K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for Universal Design

Dec 16 2015

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Universal Design for Health and Longevity


Häfele’s easy-to-access drawers

It’s hard to deny that on the whole we are living longer, healthier lives. Especially when one considers the wealth of information at our fingertips (WebMD anyone?) combined with constant advances in modern medicine. As we strive toward aging gracefully and comfortably well into our retirement years, it seems only natural to want to safely enjoy the homes we’ve spent a good chunk of our lives creating.

On December 10, designer Mary Jo Peterson was invited to speak on the topic of Universal Kitchen & Bath Design for Health and Longevity at the Häfele USA Showroom in NYC. The event was organized by the AIANY Design for Aging Committee. Jerry Maltz, founder and co-chair of the DAC, and Karen Kraskow, member, expressed their gratitude to Peterson for coming out to speak about designs that help make negotiating surroundings friendlier for people of all ages.

Peterson, an award-winning designer and author who has earned a long list of accolades in her field, including induction into the NKBA Hall of Fame in 2009, is president of her Connecticut-based design firm Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., and feels strongly that universal design should be an inherent part of all residential projects, particularly regarding the aging process. Her firm focuses on residential projects and provides design support to major homebuilders and product manufacturers nationwide, and over the last 25 years her contributions to the designs for kitchens and bathrooms have impacted thousands.


Mary Jo Peterson

During her presentation, Peterson talked about technological advances that were once thought as high end are now commonly found in kitchens, such as the indications for red/hot and blue/cold on faucets or the clear toaster that curbs fire hazards from burnt toast. Also, snazzy LED lighting used inside floor panels that acts as a pathway for midnight trips from bed to the toilet are just plain practical.

Peterson brought up a number of fun, interesting and practical trends, including the increasingly popular biophile design, which is when outdoor spaces are created inside. Not only are they lovely to look at, they are known to reduce stress and enhance creativity. More common trends she mentioned in universal design included putting more emphasis on drawers; moving parts such as slide-out countertops and sliding doors; and open spaces to reduce potential injury while entering or exiting showers, baths and vanities.

“I’ve always said tubs are hard to make completely safe,” she said, “but there certainly are ways to make improvements. You can install a seat to hold up to 300 pounds. There are tubs with doors. They even make grab bars attractive now.”

Karen Kraskow

Above, Karen Kraskow is checking out some innovative countertop designs that could work well with clients with limited reach.
The white pullout counter top (to her left) instantly adds space to any kitchen, and the highly functional drawers include key LED lighting for optimal accessibility.

Enhanced toilets are also trending that come equipped with lighting, remote flush, bidet/washlet, automatic open/close and an MP3 player. Peterson mentioned that toilets with these kinds of accoutrements aren’t cheap, but they have come down about $1K in recent years.

Earlier on in her presentation she mentioned that being practical doesn’t have to mean being dull. “Design can inspire, not simply fix a problem,” she said. “Design can be both beautiful and practical.”

Peterson is certified in kitchen, bath and aging in place and is an active adult housing CLIPS (certified living-in-place specialist). She has also authored three books on the subject of universal design, including her most recent release in 2014 called Bath Planning: Guidelines, Codes, Standards.

– Carrie Farley

Oct 21 2015

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A Practical, “Middle America” Showroom


APR acquired Sage Supply in Johnson City N.Y. in May, and the purchase was a smart investment. The building was large with long-term renters and had multiple loading docks, a large warehouse and a showroom. It was in a small market but with untapped potential. Best of all, there were strong and knowledgeable staff dedicated and determined to make this new opportunity work.

Out with the Old
A lot of our acquisitions come with outdated facilities. This is part of the challenge: to create an attractive showroom on a very low budget with hopes of a fast ROI. In some ways the showroom was perfect. It had a long, fully windowed wall facing a busy street – perfect for displaying interesting product and signage to draw in the public. And because nearly everything was outdated or discontinued, we didn’t need to spend much time evaluating individual displays. But the vignettes were on hazardous platforms, and a lot of full-height walls blocked the area and made the displays feel cramped. The floor was badly stained from years of use, and there was even carpeting on the walls. We would have to be aggressive and start from scratch.

I was fortunate enough to have Brenda Higgins on board, who is the best salesperson in the market. She was a member of the Sage Supply team and stayed on with us during the acquisition. Higgins played a critical role in understanding the market and was instrumental in pointing us in the right direction. The population, income and demographics all pointed to the design of a very practical showroom with a strong emphasis on aging-in-place product. She described the market as traditional with the bulk of work being renovations of older homes and suggested items such as multi-piece shower units and traditional-style cabinets to reflect this need.


