Aging-in-place and universal design

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

Your home can maintain its beauty, its spirit and make a graceful transition into the golden years, just as we all hope and plan to do. Think you’re too young to read on? Have just your parents in mind? Heard of “aging-in-place” but think it makes a home look “clinical”? Think again. Apply universal design principles to any current home renovation project and find yourself comfortable, independent and happy in your home, at every age.

“One of the keys to universal remodeling is to incorporate form with function,” says Richard Hoffman, owner of Specialty Builders Remodeling ( “You don’t have to build a big wooden ramp to the front door or install bulky grab bars.” Not when beautifully graded landscaping and elegant towel holders designed to pull double duty between pleasing the eye and creating a safe environment can do the trick.

Many seniors don’t consider implementing aging-in-place concepts until after an accident or illness rather than being proactive, according to Barbaro Ponce, owner of Adapted Living Spaces ( Is your home ready for you? Read below for three renovations worth their weight in gold:

1. Smooth floor surface with no ridges or bumps to aid mobility.
Desk-height countertop and varying counter heights.
3. Floating shelves for better visability and access.
4. Upper cabinets house shelving units that pull down to counter height.
5. Touch faucet.   6. Pull-under sink.
7. Easy-access appliances: dishwasher with drawers and pull-out freezer on the bottom of the refrigerator.


Beautiful kitchens equipped with ease

From custom cabinetry to functional flooring, the kitchen is a premium opportunity for design elements to do the work for an overall plan.

Everything within reach? State-of-the- art built-in appliances such as stoves, refrigerated drawers, microwaves and convection ovens can be easily raised or lowered to a comfortable height. David Sturm, founder of Attention to Detail Home Remodeling (, also recommends front-mounted appliance controls and side-by-side refrigerators with pull-out interior shelving for effortless access.

Cabinets of any style can be designed to conceal cut-out spaces that allow users to sit up close, under sinks and work spaces. Shelving can be easily customized to pull out for convenience. Entire cupboards can be mechanized on tracks to lower or rise to differing heights with the flip of a switch. Voila!

And don’t forget cleanup. Faucets with extended, flexible arms that switch on and off with a simple tap add style and ease to any professional-quality kitchen.

Places to rest, work and socialize? Plan comfortable, seated work spaces at kitchen desks and lowered countertops. Built-in benches create cozy nooks to rest on as well as to toast the host. Dining chairs boasting graceful arms and concealed non-skid footers provide both comfort and safety.

Flooring smooth and even? Options such as hardwood or cork are warm alternatives to other textured or uneven options such as high-pile carpeting or tile laid in a rugged pattern. Scatter and area rugs should be removed, opting for floors that provide a non-skid surface such as cork or textured tile.

Space bright and bold? Bright task, glowing accent and sheer overall lighting can be effortlessly controlled from switches positioned throughout an illuminated kitchen. Dara McMillan, co-founder of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the National Aging in Place Council and co-owner of My Accessable Home (, also suggests color contrast and clear visibility. Choose deep, dark granite against creamy cabinets or white marble against rich mahogany, and select contrasting dinnerware, utensils and flooring material wherever it changes.

1. Bathtub with bump-out transfer area, grab bars, flip-up bench seat and molded backrest.
2. Easy-to-reach flangeless grab bar and adjustable slide-bar handshower.
3. Pull-under sink.
4. Smooth floor surface increases safety and access.

Spa-like bathrooms provide peace of mind

From tasteful surrounds to glistening fixtures, the bathroom balances relaxation, safety and beauty.

What’s new? Sturm boasts of the design innovations that have emerged for the bath such as “…gorgeous, decorative grab bars disguised as a soap dish or accent ring, touch faucets that alleviate the need to turn knobs and custom bench seating in the shower.” Even if these bathroom additions do not immediately convince you, Peter Michelson, CEO of Renewal Design-Build (, recommends planning ahead by installing supportive framework blocking around the bathroom’s entire perimeter before applying drywall or tile for simple mounting in the future.

Everything within range? Custom cabinets tailored to your taste and needs include pull-out shelving and cupboards with removable bases below the sink so knees can fit underneath while sitting. And spa-like shower heads are within grasp with flexible extensions and easy-to-reach mounts.

