Many people want to continue to enjoy their own home as they get older. This is a time when empty nesters can repurpose kids’ rooms and retrofit them for hobbies, guests, and grandkids. Accessibility, mobility, and comfort are all top priorities, though renovations that account for these might not all fit within your budget or the layout limitations of your home. To make the most of independent living, interior design experts suggest focusing on five key aspects to create your forever home.
1. Rethink Stairs
A single-floor home might not sound stately, but it is a wise choice for families planning to age in place. If you’re purchasing a home, consider a ranch-style house that doesn’t have exterior stairs from the sidewalk or driveway.
If you have a multi-level home, you’ll need to address stairs. Install a chair lift or consider an elevator. With new technology, installing an elevator does not have to spell an extensive renovation. Robin Wilson, a leading expert on sustainable design, says many of her clients repurpose a coat closet or other existing space. “They select one of the newer elevators that are hydraulic or pneumatic. These newer models are able to be installed in a few days and some even use a regular electric outlet,” she says.
2. Get smart about lighting
Increasing visibility in your home can help enhance mobility and reduce tripping hazards. “As we age, less light reaches our retinas, so we need more light in our surroundings to avoid falls and other accidents,” says Lisa M. Cini, an award-winning senior living design expert. Incorporate lamps, add skylights, and keep window treatments airy to let in plenty of light.
Cini says motion sensor lighting is perfect for closets, hallways, and main rooms. LEDs under the bathroom counter or cabinets and over the bathroom vanity can also provide ideal night lighting. This soft lighting doesn’t disturb circadian rhythms or sleep patterns.
Additionally, ensure exterior pathways are well-lit by installing solar lights or motion sensors with spotlights.
3. Plan for adjustable heights
Opt for height-adjustable products, like desks for reading and accessible sinks for the kitchen. Adjustable kitchen cabinets and countertops are another practical way to ensure that every member of your household, regardless of age, can access hard-to-reach spaces.
Add step stools with handrails by beds and in closets. Cini recommends a bed that is 21 inches tall as it’s the optimal height for ease of getting in and out. She also says to make sure the nightstand is accessible from the bed and large enough to hold glasses, medication, and water. If the existing heirlooms aren’t a good fit, go for modern overbed or swing-arm tables.
4. Focus on the bathroom
Experts place the most emphasis on retrofitting bathrooms when it comes to designing for aging in place because this is where slips and falls are most likely to occur. Wilson advises installing a curbless shower with a hand wand. This allows a wheelchair or walker safely into the shower so that elders can bathe alone for longer. “The trick is to ensure that the floor slopes a bit more with a deeper shower pan,” Wilson says.
Shower flooring must be non-slip and shower knobs should be at wheelchair height. Both Cini and Walker agree that a hand wand or sprayer is an easy addition that adds long-term functionality. Add grab bars for the shower, toilet, and area over the toilet. “If you choose a tub, select one that you can get into easily with a side-panel door,” says Cini.
5. Take Advantage of Technology
Explore today’s wide range of smart home upgrades to improve the safety and efficiency of your home. “The newest aging-in-place technology, like Shaw Floor’s Sole with SensFloor® technology, can incorporate a safe and discreet sensor in the flooring, alerting if someone falls, or it can simply turn on the lights once feet hit the floor,” she says. Other technologies, like an automatic shut-off for the stove, prevent cooking accidents and provide an added layer of safety. There are also various smart-home technologies that rely on voice commands, which can facilitate everything from calling neighbors to ordering groceries. To age safely and comfortably at home, embrace smart-home technology to help ease the physical and mental burden of daily tasks.