The Universal Design Living Laboratory

We speak with Rosemarie Rossetti,

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D, has a perspective of home design that few builders can personally relate to.  10 years ago, while on a bicycle ride, a 7,000-pound tree fell on Rosemarie resulting in a spinal-cord injury putting her in a wheel chair.

And since her husband, Mark Leder, towers well above 6 feet tall, compared with Rosemarie’s 4’-1” height from her wheelchair, designing a home that would fit both of their needs presented a unique challenge.  That challenge has been met by Universal Design principles.

“Universal Design” is a term coined by the late Ron Mace at the North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design. It is human-centered, accommodating people of all sizes, ages, and abilities.  For Rosemarie and Mark, that meant a home that would work equally well for each of them – and virtually anyone in between.

So in 2004, they began planning for a new home designed according to UD concepts.  But not just a home for themselves; they’ve built the Universal Design Living Laboratory, which will open this fall in Columbus, OH.

The new ranch-style home has 3,500 square feet of space on the main floor, consisting of two bedrooms, two home offices, 2.5 bathrooms, kitchen, great room, and a laundry/wardrobe, as well as a library in the hallway. An elevator accesses the lower level, which has an additional bedroom/office and bathroom, and storage space.

The kitchen and bathroom(s) are the most critical design areas in a home. To give these rooms expert consideration, kitchen and bath designer and internationally renowned universal-design specialist Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, CAPS, was brought on board. She worked with architect Patrick Manley on the kitchen and bath floor plan and positioned the cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, and countertops. She also helped select these items.

A long time friend and interior designer, Anna Lyon, reviewed the floor plans and elevations and suggested improvements and assisted in the selection of colors and finishes for the cabinets, flooring, countertops, and walls.

The idea of opening the home up to the public as a living laboratory came during the planning stage when Rosemarie and Mark were describing their project to a Mastermind group to which they belong.  The group suggested the home not only be universal design, but also be sustainable and green, use the latest technology, and be open to the public as well as the building and design industries.

The couple now had a mission:  Spread the word about Universal Design to the world, and use their home as a showcase – as well as a testing ground for new products and design concepts.  Their first step was to hire an advisor who knew the construction industry from the inside out to help them find corporate sponsors and contributors.  They found S. Robert August, of North Star Synergies, who put together a comprehensive marketing plan, and the project quickly took off.  In fact, it was August who came up with the name Universal Design Living Laboratory (UDLL.)

Today, the project has over 180 contributors, and product developers are using the home to test new designs in ‘real life’ applications.  Rosemarie, a nationally-known speaker since before her accident, has become a spokesperson for Universal Design and sustainable construction methods across the country.

The Universal Design Living Laboratory ( is a national demonstration home for the building, architectural, and design industries as well as the public. It showcases universal-design and green building principles, is Energy Star certified, and is soon expected to receive certification for programs from the U.S. Green Building Council (LEED for Homes) and the NAHB National Green Building Program. The exterior landscape incorporates universal-design fundamentals and water conservation techniques, including a water garden feature.

UDLL is receiving international, national, and local attention. Media and press coverage has ongoing since construction began in the fall of 2009. The Web site serves as an extensive educational resource containing articles, conference handouts, information, house renderings, floor plan, and links to other resources.

Preview – The Universal Design Living Laboratory

Following are some universal-design features experts agree should be incorporated into floor plans and product specifications:

  • Step-free entrance (a gradual, level grade; no conspicuous ramps)
  • All doors without thresholds, wide enough for wheelchairs or walkers (36 inches)
  • Wider hallways (46 inches)
  • Lever-style handles on doors and faucets
  • Various heights of kitchen counters
  • Full-extension drawers and shelves in kitchen base cabinets
  • Cooktop set into a counter with open knee space
  • Side-hinged microwave and oven doors at countertop height
  • Side-by-side refrigerator
  • Sliding casement or awning windows
  • An elevator to the basement and/or second floor
  • Lower rocker-style light switches (36 inches above floor)
  • Higher electrical outlets (25 inches above floor)
  • Large bathroom with decorative grab bars
  • Wood, nonslip tile and a dense-weave, low-pile (less than a half inch) carpet floors
  • Large bathtubs with plenty of grab bars
  • Curbless roll-in showers with numerous grab bars
  • Hand-held shower fixtures
  • Toilet seat 17–19 inches high
  • Adjustable hanging closet rods and shelves
  • Front-loading washer and dryer
  • Open knee space under all sinks

For more information on the Universal Design Living Laboratory, visit