Universal design.

(Image credit: Universal Design Alliance/Fred Gerlich Photography/Designers Anna Marie Hendry, Rita Goldstein,)

Universal design. It's a term you're likely to hear more of in the coming years. This design approach takes into account functionality and ease of use for multigenerational living. The concept is appropriate for both young families and for people who want to stay in their homes as they age. "It's livable housing," says Rebecca Stahr, co-founder of the Universal Design Alliance and founder of LifeSpring Environs, a design firm. "Once people have these convenient features, they"ll wonder how they ever did without them."

Functional does not mean institutional. Take the bathroom at right. The design is sleek and modern--it's not until you look closer, that you'll realize how accessible this bathroom really is for young children, aging baby-boomers and elderly folks. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate universal design in a home. Here are some examples that illustrate how your living spaces can work better for you.

By Rachel L. Sheedy

Research by Amy Pollak