InteriorDesign: What Does Playing Tennis have to do with Universal Design?

InteriorDesign: What Does Playing Tennis have to do with Universal Design?
 Dear friends it’s Flashback Friday!

I am of the mindset that I am never too old to try anything. Except skydiving, that’s not gonna happen. Ever.
Perhaps I should have put playing tennis second on my “Never Ever Gonna Do It list“. Too late.

I should have known better, but isn’t 50ish the new 30ish?

My body isn’t 30 anymore, but I decided to play tennis like I was  30. Or at least I was playing with 30 year old women.
Luckily my home has many Universal design elements already in place to adapt to my ever changing lifestyle as I get older.
It was ready for  a 50ish woman who thought she could run around a tennis court like a 30 year old.

Back it up to 2012….
We joined a country club in Atlanta when we moved here because this is where I would make new friends since we have no family in Atlanta and that’s what empty nesters do when they move to a new town.
I also knew my interior design business would take time to get established in Atlanta, so I had time on my hands to play golf and tennis at our new country club.
I had only one problem, I was new to both sports.

My golf game was pick up the ball after 8 shots and my tennis game was basically hitting balls back to the children when they were little.
I joined the tennis league, mind you,with no skills whatsoever.
But my young tennis pro (he played tennis in college with a good friend of my son’s,read 26) thought I would be terrific on the C team.
Being on the C team isn’t exactly a group of talented tennis players. In the world of tennis ranking hierarchy, A players are “Crazy good ass players” and C players are “Silly old women playing with young mothers who have too much time on their hands”.

                                       playing tennis before surgery

During team practice in February I noticed my right ankle began swelling and it was hard to run. I finally went to an orthopedic doctor after dealing with 3 months of hobbling around thinking I had tendinitis, but in fact I had torn the tendon.

I had to have surgery and stay off my foot for 8 weeks. My orthopedic surgeon who I refer to as, Dr.Five Words, said it would be 6 months before I played tennis again.
{I didn’t bother to let him know I was done playing with young women who got depressed when they saw me whip off my warm up jacket in 40 degree weather, because I was having a hot flash. Most commented, “My mom goes through that too”. Too much in the future for them. They still had not crossed the threshold ofTo Botox or not to Botox yet.”}

 As we get older our incidence of having  sports related injuries are greater than when we were younger. Duh!
But on the positive side we are in better shape because we do some form of exercise.
I never thought I would be having foot surgery but I did and I’m so grateful my home welcomed back, scooter and all.


When working with my over 50 clients I have a serious discussion about their home and how we need to make changes to it so that it will adapt to their aging lifestyle or to those who come to visit. Many of my clients are now caretakers to elderly parents or to a disabled family member. Having a home responsive to all people despite any type of disability is good and smart design.
I have a wonderful client who had surgery shortly after I had renovated her home and her bathroom with Universal Design elements. As I say, you’ll never know when you’ll need it!
Photo by Wing Wong
All it takes is one person in your family having an injury, a physical impairment, or age related issue to make you think about renovating your home to adapt to that person living with you.
We need to make our homes enjoyable for everyone who visits or lives with us.
 The principles of Universal Design, Aging in Place Design, and now Transgenerational Design  all make good sense and should be considered when purchasing or remodeling a home. Once you incorporate them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
We  need to begin to think  how our homes will impact our daily living if we have someone living with a disability, we become caretakers to our aging parents, or become a wounded weekend warrior.
 Luckily for me, my home in Atlanta is a perfect example of how some of the components of Universal design and Aging in Place Design surrounds me in my home, but it didn’t slap me in the face, it just waited quietly to make it’s appearance.
Let’s take a look at my house and the design elements of universal and aging in place..
  • All the door handles and faucets are lever style which is very trendy and very nice for people with forms of arthritis.
  • My home has an open floor plan on the first floor with few walls dividing the spaces between the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
  • The master bedroom is on the first floor, so I don’t need access to the top floor everyday. This is called “single floor living”, when the kitchen, main living area, laundry, bedroom and bath are on the first floor. I never needed to go up or downstairs  or to the lower level when I had to stay off my foot after surgery.
  • I have multiple layers of lighting in every room of our house. I have ceiling lights, wall sconces, lamps and under cabinet mounted lighting. I really love the overhead recessed lighting above the beds in all our bedrooms. Each light has it’s own toggle switch on both sides of the bed to work independently. So easy for arthritic hands who find it hard to turn the little switch on the table lamps.
    extra lighting over the bed great aging in place design


  • My front entrance double doors are both 42″ wide. Great for getting a wheelchair in or big furniture.
  • All the hallways are over 42″ wide, anything over 36″ is nice for a wheelchair.
  • On the first floor, I have travertine marble and hardwood floors, which makes it easy for me to scoot around.  The marble is honed (flat finish) and not polished which also prevents falling.I have area rugs, but I try to avoid them as much as possible. They slow me down. As we age, we tend to shuffle our feet and area rugs get in the way or trip us up. I have tossed all small rugs  until I can walk again. The rugs are used to capture wet and dirty dog paws mainly.
  • I have a side by side refrigerator in my kitchen. I don’t  need to bend over. Over and under freezers are hard to open in a wheelchair,on a scooter,and people with back issues.
  • All my kitchen cabinets have pullouts, expensive upgrades to consider for a kitchen, but even able body people like to have easy access to the back of the cabinet. I have pullout trash bins and large drawers for pots and pans.
  • The  kitchen sits in a corner and between the cook top and the island is 50″ so I can make a full circle. This corner layout is very popular in bathrooms and kitchens for wheelchair accessibility.
  • My laundry room has front loading washer and dryers.
  • In the laundry room I even have a built in cabinet with a drop down ironing board.
  • I have carpet runners on all my stairs. For all the young people reading this blog, carpet is good on the knees going up and the behinds that scoot down the stairs. Enough already with naked wood stairs! It’s not good  functional design!   I crawl and scooted down my stairs because hopping on one foot was physically draining!

I have enjoyed being in a house that easily adapted to my scooter and to my physical impairment. I have become a better interior designer because I now look at homes with potential issues.

Take a look at your home and see if you have some Universal design products. You might just be surprised.
If not, the next time you renovate your home try to incorporate items that will be beneficial 10-15 years down the road.

How to make your home safer for you:
Changes to consider:

  • Better lighting indoors and outdoors
  • Ramps or a zero-step entrance
  • Handrails at steps, indoors and outdoors
  • Single-story living
  • Lever-handle faucets
  • Lever handles on doors and windows
  • Cooktop with controls on front
  • Grab bars in the shower
  • Hand-held showerhead, for sitting or standing
  • Curbless shower
  • Wider doors that accommodate wheelchairs and walkers

Source: National Association of Home Builders

Most popular aging-in-place modifications

Percentage of universal-design remodelers who do these jobs:
Grab bars: 80%
Higher toilets: 78%
Curbless showers: 59%
Wider doorways: 55%
Ramps/thresholds: 46%
Lighting: 42%
Non-slip floors: 20%
Source: National Association of Home Builders

Have you thought of any of these modifications for your home yet?

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Read more about the bathroom I designed for my client in the 2015 June/July  issue of Design NJ



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