Creating a Safer Home Without an 'Institutional' Look

Creating a Safer Home Without an 'Institutional' Look

time icon 7 min read update icon Sept. 16, 2019

Universal Design Products for the Kitchen and Bath Help People of All Ages Retain Independent Lifestyles -- With Style! Stainless steel grab bars, sterile-looking rooms and the overall feeling of a hospital or clinic -- for most people, these are the images that come to mind when they hear the words "universal design." In actuality, today's universal design products for the kitchen and bath are stylish, elegant and a far cry from sterile.

Another preconceived notion many have about universal design is that it's only for the elderly or permanently disabled. Not true. From the mother who strained her back picking up her toddler, to the high school athlete who pulled a hamstring, to the middle-aged man recovering from a knee replacement -- everyone can benefit from universal design products. In fact, at one time or another in our lives, almost all of us will experience a temporary or permanent disability.

But what exactly is universal design? According to the experts, it means home design that is user-friendly, regardless of a person's age or limitations. The result is rooms that are safer, more functional and more comfortable.

"Universal design is about helping people retain independent lifestyles," said Michael Wurth, Moen Incorporated vice president of innovation and design. "It's finding products to meet the needs of the consumer, not only for safety and function, but also for grace and elegance. The best universal designs are those that blend seamlessly into the home and become an integral part of the room and its décor."

Many manufacturers are putting a priority on universal design, especially with the aging population in the U.S. For example, companies like Moen directly involve disabled users in the product design and development process through interviews, focus groups and having them role-play product usage in their home environments. According to Wurth, this information is used by designers to develop prototype products that are then taken back and evaluated by these disabled individuals for their usefulness and impact.

So how can a home be made more comfortable for the disabled? Below are some of the most popular universal design products.


Every bathroom is full of potential safety hazards such as slippery floors, bursts of scalding water, and showers or tubs in which movement is difficult. But for a person with a disability, these hazards are magnified.

Grab bars, bath grips and tub safety bars can be installed to provide support and easy maneuvering in the bathroom. Though these elements were once sterile and institutional looking, manufacturers are going to great lengths to make these safety features fit into the overall style of the room. New offerings include contemporary and traditional designs with unique finish options such as attractive polished brass, subtle whites and brushed stainless.

"To design our home care products line we consulted with a foremost expert in the universal design field, Patricia Moore, about how to better meet the needs of this diverse population," explained Wurth. "We discovered that most complaints about universally designed products were their 'clinical' look, which make people reluctant to put them in their homes. That is why manufacturers are aiming to design products that deliver a higher quality of life, without sacrificing style."

For bathing purposes, choose a tub or shower seat and a hand shower that can be utilized by seated individuals. With a hand shower, such as Moen's Revolution, a person is able to manipulate the force, flow and direction of the water without having to reach the top of the shower. Be sure the hand shower you choose has a large dial formed from a non-slip material to make it easy to hold and use in a wet environment.

Because the risk of scalding increases for the disabled or elderly, equip your home with a pressure-balanced shower system. Its valve maintains an even water temperature so shower users will not feel a hot or cold surge in water (commonly referred to as "shower shock"). Even when running a dishwasher or flushing a toilet, the valve ensures that the shower temperature remains consistent, comfortable and safe.

Overall, creating a bathroom that is easy to use is key. Even things that most people take for granted, such as changing the toilet paper roll or reaching for a towel, need to be carefully designed for someone with physical challenges. For example, Creative Specialties International offers a single post toilet paper holder that can be changed with one hand and a three-quarter inch towel ring that makes it easier to grab a towel.

Special concerns also need to be addressed in the toilet area. Toilet seat risers and arms allow a disabled person to position him or herself on the toilet without assistance. In addition, there are toilet manufacturers now making wheelchair-height toilets so physically challenged persons can maneuver easily from one to the other.

To complete the universal design bathroom, faucets must have lever handles so they are easy to activate, especially for those with a prosthetic device or persons who may suffer from arthritis. But today's lever handle faucets are far from dull -- many different finishes and styles help create an elegance in the bath with dramatic designs while still being "universal," such as the Asceri and Monticello collections from Moen.


The differences between a universal design kitchen and a regular kitchen may be subtle, but according to the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, 14 percent of the U.S. population have a disability, so providing a user-friendly kitchen for these individuals is of the utmost importance.

Varying cabinet heights are a key component of a universally designed kitchen. Although the standard kitchen cabinet height is 36 inches, for those in a wheelchair or those who have difficulty bending and reaching, the height should be lowered to 28 or 32 inches. This allows a seated person to have better access to the countertop, drawers and cabinet contents. Cabinets with full extension rollouts allow items placed in the back to be easily reached. Also, C-shaped pulls are easier to grab than small knob handles for persons with limited use of their hands.

Countertops should have long stretches of uninterrupted space so that a person is able to slide something from one work area to another. In addition, a seated area near the sink and cooktop is helpful for food preparation. The ability to roll under the sink and range area with a wheelchair is a plus for a disabled person who must prepare their own meals.

User-friendly appliances include a wall-mounted oven with a side swing door and a cooktop with the controls at the front of the unit, and a dishwasher that is raised by 6" to 16" so that it can more easily be loaded and unloaded. For refrigeration, a side-by-side unit or even one that fits under the counter is the best for persons with physical limitations.

Other kitchen items include a non-skid flooring surface such as a laminate, as well as good lighting, which is especially helpful for individuals who may have trouble distinguishing between sharp cooking utensils. For general lighting, install large surface fluorescent lamps that allow plenty of light, and are extremely energy efficient. Also be sure to light dark areas of the kitchen with task lighting -- recessed downlights work best.

Just like in the bath, the faucets chosen for the universal design kitchen should have lever handles for easy activation with either the wrist or elbow. In addition, pullout faucets may be especially useful to direct the water flow and aid in household tasks such as filling a pot or cleaning corners of the sink.

These recommendations for universal design will allow the homeowner to create stylish, yet user-friendly rooms for people of all ages and abilities.

For more information on universal design products, contact Moen Incorporated at 25300 Al Moen Drive, North Olmsted, Ohio 44070-8022, call toll free 1(800) BUY MOEN (1(800) 289-6636) or visit its web site at

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information, contact Ginny Long, director of public affairs, Moen Incorporated, (800) 321-8809, Ext. 2019 or Chris R. Lynch, Robert Falls & Co. Public Relations, (216) 696-0229.

Moen Incorporated is one of the world's largest producers of residential and commercial plumbing products. Moen is the number one brand of faucets in North America. The company manufactures a complete line of single and two-handle faucets in a wide assortment of styles and finishes. It is also a leading producer of residential and commercial sinks, a variety of shower accessories, bathroom accessories and a complete line of plumbing parts and accessories (sold under the brands Moen, Cleveland Faucet Group, Creative Specialties International, Dearborn Brass, Hoov-R-Line and Wrightway).

Moen Incorporated is an operating company of Fortune Brands, Inc. (NYSE: FO,, the consumer products company.

Bob Knechtel - Contributor

Bob is a contributor with Grandfolk® providing in-depth product and service reviews to empower senior buying decisions.