to leave exposed if out of the way enough.   I could even envision making some deliberate design elements out of a few of them together.

Click on the image above for some additional photos and information.

I just realized that although I’ve written several posts about universal design, I’ve not yet actually posted the principles that underlie this concept – so here they are.

THE PRINCIPLES OF UNIVERSAL DESIGN

Version 2.0 – 4/1/97

Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order:
Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, and Gregg Vanderheiden

Major funding provided by: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education

Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design

UNIVERSAL DESIGN:

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.

The authors, a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, collaborated to establish the following Principles of Universal Design to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications. These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

The Principles of Universal Design are presented here, in the following format: name of the principle, intended to be a concise and easily remembered statement of the key concept embodied in the principle; definition of the principle, a brief description of the principle’s primary directive for design; and guidelines, a list of the key elements that should be present in a design which adheres to the principle. (Note: all guidelines may not be relevant to all designs.)

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

Guidelines:

1a. Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
1b. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
1c. Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
1d. Make the design appealing to all users.


PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Guidelines:

2a. Provide choice in methods of use.
2b. Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
2c. Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
2d. Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.


PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Guidelines:

3a. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
3b. Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
3c. Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
3d. Arrange information consistent with its importance.
3e. Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.


PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

Guidelines:

4a. Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
4b. Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
4c. Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
4d. Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
4e. Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

 

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Guidelines:

5a. Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
5b. Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
5c. Provide fail safe features.
5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

 

PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

Guidelines:

6a. Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
6b. Use reasonable operating forces.
6c. Minimize repetitive actions.
6d. Minimize sustained physical effort.


PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Guidelines:

7a. Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
7b. Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
7c. Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
7d. Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.


Please note that the Principles of Universal Design address only universally usable design, while the practice of design involves more than consideration for usability. Designers must also incorporate other considerations such as economic, engineering, cultural, gender, and environmental concerns in their design processes. These Principles offer designers guidance to better integrate features that meet the needs of as many users as possible.

Disclaimer:

“The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center
for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the
Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from
the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The
Center for Universal Design of the use or application.”

Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design
 

 

House in Hawaii, The Wiseman Group and architect Ricardo Legoretta
photo – Matthew Millman

I was just reading an article in Fast Company about why generalizing is often better than specializing in the job market, despite the push we’ve seen for decades to specialize, and it got me thinking of one of my pet peeves in the interior design world.

Today, most business consultants who work with interior designers are advising us to specialize for marketing reasons, often in a particular style or look, or targeting a particular demographic, which I think is a huge mistake.  Clients also often look for designers who do the particular style they want to the exclusion of everything else, thereby likely ruling out a tremendous number of other highly competent designers who might actually do an even better job for them.

Oftentimes designers who only work in one style are basically repeating what they themselves prefer, which is fine if that’s what you really want, but if you want a really creative, and truly customized design, you want someone who has the ability to bring as broad a set of resources and skills to the table as possible – and the interest in doing so.  It takes a little more work to keep up on a wider range of resources, to be sure, and not all designers really want to be bothered.

Apartment on Nob Hill, The Wiseman Group
photo – Tim Street-Porter

Speaking from experience as someone who has worked for and learned a great deal from a very gifted designer who nevertheless tends to stick to a similar aesthetic for all projects, it can also get really boring to a creative mind that gets fired up by a range of options and the process of really digging in and solving the specific problems each individual client has in a unique way, not applying the same solution to them all.  Working in aesthetics other than those towards which one is personally inclined is a key way to keep the creative fires stoked, in what is fundamentally a creative discipline, and to keep that saw sharp.

The thing is, the fundamentals of the interior design, and the design process itself, are largely the same regardless of style, and a good designer who wants to create truly personalized solutions will deliberately cultivate the ability to work comfortably in a wide range of aesthetics.

The Wiseman Group
photo – Matthew Millman

What really matters most is the ability to truly listen to the client, and then to translate the client’s desires into tangible reality, and that entails a skill set that is completely independent of the style or color scheme selected.  Scale is scale, balance is balance, etc., whether you are dealing with a modern building or a traditional one, and if someone is really good with color, they should be able to produce a wonderful color scheme in any hue in the rainbow.

