As I continue to grow as a designer, I have noticed a gravitational pull, if you will, toward universal design. More specifically, focusing on aging in place homes. During my studies at Chaffey College, implementing universal design was highly encouraged. Feeling inspired by this, I decided to take a building codes course, where I learned about ADA compliance guidelines and commercial building regulations.
The reason this area of design interests me is because I believe in designing with a meaningful purpose. If I can help an elder stay in his or her home as they age rather than having to move into a care facility, I’d do everything in my power to make it happen. Fortunately, there are many ways to achieve this through specific and thoughtful design layouts and FF&E selections.​​​​​​​
I really enjoy listening to the stories of my elders and learning about how their families have built their homes over the years. I cannot imagine having to be ripped away from the home you once raised your children and grandchildren in, all because of the lack of safety in their current space. I have spoken with some individuals who share a love-hate relationship with their home because of this. How do you leave the only place you know to be home? The neighborhood where you’ve cultivated relationships over the years, the backyard where you had buried the family dog, the tree with the tire swing that the grandkids love to use...
Okay now I’m reminding myself of one of my favorite songs by Miranda Lambert, The House that Built Me. But really, go listen to that song because it reinforces these concerns!
As designers, it is our job to solve these challenges. It is our job to actively listen to our clients and put ourselves in their shoes. One of the reasons I truly enjoy residential design is the personal aspect and connection with the client. 
So how do we allow our clients to live independently with dignity while they age in their beloved homes? One way is by maximizing functional design through space planning and utilizing innovative storage techniques. ADA guidelines can be found through this link. Even if the client is not anticipating being in a wheelchair or using a walker, it is still wise to follow the guidelines in case there is a need in the future.
Remember, we are designing for aging in place; this is the home they plan to live in for the foreseeable future. It would be acceptable to prepare for this by making sure doors are at least 36” wide, adding grab bars for the bathroom and near inclines, and a 60” diameter turnaround space at dead end locations. We don’t need to use the ugly grab bars you’d typically see in an airport bathroom. There are plenty of stylish grab bars that completely blend into the room.​​​​​​​
I have had conversations with folks that lost a spouse who had dreamt of remodeling the home they built their family in. They wanted to continue on their spouse’s legacy in their future remodel. Spending time with your clients and discussing these concerns will help in your selection process. You can go out and intentionally select materials that would bring fond memories to your client. For instance, finding a tile that reminded them of their family’s love for the beach and utilizing that idea all throughout your project. 
However, be cautious by specifying slip resistant materials, especially for the restrooms. Restrooms can be a very dangerous place for anyone if unsafe materials are installed. I once spoke with an individual who wanted a remodel because she fell several times in her bathroom due to unsafe space planning and materials. One other safety measure we can take is designing a curbless shower entry. This takes away the concern of tripping over the shower curb as an individual is hopping in the shower. We would need to clarify with our contractor working on this to angle and position the shower floor in a way that water avoids flooding the shower entrance. We can also be conscious in fixture selections such as suggesting a handheld shower head and/or a bidet toilet feature.
The heart of the home tends to be the kitchen, so give great love and attention to this area. Specialized faucets can be implemented that help individuals who need the ease of access for turning on and off controls. It is wise to build a cabinet system where storage priority is given to lower cabinets. You can design display cabinets or shelves for the upper regions to add extra detail and styling opportunities. Lazy susans and cabinet pull-outs are a great feature to increase accessibility in a kitchen.
I know I went on and on about the possibilities regarding aging in place design. Truth is, there are so many more features I didn’t even mention. There are limitless choices, which is so neat! We have the capability to make our client’s feel safe in their home, regardless of physical obstacles. Remember to listen to your client and their needs. It's not our place to push them in a direction they do not want to go. We can always make recommendations but it's ultimately the choice of the homeowner and what they desire for their home. ​​​​​​​
Created on June 2, 2020
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