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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Older adults and those with certain health issues can find it challenging to bend and reach, so counters, light switches, thermostats and electrical outlets can be moved to easier-to-reach heights. Electrical outlets, for example, are typically 18 inches off the floor, but 27 inches works much better for someone in a wheelchair. Thermostats and light switches can be lowered to 42 inches from the floor. Traditional light switches can be replaced by rocker switches, which are often used in new construction.

Storage areas can be adapted to be more accessible in kitchens, bathrooms, closets and offices. Again, some changes, such as replacing the shelves in cabinets with roll-out trays, can be appreciated by anyone of any age who has ever had to get down on his knees or up on a step stool to root around in a cupboard for an item. Cabinet knobs can be replaced with easier-to-grip D-shaped handles.

One of the walk-in closets includes a large window seat where the owner can sit to put on her shoes. Photograph by Thom ThompsonCabinets can be added in the space between the kitchen counters and the upper cabinets, for more storage space at an easy-to-reach height. And some or all of the counters can be lowered to an accessible desk height of 30 inches instead of the standard 36 inches, Wilkins says.

Lever faucets are easier to use than handles that must be turned. Wilkins also suggests installing a faucet and spray hose near the stove, so the homeowner can fill a pot with water on the spot instead of needing to carry it across the room from the sink.

When Wilkins designed the North Wilmington home, she also put thought into what flooring and furnishings would work best for the homeowners as they age. The chairs in the bedroom reading nook are firm and easy to get into and out of. The bedroom carpeting is low pile with firm padding, which makes it easier to navigate when using a walker or wheelchair. Transitions between different types of flooring are clearly demarcated by contrasting colors.

From floor to ceiling, furnishings to hardware, the new master-suite is designed so the owners can grow older in comfort and style. “People are so concerned that if they adapt their home so they can age in place, it will look like a hospital room,” Wilkins says, “but if it’s done right, you don’t notice that any of these things are there.” Instead, it looks stylish—and just like home sweet home.

To learn more about universal design, visit, then click “Infusion Design Home.”