Anyone can learn to repeat the same basic thing over and over again, but a big part of the point of hiring an interior designer is to have a customized solution that is unique to you and your own particular needs and style, and of course the architectural realities of your own home or office.

The reality is that not every designer can actually do it – or wants to be bothered.

Seeing projects that all look similar in someone’s portfolio raises the question about how versatile that designer really is.  When you see a range of project styles that are all well done, you know you’re dealing with someone who has the ability to really customize as needed, and likely has a wider range of resources to bring to bear on the project as well.  It takes more work to keep up on that range, but that also means the designer is clearly exposing herself to a wide range of options on a regular and ongoing basis – which can only mean good things for clients.

One of the world’s greatest designers, the Paul Vincent Wiseman of The Wiseman Group, who has long been one of my most revered design heroes, regularly demonstrates his ability to work brilliantly in virtually any style, as the contrasting photos above of his work attest.  The first two projects shown, both frequently published and among my favorites of his work, could not be more different – the first, an apartment in an historic landmark building on top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill; the second, a vacation home in Hawaii built by one of the foremost modernist architects of our time.  The third, equally distinct from the first two, is an estate in the Napa Valley with a 20th century design aesthetic with midcentury touches in a house built in a somewhat Spanish colonial style.

This is really what it means to be a great designer, in my opinion.  You know just by looking at the range of his projects that Wiseman has both listened to and actually heard what his clients have said they wanted – and then delivered.  Many of his clients have done multiple projects with him that span a wide range of styles, and he has to be able to handle that range, or frankly, he’d lose those clients to someone else when they want a different aesthetic in a new home.  You know without asking that he could do anything asked of him, even if he hasn’t shown an example of that style or project type in his portfolio.  Whether you like these particular examples or not, and regardless of your preference for these color schemes or others, these projects share the qualities of being perfectly scaled and designed for their respective spaces and environments, and every detail contributes harmoniously to the whole.

When you get into things like green design, aging-in-place/accessible/universal design, commercial design, or design for special functions like doctors’ offices or jails, then you do indeed get into a greater need for specialization and often additional training beyond that which is usually taught in design school.   When dealing with nonresidential environments, building codes tend to play a larger role than they do in private homes, and the more specialized the function of the space, the more specialized the code and other technical issues.

Aging-in-place, etc. is becoming the big buzz word these days, and there is clearly growing demand, but I’ve encountered very few designers who have actually got the necessary training, or who otherwise show they’ve learned what they actually need to know to work with this specialized and growing market effectively, dealing with both the architectural requirements down to the selection of fabrics, colors, and furniture styles that are best for this market or subsets of it.  With a few exceptions, most I’ve seen only understand part of the requirements.  Strangely, most people who are Certified Aging in Place Specialists (a designation I hold, as one of only about four such certified interior designers in Northern CA) aren’t even designers, and while they could certain tell you where to put grab bars and how to build a ramp, and maybe do the work to install them, many couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag and integrate accessibility features into an overall beautiful aesthetic that doesn’t scream “institution” or “add-on” at you because they are simply not trained as designers.

For the vast majority of interior designers, however, and certainly within residential design or commercial design as broad overall categories, the ability to generalize and work in a wider range of styles is truly an asset, and the mark of a really proficient creative person – and one who is truly more interested in giving clients what they want than imposing a particular style upon them. Whether your project is a large estate or a single small room, wouldn’t you really rather know that this is your designer’s honest focus?

It is, of course, essential that your designer fully understand the code issues that are involved in whatever type of project you have, but at the end of the day, the way most people interface with their space demands the ability to produce the creative vision, and to make the technical matters disappear and to function seamlessly behind the scenes, supporting the overall desired function and aesthetic of the space.

If the designer is properly conversant with residential codes, she will be able to deal with them whether it’s a modern building or an older one, and the same for the commercial designer int he world of office buildings.  Some designers know both, but not all.  Don’t assume; ask what types of projects they have done and/or are trained to do.  Just because there isn’t an example in her portfolio of exactly the type of space your project entails doesn’t mean she isn’t trained to handle it and can’t still do an excellent job.  (Beware if the designer doesn’t know that there are huge code differences, however!  And that they may need to use different contractors for different job types.)

