By Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R.
By the time you read this month’s article, I’ll have been aging in place for several days. In my case, the place is at my desk, and I’m certain that I can feel the keyboard getting further and further away as my bone density decreases. Now, just what does the catch phrase “aging in place” really mean? It refers to the choice that many homeowners are making to stay in their existing homes as they get older, rather than packing up and moving to a new location. Whether it be an emotional decision or a financial one, it brings us to our second phrase of the month, “if you can’t move…improve”.
Fortunately, both these concepts go hand in hand, and so can be combined into one article. (Which will leave me scrambling for a new topic next month). However, whether you chose to age in place because you want to, or can’t afford not to, is of no concern to me. The point is you’re staying put. Now, the trick is making your existing kitchen or bathroom more beautiful and more user-friendly at the same time. While the clock is ticking!
Both The National Association of Home Builders and the Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence, (yes, there really is such a organization), have noted increased consumer interest in Universal Design. This is a philosophy that encompasses all aspects of a home; designing for the young, the old, and people with disabilities, while recognizing that the aesthesis of the environment and its contents are equally important. Basically, designing with comfort for all, easy maintenance and visual attractiveness.
Open floor plans, with wider interior doors and countertops at different heights are some of the structural considerations when doing a complete renovation, however, even if you are just refacing your kitchen you can incorporate accessories to make your life easier. Installing roll-out trays in cabinets, or changing cabinets with doors to drawers, makes it much easier to reach whatever you’re reaching for.
Just as it gets more uncomfortable to bend over these days, so does it get harder to see with poor lighting. Additional ceiling lighting and task lighting over the countertops is usually a relatively inexpensive way to make our lives a little better. Remember, every little bit helps, and it all adds up. Consider also, easy to grab knobs for your cabinets and decorative grab bars for you bath and shower. And, while we’re in the bathroom, how about a taller toilet, with a softer seat, that doesn’t slam when you put it down?
Not only do these design elements improve the quality of your life, they will also help you to retain your independence as abilities recede. Even if you’re a Millennial (youngster), it pays to plan ahead, so that when it’s your turn to be old, (and trust me, its inevitable), your home will be more comfortable. And in the mean time, it will be easier on your parents when they come to visit, so maybe you can get them to pay for the improvements.
Whether you’re considering incorporating Universal Design in your home because you are a senior, or planning to be one someday, it’s best to do it sooner than later. (Do you realize that you are a little older now than when you started reading my column today?) The moral of this month’s article is “today is the first day of the rest what’s left of your life”. And there’s no reason that we all shouldn’t be as comfortable as possible for the rest of our lives.
Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R., is president of DreamWork Kitchens, Inc. located in Mamaroneck, New York. A Master of Design (Pratt Institute), and E.P.A. Certified Remodeler, he serves on the Advisory Panel of Remodeling Magazine. A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Assoc., he is also a contributor to eZine and Do It Yourself magazine. He can be reached for questions at 914-777-0437 or www.dreamworkkitchens.com.