Living Well and Happily

I have been thinking about quality of life issues lately.  There was a show on TV recently, featuring several well-known actors and comedians who are well into their 90s and living lives full of work and socializing. How do they do it, you ask? As a designer, I always try to bring these social issues back to a design problem.  A good designer asks how solid and tangible design solutions can contribute to a life of quality and fulfillment.

My clients generally want to achieve the highest level of self-care.  They view their physical or medical limitations as just a problem to be solved.  Like many others, I have come to believe that two of the most important self-care routines are those that involve physical activity and food preparation.  The benefits of accomplishing these two routine activities contribute greatly to an overall quality of life.  And, this is true also for other important benchmark activities, such as personal hygiene, pursuing hobbies, and being able to shop for healthy food.

Studies have shown that perception of control over life tasks increases overall satisfaction and happiness.  Knowing that quality of life is important, a designer can shift the focus to the most important and valued tasks for a particular client. No longer is quality of life simply measured by managing a physical or medical limitation, there should be excitement and energy for the coming day!

I do not have a photo or illustration for you today, so let us imagine this.  You or your loved one wants to cook a few times a week.  But you are concerned about the logistics and safety of how this task can be accomplished.  This is why I sometimes propose an electric cooktop, separate from a gas or electric oven.  The cooktop can be fitted with an automatic shut off that is timed or motion-activated to ensure that the element does not remain on after the cooking is done.   The oven can be secured in many different ways to remain closed and off.  All of the important pieces of equipment are situated in one area of the kitchen for convenience.  The task of cooking may take longer, but the satisfaction of preparing your own meal is priceless.

The Aesthetics of Accessible Design

Ideas to bring function and beauty together in your aging in place renovation

People sometimes believe that function and aesthetics are opposing efforts and cannot be achieved at the same time in accessible design and aging in place renovations.  When something is beautiful to look at, it’s functionality must be lacking.  And if an object is functional, it must be ugly.  This dynamic is always important in accessible design, and will be an ongoing theme in many of my upcoming blog posts.  Here are some general ideas to bring function and aesthetic together in an aging in place renovation.

Most of my clients begin with function when describing their list of needs and wants.   Functionality is undoubtedly the first criteria to consider when undertaking a home modification project.  Successful aging in place depends on your ability to support a full and active life in your own home.  You want to be able to take care of yourself, entertain your loved ones, and pursue your interests.  Creating a welcoming, light-filled space is every bit as important as setting a grab bar at the right height.  A carefully designed renovation maximizes both the function and the aesthetics of your home. 

The aesthetic benefits of an accessible renovation can be more difficult to quantify than the functional benefits.  Yet they are just as real, and possibly more important in the long run. New construction results in overall improvements to your home.  As the interior space opens up during a renovation, it becomes lighter and brighter.  Replacing or adding windows and widening doorways add more light to the interior.  New doors and windows will be more energy efficient, and save you money.  Changing out door knobs to lever handles benefits not only those who have trouble turning a knob, but also anyone who has an arm load of shopping bags.  Updated finishes provide a fresh look and are easier to keep clean.  Overall, many aging in place renovations will make your home a more welcoming environment and make your home more marketable in the future.

So, let’s think of it as function partnered with aesthetics that is the hallmark of a successful aging in place renovation.

New Year, New Plans

Happy New Year!   Even if you do not make New Year’s resolutions, most of us do think about where we have been and where we want to go when the calendar turns over to a new year.    If 2018 is the year that you’ve decided to finally start modify your house to accommodate your changing needs as you grow older or live with a disability, let’s look at some general ideas to jump start your thinking.  Our theme for 2018 is to Age Well!

First, safety and function come first.  Be honest with yourself.   Maybe you aren’t the person who should be going up on a ladder to change light bulbs or clean the gutters.  You can still do it, but the risk/cost factor is probably too steep. If you fall and injure yourself, you’ll likely endure a longer and more painful recovery than when you were a younger person.  So now is the time to arrange for a handyman to help with these things around the house, or to install gutter covers to eliminate the problem.  If you can, continue to do the things that you can safely do, because these small tasks can contribute to your overall satisfaction with life.

Next is a theme you have heard from me many times before: do things that add quality to your life.  Arrange your household and your circumstances to accommodate something that gives you happiness or expands your possibilities.   If you like to bake, set up a mini baking center in your kitchen where everything you need is close at hand and easily accessed.  Things don’t have to stay where they have been for the last forty years!   Shake it up a bit! If you are taking a new class, make sure that you can get in and out of your house safely and easily.

Finally, enlist the help of your community, otherwise known as your family and friends.  Oftentimes when I meet with my clients, I meet with additional family members as well.  These are the people who understand your desire to stay in the home that you love.  They are the people who can help you make the right financial decisions.   There is a lot of decision making that goes into any home renovation project to decide what is necessary and affordable, and what is worth stretching the budget to accomplish.  Your loved ones can help ease the way through all of the changes, too.  It may be difficult for you to reconcile yourself to some of the changes, but keep in mind that, when the time comes, an updated home is much easier to sell for a reasonable price than an out of date home.

*Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes that may affect your health.