It takes staying on top of continuing education whether it is required for local certification or not to maintain one’s knowledge of the technical side of things (and doing that is vastly more important in the end than any alphabet soup of professional designations a designer may or may not choose to obtain – and almost all of them are entirely optional and not required in any way by the vast majority of states and countries), but it is critically important not to forget the creative side of things, either, and to select a designer who shows she has the ability to do what a range of work, and to think outside the box.

20120329-141555.jpg

If you rent your home or apartment, chances are it’s equipped with vertical blinds, a design disaster if ever there was one. And chances are you hate them, just like virtually everyone else on the planet, certainly like all people with any taste. They are universally cheap, cold, ugly, noisy, and don’t go with anything. And did I mention ugly?

Like most renters, however, you probably don’t want to go to the expense and hassle of buying and installing new window treatments, dealing with the repairs when you move out, or risking losing your security deposit, especially if you don’t plan to live there for a long, long time.  You are, in other words, pretty well stuck with these things.

So what’s the solution? Check out this absolutely ingenious idea from Mr. Kate. There’s a video on her site that shows you how it’s done. This would work with a very wide range of lightweight fabrics or sheers, and be a piece of cake to change whenever you might want to.  It won’t get rid of the basic object, of course, but will at least make them more attractive, and help integrate them into whatever your decor is.

A reader asked about the considerations involved in making home modifications for people with disabilities and medical needs and allowing them to age in place vs placing them in an outside facility. *

That’s an excellent question, and one for which there is no set answer – and it’s usually not an easy or obvious answer in any given situation, either.  The very first considerations are also definitely not about the physical modifications themselves, but about what the client needs in order to remain safe and to manage whatever care they need, although if the needed changes cannot be made for one reason or another, that certainly needs to be known early on in the decision making process.

Assuming the medical condition allows a choice, it’s really got to be an individual decision in every case, taking many issues into account, starting with the client’s medical needs, what they are able to do for themselves, how that would be impacted with home modifications if they are needed and made, what services they need and can afford, whether or not they have help from family and/or friends that they can rely on, what insurance, Medicare, medical assistance, VA benefits, etc. will pay for, what future needs are anticipated, etc. – and then comparing all of that with the costs and services available in an outside facility, including looking at long term ramifications of each option.

This evaluation has to include these analyses with each of the different facilities they are considering, as they vary extensively in every possible way.
One of the biggest issues, of course, is the psychological and emotional impact of one choice vs another.  Most people want to stay at home if they can, and that almost always outweighs any other consideration initially.  If money is tight, though, as it is for most people, compromises may have to be made, or decisions that would otherwise not be desired.

The needs and comfort of other residents of the home may also need to be considered, if there are any, and those of caregivers.  For some people, this will not be an issue, but for others it might.

What, for example, will a healthy spouse who is still able to get around just fine do for a living room if the only space in their small house where his wife’s hospital bed will fit is the current living room, and the bed and her medical supplies take up the whole room?   Or what will the children or grandchildren that live there or visit frequently do?  How will she get to the bathroom if the only one is upstairs, if indeed she is able to walk and toilet on her own at all, but can’t manage stairs?   How will she bathe?   How will her privacy be protected if she’s in a public space like the living room – especially if it faces the street and front door?  Will other residents be able to navigate the single bathroom once it’s full of the disabled/elderly person’s access paraphernalia?

These answers could be very different depending on the particular home, its location, size, what the family can afford, the specific needs, etc. – and the solutions that would be viable for one client might not be for another with similar needs, both in terms of what home modifications can be made, or the choice of doing them vs moving the client to a facility.

Of course, from a design and construction point of view, it’s critical to evaluate early on whether or not a given residence can, in fact, be modified sufficiently for the client’s particular needs and preferences – and at a price they can afford. Many homes simply cannot be modified in a viable way at all for one reason or another, or maybe not without really extraordinary expense and/or total aesthetic destruction or other issues.

