Aging-in-place simply means living in the home and community of one’s own choice while growing older. Remodeling for aging in place uses design elements and products that allow you to remain in your home as circumstances change. For many people, though, it’s an uncomfortable term. It’s common for partners to have different views on the subject. Often, they’re hesitant to plan for aging and illness while they’re perfectly healthy.
Designing for aging-in-place, though, is similar to designing for a growing family, where you’re changing the dynamic of the house. In fact, some of the features people request for their remodeling projects are aging-in-place focused: pull-out shelves, under cabinet lighting, walk-in showers, built-in shower seats, and lever handles all qualify as aging-in-place design elements.
The Universal Design Approach
Though we are well-known as a kitchen remodeling firm in Philadelphia and the Main Line, we actually do much much more than that, including aging-in-place design. Cottage Industries’ co-owner, Nick Walker, designs many of these projects. He agrees there’s a certain level of reluctance on the part of homeowners to embrace anything that’s described as aging-in-place. Like many designers, he prefers the term universal design, as it includes everyone. Most requests we get for universal design come after the need arises, usually for handicap accessibility or making room for aging parents.
We’re currently working on a couple of projects for disabled children, as well as a few in-law suites. It’s important to keep in mind that these design decisions can be very emotional for the homeowners. That’s one of the reasons we discuss the universal design concept any time we’re designing a project. We like to stress that, just because something involves universal design, it doesn’t need to look institutional.
Every design proposal we do lists the universal design options available. Examples include:
- Doorways that are wider, making them wheelchair accessible.
- Handles that are easier to use.
- Eliminating raised thresholds for ease of movement.
- Level floors and entryways, which can be a challenge in an older home that has settled.
- Using plywood inside the walls to support future grab bars, ensuring they stay in place under a person’s full weight.
- Installing toilet paper holders or towel racks that double as grab bars.
- Motion activated faucets.
Is One-Floor Design The Best Option?
Today, a popular design choice is putting a full bathroom on the first floor. There are a lot of beautiful historic and older homes on the Main Line and in Philadelphia, and many of them were built between 1880 and 1950. For those homeowners, it can be challenging finding a place for a bedroom and bath on the first floor. That often means building an addition which might include not only a master suite, but a laundry room and new floor level entryway. In some cases, an additional room for live-in help is needed.
Another option that may make more sense is installing an elevator. Elevator location can be a tricky design problem, as the shaft takes up space on all floors. In older homes, a great location can be where the servant stairs are located. In other cases, building an elevator addition makes more sense. One of the greatest benefits of putting in an elevator is that it allows access to all the places the homeowners love in the house.
When All’s Said and Done
The whole point of universal design is to make a home comfortable and functional for someone who’s nine or 90. Sometimes a homeowner wants a first-floor remodel to be a temporary solution. In those cases, we design the space to be “convertible.” For example, a wall can be removed so what was an in-law suite can be turned into a family room.
Universal design can be both a smart choice and aesthetically pleasing. You can prepare your home for aging-in-place without sacrificing beauty or compromising on function. While it’s tempting to put it off until it’s needed, why not think of it as creating a home so beautiful and comfortable that you’ll never want to leave? You’ll be happier and safer, and the investment you make will be well worth it.