Home Sweet Home for Life

Adapting a home for aging in place is a sound investment—and a lot easier on maturing bodies.

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Universal design refers to design of products and environments to make them accessible to and usable by people of all ages, sizes and abilities. The concept dates to the 1970s, but as baby boomers age, it has become increasingly prevalent in both renovations and new construction.

Universal design allows older people to remain in their own homes longer, or to “age in place,” but because the design is so attractive and practical, it is appreciated by people of all ages.

The bathroom features a walk-in shower and vanities that are set at different heights to accommodate a person in a wheelchair or someone who finds it difficult to bend. Photograph by Thom Thompson“Some of the elements are things you’d find in luxury hotels,” Wilkins says, “like walk-in showers, anti-scald faucets and phones in the bathroom.” If it became necessary, handrails and a seat also could be installed in the couple’s new shower.

Some of the vanities in the bathroom are 38 inches high, about six inches higher than normal, so that users do not need to bend over as far, but one of the vanities is lower than normal so that someone in a wheelchair could use it. For now, the owner enjoys being able to sit down while putting on her makeup.

The new bedroom measures 15 by 22 feet, with an alcove sitting area that adds another 3 feet to the width. It opens through a sliding door onto a tranquil backyard garden. The 10½-foot ceiling not only makes the bedroom feel larger and more open, it allows for elegant yet practical architectural elements such as cove lighting and transom windows that let in natural light.

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