Some homeowners are opting for accessible designs before they actually need them, with an eye to the future.
A survey released in June by the American Institute of Architects found that two-thirds of residential architects are seeing increased interest in accessible design elements such as wider hallways and fewer steps. More than half of those surveyed say there has been growing demand for exterior amenities like ramps and adapted entrances. At the same time, luxury homeowners are challenging architects and builders to create homes that are both accessible and attractive: high-end finishes that are slip-resistant; elevators and lifts integrated into cabinetry; countertops, cabinet pulls and faucet handles that are both sleek and within reach of someone who is seated.
Donna Bailey, 63, and her husband David, 67, made sure when they recently built their 6,200-square-foot home in the mountains of Asheville, N.C., that it would accommodate their needs if they someday use wheelchairs or need extra assistance getting around the home.
Every doorway in the home is 4-feet wide; the floors are hardwood, and each of the four showers in the house has a curbless design. The steps of the interior staircase are lighted to minimize the risk of falling, and the kitchen's refrigerator and dishwasher have easy-to-reach under-counter drawers. There's also extra lighting installed around the butcher block island to prevent potential injuries while working with knives.
Mrs. Bailey, a marketing professional, and Mr. Bailey, an IT specialist, knew that they might one day struggle to carry the 20 pounds of wood needed for one of their fireplaces, so they had a special butler's elevator built in to use for loading the lumber.
Mrs. Bailey said from the beginning she did her own research on accessible design and ran ideas by the architect, who weighed in on what was possible. Construction cost close to $300 a square foot, and outfitting the home for accessibility totaled 3% of the roughly $1.86 million price tag.
Leslie Piper, consumer housing specialist with real-estate listings website Realtor.com, says she has seen a clear shift in the past few years in the demand among baby boomers who want easier to manage homes. "We're moving away from the more traditional kind of compartmentalized spaces, where you have a formal living room and formal dining room," she said. "Those barriers are being broken down and we are seeing a more open living space."
However, when it comes to selling accessible properties, pointing out that it is wheelchair accessible doesn't increase the value, Ms. Piper said. The words "handicap," "disabled/disability" and "barrier free" appear in 6.5% of the nearly 3 million home listings on Realtor.com. Ms. Piper suggests that when it comes to listing terminology, using descriptions such as "wide hallways" or "open floor plan" will better attract buyers who are in the market for such homes.
For their part, the Baileys decided it was easier to design an accessible house from the start than trying to retrofit later on. When friends visit, "they are taking notes and saying that's a good idea, we need to do that, which is very flattering," said Mrs. Bailey.