Even when it’s possible to do the modifications, and the client can afford it, if major changes are to be made, they can take a tremendous amount of time, just like any other remodeling project.

At times, people may also have to settle for changes that are far less aesthetically desirable or less than ideally functional than they would prefer just because of time constraints and product availability.

Some people will absolutely have to move somewhere else no matter what if they have a sudden need for an accessible home, and the job can’t be done in the time available before insurance quits paying for a hospital stay, for example – and that somewhere else may well need to be an extended care facility of some sort, possibly at their own expense.  And if the modifications can’t be made for one reason or another, and moving to a new house is not an option, the patient will end up in a facility of some sort if they have nowhere else to go.  Or they will end up totally housebound, perhaps even confined to a single room or even bedridden, depending on their condition and the house, none of which are very attractive options.

This is a big part of why it makes much more sense to plan ahead and to make universal design changes including moving to a new home if necessary while one is still healthy, to prepare in advance, so as to not get caught in a time squeeze when and if an actual need comes up.  Major remodeling is stressful enough at the best of times without adding illness and urgency on top of it.

If a person facing such possibilities is elderly, or on disability, Medicare or medical assistance might pay for a long term care facility, but if they have been released to go home, that is highly unlikely.  If they are younger and/or previously healthy, even those safety nets won’t exist.  If the care needed is not medical but personal only, then no insurance or assistance program other than a really good independent long term care insurance policy will pay for it anywhere.

On the flip side, insurance, Medicare, etc. will often pay for inpatient care but not care at home, if ongoing medical care of any sort is needed, so the decision may well be made for the client just by that alone.

Again, this is all a very individual thing, and without a professional evaluation of a particular residence and client’s needs, it may not be at all obvious what can – or cannot – be done with the home, and at what price, if in fact remaining at home is even an option in light of these and a number of other possible considerations.

Once a person sits down to do these evaluations and comparisons, from a financial and logistical point of view, the results can actually be quite surprising.  For some people, doing whatever it takes to remain at home is the best choice, for any or all of a number of reasons.  For others, it will be to move to a new home and to make whatever changes there might be necessary – or move into a facility.

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* A “facility” could include anything from an independent living house or apartment within a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), assisted living, personal care home, or skilled nursing, depending on the individual’s needs, what they can afford, and availability.

Independent living is actually still living in one’s own home or apartment, except that it’s physically located in and part of the CCRC (or similar facility). They make it easier for people to remain more independent for longer than they might be able to in their own separate homes, though.

There are a great number of other benefits included in the price of such a residency option, including meals available onsite, various activities onsite such as lectures and classes, transportation to doctors, grocery stores, banks, etc. (which can be critical if one can no longer drive), oftentimes minor medical care, physical therapy if needed, and many other possible ones including laundry and basic housecleaning service, dry cleaning pick up and delivery, onsite maintenance and assistance with even things like changing lightbulbs, and some even have swimming pools and other recreational facilities and assistance designing a fitness plan. They can be quite luxurious at prices that may actually be well below local market rates for a comparable separate home or apartment – and are already designed and built to be fully accessible. Some modifications may still be necessary; for example, we still needed to add grab bars in my father’s bathroom, but sometimes those will be paid for by the facility as they were in our particular situation where Dad lived.

Home Instead Senior Care, an absolutely wonderful company whose Southwest Pittsburgh and Washington County branch took terrific care of my father during his last days, has put out a very good video about funding options for completing aging-in-place home modifications.  It covers everything I mentioned in my prior post, plus a number of additional options to look into.

 

Do you need modifications to your home because of injury, illness, or just plain aging and a desire to stay in your home, eliminating obstacles that may exist to doing so, but don’t think you can afford them?

First of all, many modifications may cost far less than you might expect, because they often don’t need to be as extensive or labor-intensive as you might imagine, and can actually be quite simple.

