Article By Amanda Harolds, AKBD
Millions of baby boomers are preparing for the golden years of retirement, and their homes are in need of a remodel—not just a facelift, but a redesign that incorporates features and technologies to make them healthy and comfortable places to live, today and throughout retirement.
“Aging in place” is a concept for living that permits homeowners to maintain a healthy and desirable lifestyle in the same place they have lived throughout their lives. Baby boomers can expect to live healthier and more active lives than any generation before and generally prefer to remain in their homes decades after retirement. By incorporating the principles of aging in place into your clients’ homes, you can ensure comfort and livability now and years into the future while enhancing the aesthetics of their environments. As a bonus, these features add value in the growing housing market for active retirees.
The kitchen is the heart of any home, and its importance in daily life makes it ideal for a design update. Widening kitchen aisles to 3 ft. and walkways to 3 1/2 ft. will make them accessible to walkers and wheelchairs. And replacing doorknobs on entry doors to the kitchen and throughout the home with lever pulls ensures one-handed operation for easier handling.
Of course, appliances featuring Universal Design should be installed, including drawer refrigerators, dishwashers and microwave ovens. They should be positioned within easy reach and have controls that are audible and clearly labeled. Induction cooktops increase safety because heat is supplied only when a pot or pan is placed on the surface, and double ovens provide flexibility. The top oven eliminates bending and stooping, while the lower is accessible to individuals who use a wheelchair. Similarly, a microwave oven mounted to the base of a cabinet is ideal for shorter individuals, as well as those who suffer from arthritis or use a wheelchair.
As to countertops, opt for those that are low-maintenance and have rounded corners to minimize injury to children and adults who may fall against them. Glossy surfaces should be replaced with a matte finish to reduce glare, and maximum color contrast between cabinets and countertops makes each easily distinguishable while providing a dramatic aesthetic effect. Installation of a double-offset basin sink featuring a smaller, shallow—preferably 6 1/2 in. or less in depth—bowl and a single-lever faucet mounted to the side will provide seated individuals with comfortable access without the need to lower countertops.
A low-mounted desk with a 3-ft.-wide knee drawer is great for household management and can double as an accessible countertop. Ample and evenly distributed lighting is a must. The replacement of old-style overhead bulbs with modern fixtures and the addition of T8 light strips under wall cabinets will illuminate countertops evenly and reduce glare. Finally, a commercial rubber mat with a smooth-transition surface provides a non-skid surface and prevents fatigue for both seated and standing individuals.
Many modern cabinet designs incorporate features to maximize organization, and existing cabinets can be fitted with user-friendly after-market products to improve ease of use and access to stored goods. A sturdy drawer with a pullout chopping block installed 30 in. above the floor provides a lowered counter that’s great for those in wheelchairs and also doubles as a place to knead dough.
Wall cabinets with transparent doors reduce search time and make items more readily available. They should be mounted 15 in. above the countertop to make them accessible to all users. Base storage with drawers or roll-out trays provide better access to stored items; and for corner spaces, a lazy susan or swing-out shelving improves organization and brings items closer. Finally, cabinets appointed with D-shaped finger pulls increase ease of use for those with arthritis, not to mention everyone else in the household.
Freedom and independence are essential to a quality lifestyle and our homes should facilitate enjoyment of those qualities throughout our lives. Age-appropriate design incorporating the concept of aging in place will ensure that your clients’ homes remain comfortable and safe throughout their retirement years. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Quality of life is about how you live it, the joy and fulfillment you receive when living it.”
TEN TIPS FOR A UNIVERSALLY DESIGNED KITCHEN
1. Flooring. Add a commercial rubber mat with a smooth transition for an anti-fatigue, non-skid surface.
2. Cabinetry. After-market, user-friendly products can be installed in existing cabinets for increased ease of access to stored goods.
3. Cabinetry hardware. Exchanging knobs for pulls—preferably D-shaped—makes for easier handling for clients with arthritis.
4. Countertops. Exchange glossy surfaces for those with a matte finish to decrease glare.
5. Sink. Installing a double-offset basin sink with one smaller bowl that measures 6 1/2 in. in depth or less allows seated users increased ease of use.
6. Faucet. A single-lever faucet mounted to the side of the sink provides improved access for a seated user without lowering the countertop height.
7. Lighting. Increase countertop illumination by adding undercabinet T8 light strips, which evenly distribute light and reduce glare.
8. Appliances. Upgrade old appliances for those with Universal Design features. Some great examples include drawer refrigerators, dishwashers and microwaves, which decrease stooping and bending.
9. Doors. Swap doorknobs for lever pulls, which can easily be operated with one hand.
10. Bulbs. Update overhead bulbs to reduce glare and increase uniformity of light distribution.
—Amanda Harolds, AKBD, has a BFA in Interior Design from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is a kitchen designer working in the Oklahoma City area.