Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Development Services

From Concept to Construction

Phone: 503-823-7300


1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97201

More Contact Info

Green Building Corner

Bookmark and Share

Larry Cross and Universal Design 

By Valerie Garrett, LEED AP, Green Building Specialist

Larry CrossOn first meeting the local Portland designer Larry Cross I was struck by his friendly directness, broad smile and enthusiastic energy. Larry wants you to know everything about his home and site that he has remodeled for “evolving-in-place,” a term he prefers over “aging-in-place.” Larry uses a walker. He is passionate about architectural design that is inclusive, sustainable and accessible to all. Over the past few years he has designed and remodeled his small bungalow to better suit his changing needs.

Skylight toward dining spaceSustainable Design Features

Begun in the 1960s, Universal Design (UD) advocates for buildings and products to be accessible to everyone regardless of age, ability, or status in life. Larry’s home follows Universal Design guidelines: functional and practical, while beautiful and easy to live in. It was remodeled with ease of maintenance in mind due to his limited mobility.

Larry employed sustainable practices, including reusing existing materials as much as possible. Ultimately, he hopes to have his house become an educational community resource. For Larry, his sustainable project is a balance between “what I need and what I want.”

Needing more open floor space, a second bedroom’s walls were demolished opening up an east-facing wall with large salvaged windows to let in morning light and allow natural cross ventilation. Skylights were punched into the hip roof, bathing the central floor area in daylight. Windows open up onto garden views on all sides. 

toilet and showerA laundry room was converted into a spacious bathroom including a roll-in shower with seat, stone-faced surround and scald-free plumbing and a roll-under sink. A low-flow toilet was installed with Larry’s own custom, bright grab bars. The floor is slip-resistant stone. The closet between the bathroom and bedroom had its walls removed allowing tall pass-through shelving with pull-out storage baskets, accessed from both rooms. A new on-demand water heater saves floor space and provides unlimited hot water while using less energy.

For wall openings, curtains are used in place of doors. Bright wall colors enhance his art collection. The overgrown yard was cleared, designed and planted to contribute to the established neighborhood fabric. Larry’s garden is accessible by a series of wide wood ramps winding out from his house on three sides. Salvaged building materials peek from lush plantings, a horizontal slat fence screens the street and a fountain made of reclaimed stacked slate gurgles while three curious chickens stroll the grounds. 


Rail PavilionPhilosophy and Inspiration

When asked about his design inspiration, in addition to UD principles and art, Larry replies, “Frank Lloyd Wright remains my primary inspiration.” 

He notes American architect Wright’s emphasis on organic design, incorporation of nature, use of varied materials and Japanese aesthetic. Other designers who influence Larry are Japanese American artist and landscape architect, Isamu Noguchi  and British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy.

Lessons Learned

Larry has great advice on keeping a home remodel under control: “Plan for the short and long-term, select contractors carefully and have a healthy budget with a large cushion,” Larry shared. “Recognize that Murphy’s Law always prevails in construction projects, so ensure that you have that perspective, attempt patience, and a sense of humor.”   

Wheelchair ramp with reuseEven though an item may cost more than you are willing to spend, think about its value over time. He suggests that it may not be as expensive when you consider how long an item will last as compared to a less-expensive selection. One lesson learned: The newly-installed propane heating system has proved to be unsatisfactory in terms of both installation and operation costs.

When thinking about a remodel, the Regional Green Building Hotline suggests starting where you are, taking stock of what you have and building upon that.  What are your must-haves versus your nice-to-haves? A successful approach to greening your home and increasing accessibility can involve completing upgrades in separate stages. This is gentler on your wallet, gives you breathing room and reduces stress.


See Larry’s UD remodel and garden on this year’s Build It Green! Home Tour. Larry welcomes correspondence and can be reached at

Rear YardProject data:

  • Owner/Designer: Larry Cross, Serendipity DeZign
  • One story dwelling, built 1942, 800 sq. ft. with garden on corner lot
  • Remodeled with Universal Design (UD) and accessibility features
  • Owned:  5-1/2 years
  • SE Portland Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood