Design for all of us

I come from the more pragmatic school of design. If something isn’t efficient and utilitarian, I really don’t care how beautiful it is. Plain and simple, if something doesn’t do the job it is intended for, it’s bad design. That’s why I am excited by the growing trend toward universal design.

Universal design grew out of what used to be described as accessible design, which was design intended to make things more suitable for people with disabilities. Obviously, someone confined to a wheelchair couldn’t safely access and use many of the common kitchen cabinet features that most of us take for granted. But universal design extends that philosophy into a more holistic view with the profound but simple question, “Why can’t we make cabinets and interiors easier to use for everyone and at the same time make them more beautiful, too?”

The answer comes in a new school of design that takes a fresh look at cabinets, hardware, layouts, and the way people actually use cabinetry, kitchens and baths. And the timing is perfect. The huge Baby Boom generation is entering retirement, and many want to stay active and “age in place” rather than leave their homes for special retirement facilities. They want beautiful cabinets that will remain functional as they age. This means things like more drawers instead of open doors, more full access pullouts, options in work surface heights, efforts to remove obstacles like swinging doors, more powered systems for opening and closing doors and drawers, and finally a revolution in lighting options.

In the cabinet industry we should welcome this design philosophy. Not only will it make our cabinets better for everyone, it also adds new options and products to expand what we can sell and helps us provide superior products that not only are beautiful but actually work.


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.