Ample space and accessibility? We all imagine a grand bathroom retreat. Hoffman recommends a 5-foot turning diameter within the room. To help achieve this, consider pocket entry doors or doors that open out into the hallway.

Shower floors with a gentle slope to the drain alleviate the need for a cumbersome curb, and a grand walk-in entry (at least 32 inches) creates expanse and ease. Still love a good soak? My Accessable Home is a licensed installer of Tubcut (, a completely reversible cut to any existing bathtub that eliminates the need to step over the side. Further enjoy relaxation without worry by including non-skid flooring options throughout.

Toilets, shower seats and other bathroom seating can be design-savvy as well as enhance comfort and mobility. Select premium finishes and dimensions that are a bit taller than what is standard.

Entries invite a warm welcome

Come home to a well-planned entry that is safe and accommodating by carefully selecting the layout, lighting and more.

Bright, enticing entry? Lighting creates ambience and navigability. “Entries should have generous lighting such as path lighting and exterior lights connected to motion sensors,” Hoffman says. Connecting lighting to a whole-house monitoring system that is within quick reach of the main entry is another solution to consider, Michelson says. In addition to lighting control, providers of this technology such as Control4 ( integrate HVAC, security and more into a simple, unobtrusive control panel.

Easy entrance? Add both accessibility and curb appeal to your entryway by grading and landscaping the walkway so that it forms a gentle slope to and from the house. Select materials that provide a smooth path, and pepper in a pretty bench or two. Flanking stairs with decorative railings at the entrance adds flair as well as stability but, if possible, “at least one entrance to your home,” McMillan says, “should be stair-less and completely accessible.”
Select a stately door that is at least 32 inches wide and has a flat threshold, advises Ponce. Complete the look by selecting from the variety of finishes for lever-style door handles, which are stylish and easier to grip than knobs. Inside, a shelf to rest packages and a welcoming place to sit for a moment can be suited to any taste. Remove area rugs and welcome mats, and opt for smooth flooring instead.

How to find an expert

A remodeler who understands how to marry your plans to age in place with the concepts of universal design can help you turn any renovation project into one that is at once beautiful, functional and grows with your evolving needs. Choose a remodeler who understands these elements: “mobility, vision, ease-of-use and safety,” Hoffman says. And consider the following:

•    Do your own homework.

Understand your own health, including your past medical history, family history and any current conditions. Discuss potential long-term effects with your physician.

Familiarize yourself with aging-in-place through the National Aging in Place Council (, Fall Prevention Center of Excellence ( and AARP ( Get information about universal design options from the Universal Design Alliance (, National Association of the Remodeling Industry ( and National Association of Home Builders (

•    Ask for a copy of the contractor’s state license and proof of any current specialty certifications.

Certifications such as UDCR (universal design certified remodeler, through NARI), CEAC (certified environmental access consultants, through ( and CAPS (certified aging-in-place specialist, through AARP and NAHB) are great starting points but, as Michelson points out, they are not required nor do they necessarily guarantee a quality remodeler.

•    Ask for references for completed projects that are similar in scope, and check them. “Not only should you view the work, but ask past customers if the remodeler stayed involved throughout the entire process,” says Ponce.

•    Be comfortable with the remodeler.

A sense that the remodeler cares about helping you accomplish your goals and listens intently is an important foundation for a solid relationship, says Mark Galey, president of MRemodeling Services ( and a volunteer builder for The Fuller Center for Housing (

“Aging-in-place honors the human being and their independence,” Michelson says. “Building and design supports that, and, as a contractor, you have to care.”

Ask yourself, as your needs change, could your remodeler be your remodeler for life?

Renovations for those in need

•    Credit-Able ( low-interest loans that give Georgians with disabilities access to affordable financing for home modifications.
•    Friends of Disabled Adults and Children ( a statewide and national provider of home health care equipment.
•    The Fuller Center for Housing ( a faith-based organization providing housing in impoverished communities.

Low- and no-cost modifications for your home

•    Adequate lighting throughout
•    Remove all area and scatter rugs.
•    In cupboards and closets, position frequently used items within easy reach.
•    Paint risers on steps, or apply colored tape at edge of each for high contrast.
•    Remove all floor clutter, including cords or obtrusive furniture.
•    Rubber bathmats both inside and outside of tub
•    Non-skid tabs under legs of chairs

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