In with the New
We partnered with our preferred vendors to create a 3,500 sq.-ft. showroom, which boasts more than 12 tub shower displays, several handicap-accessible showers and a wide range of cabinet options for the bath and kitchen. Only four faucet lines are displayed, which was a change from our usual eight or more. We felt we could make a bigger impact by tailoring our product mix to the individual market rather than displaying items unlikely to sell in the area. Because 3,500 square feet can fill up fast, we wanted to make every inch count.

Allison Lorelli, business development manager for our showrooms, assisted in the overall layout and design. She has a new and unique role at APR and works outside the showroom developing relationships with other kitchen and bath shops, builders and contractors to drive business to our showrooms.


Challenges and Solutions
Although the work was to be a complete gut, there were challenges to the layout. Unlike the previous floor plan, we wanted to have clear sight lines from one end of the showroom to the other, creating a feeling of abundance and spaciousness. Lorelli emphasized the need for planned “empty areas” for freestanding displays and towers.

In our other showrooms, lack of clear and open floor space can become a real challenge. More vendors are producing and shipping merchandising and display vignettes that are self-contained – including their message and marketing – and we struggle to fit these in when too much of our showroom is permanently designed. Knowing this and wanting to be able to update frequently in the future with little investment, our layout had an open concept. We were very thoughtful in where we would build permanent walls and exactly what we would display there. It was also critical that our customers could see our offerings easily and understand what we we’re all about.


“Making sure our showrooms look and act like an extension of our customers’ business is important to us,” said Lorelli. “We had to make it simple, cost effective and yet still show product that gets people excited to buy.”

Early on, we decided to improve upon what Sage Supply started; they only had bathroom products. We added kitchens in the design, with a mid-price-point cabinet line. We are also adding tile and some lighting to provide our customers with a one-stop shop, and our other showrooms already embrace this approach.

“We don’t want a builder to send clients to three showrooms,” said Lorelli. “If we are making the investment, let’s save the customer time, money and energy and offer the complete package.”


Easy Access
Another concern was adding handicap accessibility to the showroom. When we purchased the company, it was virtually impossible to have wheelchair access to the showroom, as the main entrance is located at the top of a large hill with no nearby parking. If we are going to display aging-in-place product, we have to allow everyone a chance to visit the showroom, so we are adding new parking outside the showroom entrance. However, winter in Johnson City is quickly approaching, stalling this part of the construction until next year.

It’s all in the Displays
When working on the design, we were concerned about the total cost but knew that with plumbing products, working displays are critical. We had to ensure that our customers could see water moving through our product to allow them the opportunity to experience and evaluate their purchase. We opted to install working “wet rooms” with multiple showerheads, handhelds and body sprays in each. The working displays are inside two of our largest and popular shower layouts – one a popular Terestone custom shower with a large bench and the other the Aquabrass “Aquazone” shower/tub combination. We installed beautiful Roda frameless shower doors to finish off the space. Utilizing actual shower layouts in creating these wet areas maximized our selling opportunity.


Hits and Highlights
Another interesting design highlight of this location is the use of dyed and polished concrete floors. We selected a dark charcoal color – polished to a rich luster. Concrete gives the showroom a cohesive base by utilizing it for the entire floor, but because the material has natural cracking and variation in color, the floor is dynamic and interesting. We expect it to be relatively maintenance free, and staining is no longer an issue. It is also handicapped accessible; it is firm underfoot, easy to roll on and has no transition points – eliminating tipping hazards.


We also painted the entire showroom a vibrant aqua, which gives the showroom a cohesive look and allows the displays to stand out. Having one color allows the mind to focus on the product and avoids overloading customers with too much visual “noise.” It will also make it easy to change vignettes in the future; if we want to take something out that is funky and modern and put something completely traditional in its space, we don’t have to try to match the wall color or repaint.


Part of the Community

Throughout this process, we got to work with many Johnson City locals, including Testa Plumbing and Kraig Brigham contracting. When accessorizing the showroom, Brenda was able to display some gorgeous original artwork by her daughter. We are running promotions with our new neighbors, Olum’s, and a local radio station. We hope to be able to continue to work with local companies and become a fixture in the Johnson City community.

The showroom is now complete, and we are simply thrilled with the results. It was a long, hard process, but we succeeded at our goals and maintained our original budget. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive; customers are delighted by our product selection, service and expertise. This showroom was designed with our growth and the future in mind; we designed an extra work area for future staff.

