Do you associate a bathroom grab bar with grandma? Think again. These bars are making their way into conventional multifamily communities as developers realize that everyone can use a little more support. Just picture a young child slip sliding in the tub or a woman trying to shave while balancing on one leg–a grab bar makes good sense. Grab bars are one of many user-friendly products landing in today's kitchens and baths (and throughout residential units) as more multifamily developers embrace the universal design principle. The goal is simple: Create living spaces that accommodate all people–from the able-bodied to the elderly and physically handicapped–without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The concept is especially marketable to the aging baby-boomer population. "The wave for universal design is huge," says Diana Schrage, an interior designer for Kohler, a kitchen and bath product manufacturer that offers a variety of accessible products. "Smart developers are building spaces that can be used by a larger group of people for a larger period of time."
A long list of products can contribute to a universally designed kitchen or bath. Just to name a few: comfort-height toilets, bladed faucets that don't require twisting or grasping, grab bars, slip-resistant tubs, and hand-held showerheads. These items often are available in all the latest designs and finishes so you don't have to compromise style for functionality. 6 North, an 80-unit mixed-income rental community in St. Louis, proves just that. The attractive and hip loft-style units feature an impressive spread of user-friendly products, including adjustable-height granite countertop kitchen islands, full-length mirrors, lever door handles instead of knobs, and slip-resistant floor surfaces.
"Anytime we can, we will make a building universally designed," says Randy Rhoads, a project architect with St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar, which developed 6 North. "It's the right thing to do." Luckily, lenders agree. The project was partly financed by the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which awards tax credits only to projects with a universal design component.