Designing for the REAL Future

I remember my first trip to Disney World when I was very young and visiting “Tomorrowland” for the first time. The cool, modern designs made us all dream up our own vision of what our individual “tomorrows” might entail. At that time planning for the future was all about streamlined, glossy laminates and multi-functional, automated designs. Today we might look at that same vision of Tomorrowland as very retro 1960’s. But one point stands out to me – this vision of tomorrow was more about appearances than real functionality.

Each of us will have a different future – with our own specific needs. Who can say whether we will be able to maintain an active lifestyle or if health issues will force us to adjust our personal Tomorrowland. In the past 30 years, there has been a growing movement aimed at addressing the ever-growing portion of our population that has special needs in their living environments, whether that be through unexpected medical conditions or simply the natural aging process. 

Aging-in-Place OR Living-in-Place

Planning for the future is never an easy undertaking because there are so many variables. Today most principles of Universal Design have been incorporated into what is commonly called Aging-in-Place – it’s the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” In an effort to put a positive twist on a subject that most of my clients don’t want to talk about, Aging-In-Place is now often referred to as Living-In-Place.

Whatever term you use, it all comes down to the desire to be able to stay in a home which is often considered one's “dream home” – the culmination of years of hard work and building a family!  Or, alternatively, I have clients who are finally building their “forever home” later in life after the responsibilities of raising children have passed and they can focus a little more on their own personal needs. 

Our homes are perhaps the strongest element in our sense of security. A certain amount of control is lost when one leaves a home that they had intended on staying in for their Tomorrowland. This control provides the underpinning to our feelings of dignity, quality of life and independence. So the ability to stay in our homes is paramount to “living happily ever after!” 

Living-in-Place is a part of our future that can be attainable if we look at the aging process realistically. Of course, the best time to look at these special considerations is during any construction or renovation process. That’s why I try to incorporate the basic principles of Universal Design or Living-in-Place into all my designs, especially those involving kitchens and bathrooms. These principles can be as simple as planning first-floor master suites, wider doorways, pocket doors and improved lighting design.

Aging and Your Home

The aging process is blamed for many problems seniors may encounter with daily activities. However quite often it is the home that creates the difficulties. Most residential housing is geared to young healthy adults. Most builders do not take into account age-related conditions such as reduced mobility or limited range of reach. Hence, standard dwellings do not support the physical and sensory changes that older adults encounter as they age: 

  • Decreased mobility and dexterity
  • Decreased strength and stamina
  • Reduced sensory acuity: vision, hearing, thermal sensitivity, touch, smell
  • Mental process changes

Aging-in-Place Gets Personal

I’ve experienced this first-hand when my parents moved into a 55+ community. Fortunately, I was able to revise the layout of their new construction home to accommodate simple space planning considerations and functional details such as;

  1. Open floor space for easier path of travel with mobility aides
    (I always suggest a furniture plan to help give people an idea of space limitations)
  2. Zero-threshold entry
  3. Wider doorways into their Master Bedroom and Bathroom 
  4. Changing door swings into bathrooms or creating pocket doors
    (Having the door swing outward allows for easy access to individuals who have fallen inside and may block a doorway.)
  5. Roll in showers and seating in the Master Bathroom shower
  6. Grab bar locations
  7. Increased lighting levels and lighting controls

Other details to consider in the interior design materials and finishes include;

  • Non-skid flooring surfaces 
  • Handles that are easier for limited grasp abilities
  • Armchairs designed for easier in and out
  • Raised outlets for easier reach

An Accessible Approach

A proactive approach to home modification can make life easier for everyone! Often times I can “sell” the benefits of Living-in-Place design by simply pointing out how it would be easier for guests or an extended family member with physical limitations to visit if some key design elements area put into place. The concept of “Visitability” is one of my favorites, this involves three key features that allow anyone to visit your home;

  1. At least one zero-threshold entry
  2. Open floor space and doorways for easier path of travel with mobility aides 
  3. An accessible bathroom on the first floor

Let’s face it, no one likes to talk about getting older – but it's unavoidable! An assessment of your home and the identification of safety issues now can improve the amount of control you have of the future when these decisions are more difficult and overwhelming. We are thankfully living longer and enjoying more active lifestyles, why not plan ahead so you can stay happy, safe and secure in your own home for years to come!

Kate ElfatahComment