Remodeling is a sign that a home isn't meeting its owners' current needs. But, that doesn't mean the design update ends when those particular needs are met.

“Flexible” or “universal” design theories help remodelers and clients design homes with functionality for now and later. The products featured here are ideal for use in anticipation of mobility challenges and later-life needs.

“We've been incorporating [accessibility and universal design] into our products for several years,” says Tracy Frye, contract channel senior marketing manager for Whirlpool. “Simple changes can make appliances easier for everyone to use, including aging baby boomers and homeowners with special needs. And, like true universal design, these solutions aren't obvious or obscure, but are resourceful and virtually invisible.”

In response to ergonomic needs, brands such as KitchenAid offer several modular, drawer-style appliances, including dishwasher drawers. Mounted below the counter, drawer appliances open and close easily, and their contents are easy to reach and handle. Full-size Whirlpool and KitchenAid dishwashers are also available with pedestals beneath them for a boost off the floor. The raised installation “reduces the amount of bending and stretching needed to load and unload,” Frye says.

Also in the kitchen, Kevin Jobe recently introduced the Auto-Cab (shown), a motorized upper cabinet that lowers to counter height. Available from his company, Automated Cabinet Systems, in 15 sizes, the cabinet boxes and gears ship as complete units, so installers need only acquire face frames and doors to match existing or new cabinetry. With his father in a wheelchair, his mother short-of-stature, and his daughter missing her right arm below the elbow, Jobe created the cabinets out of necessity, but has seen tremendous interest in the product. “There are a lot of people concerned with independent living who want to make sure they can stay in their homes,” he says. “Our product fills a niche.”

Another bright universal design idea is using wireless light switches, such as Lutron's Maestro Wireless line. “People need fine motor skills to turn a regular switch on or off, or to turn a dimmer knob,” says John Hewson, senior design and development engineer for Lutron. “Maestro has a large button that can be tapped in any location to turn the light on or off, and the dimmer is raised so it's easy to move.” Illuminated LEDs also make the switches more visible in the dark. Most importantly, wireless dimmers can easily be relocated if a wall needs to be moved to widen a hallway, or if having the switch lower on the wall makes it easier to reach.

Finally, entering an accessibly designed home should be as easy as navigating through it. Lever-style door handles are easier to grip than round doorknobs or thumb latches. Hickory Hardware is one manufacturer that offers a range of levers for both entry- and interior-door use. With items catering to universal design available in almost every product category, remodelers have a chance to create homes that will adapt to their owners' needs for years to come.

For more product information, visit, Hanley Wood's interactive product catalog.