Green Design: Aging With Your Home
I am currently in the process of working with a client to renovate a 1920’s four-square home. The previous homeowners were an elderly couple that had lived in the home for almost 30 years. As my client took me through each room, it was interesting to see how the couple had renovated different areas over time, allowing their beloved home to age with them.
Aging with the home is something, as designers, we face all the time. Not everyone is interested in downsizing or relocating to accommodate their aging needs. Many see that final move as the first step to a decline in health, and most want to continue living in their own home independently but safely. Sometimes the best and most economical solution is to have the house change along with the aging process.
In the four-square kitchen, for example, at first glance I could not fathom why there were no outlets located on the kitchen backsplash and no pop-up countertop outlets visible either. Upon further inspection, however, you could easily find several outlets mounted to the base of the upper cabinets. Brilliant! Not only were they hidden, but provided much easier access for the elderly couple.
Many other simple updates to the kitchen were visible. Touch faucets allowed ease in turning the water on and off as needed. The countertops were rounded on the edges, a comfortable safety choice, and the layout was open and clutter free for ease of access. Open, easily accessible hardware, ideal for arthritic hands, was installed on cabinet doors and drawers.\
The greatest risk involved in aging independent living is the danger of falling. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of death among older adults. To prevent this, there are a number of easy modifications. A top priority is color distinction. This is very important anywhere floor surfaces might change material or height. Giving bold visual cues allows the brain to register an impending possible change to balance.
Increasing the amount of lighting in a space is another priority and can be achieved in multiple ways, whether by adding recessed cans or having wall outlets switched together so all lamps immediately turn on upon entrance to a room. Better yet, motion detection lighting can be added to closets and small spaces, preventing the need to fumble around for a switch. In stairwells and hallways, having all lighting switches at both entrances is key. Switching all ceiling lighting to LED fixtures will eliminate the need to climb up a ladder and change bulbs for years.
Bathrooms are obviously another major cause for concern due to the danger of slipping on wet surfaces. Using a tile with a high co-efficient of friction and avoiding rugs and mats that can easily slide around on the floor can help alleviate this concern. In addition, installing proper grab bars and support systems allows homeowners to feel confident in the safety of their bath. We try to specify blocking for grab bars in many of the bathroom renovations we design, whether specifically for an aging adult or not. It is smart design, and a comfort to know that when the time comes to install the supports, most of the legwork has been taken care of. Touch faucets can also be installed in bathrooms and handheld shower heads are easier to use.
Specifying a thresholdless shower allows for ease of mobility no matter what your ability. No more stumping toes!
Aging in place is an investment in the future. Small, thoughtful changes over time can be the best solution as you age and will allow you to stay in the home and community you love for a longer period. Plan forward to enjoy your house for years to come.
—By Maggie McClure of Beth Haley Design
Editor’s Note: Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes. Maggie McClure is an allied member of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). E-mail your questions to her at email@example.com or visit