October 1, 2019 8:00AM

Design, Doorknobs, and the Great Enrichment

As Americans become older and wealthier, there's growing interest in "aging-in-place design" for our homes. In the Washington Post, Stephanie Brick notes that aging-in-place

actually falls under the umbrella of universal design, which is becoming better known in the design industry as inclusive design. This is design — from the full architecture of a building to minute details such as material or fixture selections — that creates an equal experience for people across a wide spectrum of abilities.

Although many of us hearing this would naturally think of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Brick notes that inclusive design is not just "a set of minimum requirements to be met" but a "holistic strategy" that seeks make living spaces accessible in multiple ways for many kinds of people, now and in the future.

What occurred to me as I read the article is that this is a manifestation of our increasingly affluent society. The average new single-family home today is about 1000 square feet bigger than new homes in 1973, even as household size has declined. Homes are safer, more luxurious, and more technologically advanced than they were a decade or a generation ago. Inclusive design is part of that trend. Deirdre McCloskey writes in her imminent book that "the greatest, yet regularly overlooked, fact about the modern world" is the Great Enrichment, the fact that we are roughly 3,000 percent richer than our ancestors in 1800. And that enrichment continues, in the United States and in increasing parts of the world.

Of course, there are always tradeoffs in design choices. Stephanie Brick notes that "knobs can be difficult to grip for someone with arthritis or who has limited mobility. Lever handles for doors and faucets, as well as pulls for cabinetry hardware instead of knobs, are a simple adaptation." But at the same time as Brick's article appeared, a Wall Street Journal "Mansion" section article addressed the damage pets can do to houses, including a $1.25 million Colorado home: "Another $1,000 was spent to replace door levers with doorknobs because the pups were sneaking into guest rooms and gobbling up things like vitamins." Inclusive or not, no design is going to satisfy every customer.