In our last post, I introduced the concept of universal design and how it can be incorporated into remodeling an existing home that allows homeowners to age in place. I’m excited to report that we are now firmly underway on another remodeling project specifically designed to help our clients stay in their home! I’m happy to share some of the specific choices the homeowners have made as part of the design process.
Let’s start with the entry to the home. Our intent is to create safe and functional attributes that are softened by beautiful curb appeal. Although we are taking a traditional steps-and-patio entry approach and changing it to a ramp entry, this is not just a concrete or wood ramp tacked onto the front of the house. We certainly do not want to make the home look at all like a disabled or elder person may live there. We have created a gradual ramp access that will become one with the garden, integrating seamlessly into surrounding landscape and leading to a porch landing.
Within the original home, we are replacing the flooring throughout with engineered hardwood. This solves many issues for the homeowners. It is easier to keep clean, allows for maximum mobility should there be a need for a wheelchair in the future, and it’s beautiful and durable. From a safety perspective, hardwood or other durable surfaces like cork reduce tripping hazards, as elder folks tend to shuffle more when they walk. From a design standpoint, installing one flooring choice throughout the home provides continuity between the living spaces, creating a more open and inviting environment.
Once thought to be a possibility available only to the wealthiest of homeowners, cost reductions have now made elevators and lifts more affordable.
We are also widening doorways to at least 36 inches and creating low threshold entryways to allow for easier wheelchair and walker accessibility. Many people don’t realize how challenging it can be for someone using a wheelchair or walker to open a traditional swing door, and we are addressing that as well. Throughout the home, we will be installing sliding pocket or barn-type doors wherever practical. On traditional doors, we will install lever type hardware to make doors easier to open and pull closed.
In the world of universal design, we are increasingly seeing the installation of elevators in new construction as well as in remodeling. Once thought to be a possibility available only to the wealthiest of homeowners, cost reductions have now made elevators and lifts more affordable. For homeowners who desire to age in place in a two-story home, both can be cost-effective options to consider. Within the two-story addition, we are installing an extra-wide stairway. Should the need arise in the future this extra width will easily accommodate an electric stairway lift.
The kitchen presents interesting design challenges as we seek to maintain homeowner independence for as long as possible. This means removing upper cabinets and moving storage to lower shallow drawers. This will provide easy access to pots, pans, dishes, and glassware that would normally be out of reach. In traditionally designed homes such as this one, the kitchen island is also removed to allow someone in a wheelchair to move freely in the kitchen area.
The homeowners are full of life and vitality, and we are providing them with what we hope is the home of their dreams for the rest of their lives.
Last but not least, we are addressing not only accessibility but safety issues in the bathrooms. We will be installing decorative and functional grab bars throughout. The restrooms will be constructed with internal wall blocking for additional strength and security so that grab bars – and secure towel bars – cannot be inadvertently pulled from the wall. The tub is being replaced with a large barrier-free shower with a no threshold entry. As with other areas of the home, this will allow access by those using walkers or wheelchairs or who have the need for a portable shower chair. Plumbing fixtures will have lever handles for ease of use as well as a handheld fixture in the shower, and comfort height toilets will be installed throughout the home.
One of the most alluring features of this Shell Beach home is the unobstructed view location overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We will be installing or modifying existing windows to make them as large and low as possible, serving a dual purpose: allowing abundant natural light into the home, and maximizing the beautiful view even from a seated position in a wheelchair.
The overall goal of this project as with any universal design home is to create an environment of beauty, safety, and security. Our clients asked us to make their home aesthetically pleasing while at the same time incorporating as many safety features as possible. What they don’t want is for their home to suddenly look like a senior residential facility! The homeowners are full of life and vitality, and we are providing them with what we hope is the home of their dreams for the rest of their lives.