– Jeff MacDowell is vice president of marketing and emerging markets for APR Supply Company. Allison Lorelli, business development manager for the company’s showrooms, also contributed to this post.

Aug 27 2015

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Beautiful Renovations in a Florida Summer Rental


And the owners were TRULY proud of those renovations – both in the kitchen and the two bathrooms. I know this because when we tried to talk them down a bit on their rental rate, they abruptly refused – letting us know their new design is not something at which to scoff.

And it definitely was not.

My friend and I walked into an airy, open, shades of gray and white summer beach rental and never wanted to leave. Each room had a queen bed with its own master bath. The choice of master bath really depended on whether you wanted a tub or a shower. The kitchen was decked out with lovely countertops, a HUGE Sub-Zero refrigerator and some glass-fronted cabinetry.

Here are some photos for you to see:

This refrigerator was definitely too large for the space, but we loved it.

This refrigerator was definitely too large for the space, but we loved it. It was great to be able to see what was inside without having to waste energy opening the door each time. 

One bathroom had this large, barrier-free shower. I love the glass blocks - even if they are old school.

One bathroom had this large, barrier-free shower – accessible by pretty much anyone. I love the glass blocks – even if they are old school.

Both bathrooms had this sink/vanity combo, and this one had lots of charming storage.

Both bathrooms had this sink/vanity combo, and this one had lots of charming, vertical storage.

The second bathroom had a small but workable tub and a handheld shower spray. Again, loving the glass blocks.

The second bathroom had a small but workable tub (in case  you needed to bathe a child or a pet) and a handheld shower spray. Again, loving the glass blocks.

The second bathroom had a little less storage space, but the white marble on the wall was truly remarkable.

The second bathroom had a little less storage space, but the white marble on the wall was truly remarkable. It took me a few shots to get one where you could not see me in the mirror!

The owners store handmade bowls and plates from their kids in the glass-front cabinets.

The owners store handmade bowls and plates from their kids in the glass-front cabinets.

What you didn’t see was the hidden loft upstairs – complete with a ladder entry and plush, white beds and lighting fixtures. There was a great screened-in porch looking out onto the street, where we saw our “neighbors” being visited by a cabinet company. Perhaps they intend to keep up with the “Joneses.” We will definitely be going back to this place! I miss it already!


May 01 2015

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From Hotels to Homes

David_RockwellThe words, “There was this hotel I really liked…” have turned up more and more frequently when discussing design aesthetic with a client. People travel and explore for retreat and inspiration, and often when they return, homeowners realize that they can have a similar escape at home too.

This past week I had the honor of hearing architect David Rockwell speak on what inspires him to create the hotels, restaurants, theater sets and other spaces for which he is famous. The Rockwell Group, founded by Rockwell in 1984, has imagined and built some of the most creative structures seen in recent years. From a journey-like experience in an Asian restaurant to a moving train on a Broadway stage, the company’s creations drive the hospitality world and therefore are leaking into our residential designs.

“The barrier between work, home life and socializing is more permeable than ever,” said Rockwell. “So it’s making sense to mash up several ideas into one.”

By this he’s referring to the idea of taking what people want – like a beach house – and finding a way to insert it into the mundane place they need it to go, like a plain old office space. He reaches for inspiration around the world to find ways to incorporate these ideas practically, and we can use similar methods in residences. Here are some of my takeaways from his inspiring talk.

Fear up front is a good thing. Having been asked to do the stage set for the 82-tc-1009Academy Awards, Rockwell was intimidated by the scathing criticism the ceremony often gets. He took on the challenge by looking at choreography and movement.

“People move in arc movements,” he said, explaining how the importance of a journey to a space is just as important as the space itself.

Only 20 percent of a project creates the memory. In TAO Downtown in New Tao_NYC_Downtown__David_rockwell_groupYork City, the restaurant is laid out in such a way that the entrance feels like a transformation into a different world. The main seating area, set up in a unique theater format, faces a giant statue illuminated by projected animation. Even though the majority of the budget went to the statue’s animation, most of the diners say they remember the statue more than anything else in the building.

yotel-01Environments tell a story. Looking to the past for inspiration is old news, but by melding different parts of the past – like 60s air travel and Japanese hospitality in Yotel hotel – an entirely new space can form.

There is a power in things changing. Designers are no strangers to this. Rockwell felt this experience the most after 9/11, when he was asked by a New York mother to build a playground to replace the one destroyed by the attacks. His creation resulted in a series of building-block playgrounds called Imagination Playgrounds, which have changed communities around the world.

“Be curious,” Rockwell said. “You’ll see how the eccentric things you love in design can pay off in the future.”