Designing for the aging population is both challenging and rewarding. It is also something many people do not think about in advance. When approaching a new project with a client, they usually do not ask for this benefit. Many clients that are perfectly healthy and active usually overlook this tremendous opportunity in their renovation or new home project. As a professional, there is a need to ask not only the right questions to be able to accomplish the project's requirements but also the questions to the needs that are easily overlooked, to make the project last for years to come.
For example, if a couple in the fifties asked me to remodel their kitchen, bath, and/or other rooms. It would be wise to make sure that these rooms can still function for them in their seventies too. This does not mean that I need to immediately place ADA grab bars in their bathroom, however the planning for items such as blocking and how the layout of the room can be easily adaptable for retrofitting is important. The understanding of human factors such as anthropometrics and ergonomics when deciding the location, height and sizes of future devices is required. Something as simple as placing blocking in the right location behind a shower before all the beautiful tile is laid can not only save a client thousands of dollars when the need arises, it makes the update a day project instead of an extensive remodel.
Lighting is another area where it is important to understand how the eye ages. Planning properly for this will insure that the space is lit properly and aesthetically pleasing now, but also has the versatility to be properly lit and safe for many years down the road. My best advise for a novice is to plan for a lighting design that allows the homeowner to eventually increase the amount of light, especially in task areas such as a kitchen counter or in a shower, this is because as our eyes age we need more light to see.
One concern I have been hearing with Age in Place Design from clients, is that they do not want their homes to feel like a hospital, nursing home, or a public restroom. Age in Place can be attractive and functional. These photos are examples of a client that needed a basic handrail for both her toilet and shower but was not happy with the idea of any a single handrail. There was additional blocking added for less than $50, so if and when the need arises the handrails could be added. On places where handrails were actually added, they were selected to blend with the décor and not to detract from the aesthetics. This resulted in a design that was both residential and spa-like, without being sterile.