For example, sometimes all that is needed to ensure wheelchair accessibility may be to remove the moldings from around your doors and finish off the opening without them, and maybe either add new doors that fit the enlarged opening better, or in some cases, dispense with them altogether.  This alone can add a couple of inches of width to the doorway that can make all the difference, without getting into major remodeling.

And in places like the bathroom, as long as you can get the chair in there (which the door width may be the only obstacle to), depending on your particular situation, all you might need to be able to shower or bathe on your own might be a transfer bench and grab bars – although of course, you could certainly also opt do a full remodel with a wheel-in shower, step-in tub, and many other helpful aids that can be created in a way that no one else needs to know their purpose if you prefer.

Your best bet to determine what will serve your needs the best in a way that will fit your budget will be to consult a professional with the CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) designation to find out what’s necessary and possible, and to get a realistic idea of what it will cost.  You can search for an appropriate professional in your area via the National Association of Home Builders CAPS Directory.  CAPS specialists are specifically trained to manage the changes needed in the residential built environment in order for people to age comfortably and safely in their own homes – and that same training applies to both accessible and universal design as well.

If you have an occupational or physical therapist, you might want to involve them in the process as well, even if they have not already done a home visit, so that your needs and the specific obstacles in your home are most appropriately identified from a medical/functional perspective, leaving the design professionals to create a solution that best implements those requirements in the most aesthetically-pleasing way possible within your budget constraints.

Accessible design is created for people with specific, known needs, and universal design is a more general concept that allows people of a range of ages and abilities to function well together in the same space, anticipating potential needs along with addressing actual existing ones.   They overlap with each other, and both overlap with aging-in-place.

If aesthetics is important to you (and it should be, because that greatly impacts your enjoyment of your home), start with an interior designer or architect who is CAPS-certified, and hire a contractor who also holds the designation for the optimal combination of design and construction knowledge.  No one wants to – or needs to – live in a home that looks institutional in order for it to function well for physical needs.

Some contractors, although far from all, may have some training in interior and/or architectural design, so unless you know you only need or want the most basic of changes like functional grab bars and/or stair glides, the best outcomes in any renovation or new construction project will usually come from hiring a team that works together to address not just the technical issues but also the aesthetic ones, and not just the physical house issues, but also furnishings, color, lighting, etc., all of which can also be modified as necessary to address various types of disabilities, including normal age-related vision loss.

Most designers and architects will meet with you initially at no charge to explain their services, find out generally what your needs, budget, and preferences are, and to make a proposal, so don’t be afraid to call one even if you think you can’t afford our services.  If it does turn out to be more than you want to spend to hire one to do the whole project, many, myself included, will also work on an hourly consultation basis to give you advice, review contractors’ plans before the proposed modifications are built, etc.

Finally, when it does come time to do whatever work needs to be done, if you find that you really can’t afford them on your own, you may be able to locate some surprising sources of help in funding the modifications.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog – and indeed the scope of any design or construction trade professional – to offer specific advice about financial assistance, or its appropriateness for any specific situation or type of situation, I would like to share some resources that you can investigate on your own.  Please do consult with your own financial, tax, and legal advisors to determine the impacts and pros and cons of any financial options you may be considering.  In some situations, there might even be tax breaks associated with such modifications that might increase their affordability, but again, please do consult your own advisors for details.

One place to start, certainly, is asking your bank about a loan, and another is to ask your accountant and/or attorney about any sources they may know of.  Likewise, your church, synagogue, or other house of worship might be able to suggest or offer assistance through either that particular facility or through the religion’s local or national agencies and charities.  Fraternal organizations might have options as well, if you belong to one.

The Our Parents blog (which is a wonderful general resource for information about aging in general, and caring for older adults) also has a nice article on where to turn to seek financial aid with an assortment of links that will help you research options in your area, or that apply to your particular circumstances.

Don’t be put off by the name of the blog or references to aging and seniors if you are not of that “certain age”, as many of these agencies might also have programs that could benefit younger people as well if they have significant disabilities, and the blog certainly has information that would be beneficial to people with other disabling conditions.  They also have a nice article with other links about the possible pitfalls of reverse mortgages, which many people think of, and which may or may not be appropriate for a given situation.

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