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A Home for All Ages: Adaptable Floor Plans Let Everyone—from Toddler to Grandma—Live in Style and Comfort

Last updated October 14, 2019

Create a “Forever” Home with Trendy and Attractive Adaptable House Plans



Home is where the heart is…and today you can make that home a “forever” place with an adaptable design that meets your changing needs at the different stages of your life. A style that originated in the ‘60s, the adaptable, or universal, plan is now a popular choice—and several of its features are making their way into most homes.



adaptable floor plan in a home with traditional style and great curb appeal

Floor plan of an adaptable home.

A delightful one-story country home with an open floor plan and a single-step front entryway can easily be adapted to accommodate changes and family dynamics. This particular plan already comes with an in-law suite (Plan # 153-1806).



What is Adaptable, or Universal, design?



Started as an advocacy project in the 1960s by American architect Ron Mace and in the United Kingdom by architect Selwyn Goldsmith (both of whom were disabled), adaptable, or universal, design has now become a global design trend. The term “universal design” was created by Mace to describe “the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.”



While this style began as a design for the disabled, it evolved into much more over the years. Today it caters to the young and old, healthy or otherwise. Its features and products are safe, functional, and convenient, as well as attractive and appealing. Because it is based on principles that meet everyone’s needs and life changes, the home with an adaptable or universal floor plan is perfect for “aging in place.”



Extreme Makeover home with Westbrook Family in Oklahoma

Here is an attractive rendering of the handicap-accessible one-story, four bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home designed exclusively for the Westbrook family in Oklahoma. Featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition (April 21, 2007), the home was built to be a comfortable and livable place for two family members in wheelchairs as well as the ambulatory members. The floor plans can be seen here.



Why Choose an Adaptable/Universal-Design Floor Plan?



Why wait for your “golden years” to remodel/renovate your home to adapt to your needs and lifestyle changes? As more Americans want to “age in place,” they are now planning a “forever” home during construction. By opting for an adaptable/universal-design floor plan or a one-story home from the outset, families cut down on future remodeling expenses and most importantly, can make renovations fairly easily. It just makes more aesthetic and economic sense.



3=Bedroom, Craftsman-style home with unfinished basement

Basement floor plan of this 3-bedroom home

A one-story, three bedroom Craftsman-style home provides plenty of additional space in the unfinished basement to make room for returning kids or in-laws (Plan # 169-1022).




Design Trends in Adaptable/Universal Home Plans



All over the world, people are finding many interesting and creative style options for their adaptable homes. Mostly one-story homes, they combine the functional, trendy, appealing and comfortable. The principles of universal design can be applied during construction; and minor modifications are doable in a variety of home plans—including bungalow, ranch, traditional, contemporary, country, and farmhouse plans.



Top Features of Adaptable/Universal-Style Homes



1. Single-story design. Not only does the one-story house plan provide a lot of expansion options for growing families, it is also safer for children and elderly members. A house with no stairs is the perfect style for aging parents as well as toddlers.


one-story, ranch with plenty of luxuries

Great room with fireplace and access to the grilling porch

This one-story, four-bedroom ranch (top) comes with all the amenities: Great Room with fireplace (above), formal dining room, and a grilling porch for casual entertaining (photos below). Three bedrooms are in one wing and the master suite is on the other side to provide privacy (Plan # 153-1210).

grilling porch with plenty of space


2. Minimal or no stairs (inside the house). Reduce the likelihood of accidents for older family members and those with health issues.


3. One- or two-step front entryway or a level entry through the garage. Limiting the number of front steps makes it easier for residents and guests to enter the home. Today architects incorporate a level entry through the back door or the garage to allow everyone—especially those in wheelchairs—to get in and out smoothly and safely.


1-story, 4-bedroom Colonial-style ranch home

Two steps take you into this one-story, four-bedroom Colonial/Ranch house plan and its open floor layout. It is possible to renovate the steps to provide a ramp entry into the home. With a bonus room and an optional basement, there is plenty of room for expansion (Plan # 109-1112).


4. Open floors with minimal walls. There is a reason why the open floor design continues to be a hot trend. In addition to its versatility and adaptability, an open floor layout allows everyone—especially children and the elderly—to move around easily from one space in the home to another without bumping into walls or each other.


open floor plan living area with angled ceiling

open chef's kitchen with layout that works in an adaptable - universal home plan

Two gorgeous homes show off their open floor plans: the two-bedroom contemporary home, top, with exposed ceiling beams and hardwood floors (Plan # 149-1837), and a six-bedroom Craftsman style home with a more traditional ceiling, above (Plan # 163-1047). The layouts demonstrate why the open-space design is ideal in an adaptable/universal home plan


5. Wide doorways and hallways. Most adaptable/universal-design floor plans have doorways that are at least 3 feet wide and hallways that are about 4 feet wide. With this space you can easily move large furniture and appliances around; the wider space also allows clearance for strollers, wheelchairs, and mobility scooters. 


large doorways and hallways make this home more accessible for those in a wheelchair

With its wide doorway and hallways, this traditional Colonial home can easily accommodate the passage of strollers and wheelchairs and allow big furniture pieces to be moved around the home (Plan # 109-1112).


6. Large bathroom(s). In an adaptable/universal design home, at least one bathroom must be on the first floor and feature a barrier-free or walk-in shower—one without a threshold over which one must step. The walls should be strong enough to install benches and grab bars. When designing the vanity area, some homeowners have included an open knee space to have the option to sit down.  


master suite bathroom with lots of space to move around

huge master shower that could be easily modified to be a walk-in / roll-in shower

 The large bathroom in this Craftsman home provides lots of space to move around. Its drawers are simple enough to modify to allow open knee space. The shower can also be renovated to be a barrier-free walk-in one (Plan # 109-1056).    


7. Large kitchen. As with bathrooms, a large kitchen is trendy and very much in demand in adaptable/universal-design home plans. Several innovations include easily reachable switches, wall receptacles, and cabinets. Drawer appliances are great additions in these homes—they can include dishwasher drawers, warming drawers, and refrigerator drawers. Any good designer can make these hideaway drawers attractive and appealing. Open knee spaces are also popular.


modern, spacious kitchen with easy-to-reach light switches

This modern, spacious kitchen allows the cook and other family members to move around each other smoothly and freely. Note the easy-to-reach light switches and the flexibility of the cabinets/drawers to be transformed into open knee spaces (Plan # 168-1088).


8. Easy-to-reach light switches and wall outlets. Lowering standard wall switches and raising standard wall receptacles ensures that a person in a wheelchair to have no trouble turning lights on and off or plugging and unplugging small appliances and devices.


9. Lever door handles are now being substituted for traditional knobs to make it easier for the elderly to open doors and more convenient for family members to get in and out—even with grocery bags or a child in tow.


door handle easier to open

You can install lever door handles on front doors or interior-room doors to make it easier and more accessible for family members to get in and out of the space. 
(Photo credit: Martin Zemlickis on Unsplash)



Throw out all misconceptions about an adaptable/universal-design floor plan. Your plan can be as modern, stylish, and attractive as you want it to be. Besides, this can be your family-friendly “forever” home where you can comfortably and safely age in place.  




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