Building Around Memories

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying, “A house is made of walls and beams, but a home is made of love and dreams.” This saying couldn’t be more true. It takes hands to build the house you live in, but the hearts inside are the only ones to truly make it a home. Some of you may still be living in the same house you raised your kids in, while others have moved on to new homes, a new living situation, new cities,  or their children may now occupy the homes they grew up in. Regardless of where you are, everyone has something in common; memories are built into the foundation of any home. 

Now think about being in your 80’s, living in the same house you raised your family in, and having made the decision, along with your family, to make significant renovations to your home to age in place independently and safely.  Many seniors have lived for years in their home, never having made any significant renovations,  much like one of our favorite clients. Her desire to remain at home and create a first floor master bedroom and bath will uproot and change the very essence of the home she shared with her family for over 50 years. She’s nervous that new construction and the change of furniture, walls and home renovations will create a space that feels unfamiliar, and along with it, will go the connection with the deep rooted memories embedded in the home.

With the first phase of the construction contract signed, renovations will start shortly on the 2nd floor to freshen it up, and along with this, her anxiousness towards the process is evident. What will happen to the memories? Will she miss the familiar reminders of happy times, and how will the adjustment to her new surroundings serve her? How do these changes affect family members and their memories also embedded in the structure? It’s often as difficult, if not more difficult, for the children of the seniors that no longer live in the home to suffer the loss of home as they have known it when construction occurs. They have moved on, and out of the house, but their memories remain. How will a lifetime of memories be maintained and incorporated into the new framework?

Prior to the start of the renovations, we have spent a significant amount of time working with her to declutter, clean out and eliminate the items that are no longer needed. As part of that process, wonderful memories have presented themselves in all forms, like old photographs, letters, trinkets, and even unopened presents.  We uncovered an entire collection of Norman Rockwell commemorative plates that were never opened, and in their original packaging (which we will put on display and enjoy!) All of these unexpected moments have not only occupied our client’s  time up until construction, but given her the opportunity to find, review and reflect on these memories and find comfort in this time of change. There have been moments of her wanting to call the renovations off, but because of her trust in us, and our constant support she pushes through. 

It’s our job to help her, give her peace of mind, and reassure that the construction is not diminishing the memories; instead it’s adding to them while enabling her to live safely for years to come. Our design will incorporate not only favorite pieces of furniture, artwork and now, new found treasures, we also plan to create a full gallery wall to display photographs, letters, awards, and other memories in her new environment. She will continue to be surrounded by her memories,  and be reminded of her life full of laughter, joy, and love. 

The Holiday Surprise


The Holiday season is in full swing with festive music, twinkling lights, hectic street traffic, but most importantly household traditions that are performed with love. Some people may bake their favorite batch of cookies, or hang important family decorations, while others may be cleaning or decluttering to prepare for a huge home renovation.

We have been following the progression, and sharing stories of our current clients heartwarming home remodeling project over the past few weeks blog posts. For our client, the holiday season has been consumed of floor plans, proposals, and talk of walls being torn down come the new year. He and his 82 year old mother are eagerly awaiting the chaos of construction; however, before any of that can begin the organization of existing furniture, pictures, clothing, etc. needs to take place. The cleaning and decluttering phase can be fun. It can be a time to see old things that may not have been seen in a while, rid your space of things that may not belong there anymore, or even discover things that you completely forgot about or never knew existed. All of the above has occurred with our client, but the last point of discovering something that he never knew existed will be the focus of this post. 

One afternoon while cleaning out the garage, our client stumbled upon a wrapped present that was addressed to his mother, with love from his father. He couldn’t tell how old the present was, but he assumed it was maybe two Christmases ago, since his father could not get out shopping last year before he passed. This will be the first Christmas they both will spend without him. As he looked at the present, a ton of memories from when we was a boy rushed back into his head. He shared with us that he just stood there silent; looking at it, holding it, like he was standing there holding onto his dad. The tenderness at this time of year is present in their household, but there is still so much joy to be seen. It only took one present that was discovered tucked behind a pile of old boxes to bring peace to their hearts. 

What if they weren’t in the process of remodeling there home? Well, we’re certain that they wouldn’t be organizing, decluttering, and cleaning out their garage at this time of year. Which means, that this little present would have sat behind those old boxes collecting dust just waiting to be found. However, their preparation for construction prompted the best holiday surprise ever. They found a message from a loved one just when they needed a little extra TLC! 

We love to be apart of these incredible memories, but we love even more that our clients want us to be apart of them. From the team here at Ellen Farber Strategic Design, we give you the warmest thoughts and best wishes for a wonderful Holiday and a happy New Year!

Communication, Companionship, and Construction

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The remodeling process is exciting. It can be a time to start over, get a fresh new look, update what you can’t seem to let go of yet, or for many of our clients, a time of transition. Whichever category you fall under, remodeling is still an adventure and a process that requires communication of your lifestyle and preferences, sharing budgetary constraints while explaining design goals, and sharing your personal stories and information about how you live in your home now, as well as, predicting what you may need in the future. 

Choosing to undergo a remodeling project can be overwhelming at any age, but for seniors, it can be even more overwhelming. Deciding to “live in place,” and objectively look at your home and make changes that can support you now and for the next phase of your life can be a reality check. Talking about your changing needs such as tripping, falling, reaching, adequate lighting, and clutter is not an easy conversation. If you choose to work with an interior designer, contractor or other trained professional, being honest about these changes, both physical, medical, and emotional is an important part of the process. As a result, the relationship between the client and the expert is an intimate one. The client is sharing a very personal side of themselves and the professional is a compassionate listener, advocate, and advisor in order to achieve the best result. 

The remodeling process has many phases,  but we broke it down into 10 general steps: 

 1. Determine scope of project

 2. Research design options

 3. Create a master design plan

 4. Get rough construction estimates

 5. Refine design per budget

 6. Get working drawings and permits if needed

 7. Select all of the finishes and materials


 9. Finish detailing

10. Project complete

For seniors these 10 interior design/remodeling steps can be disruptive to daily routines and chaotic at times; however, on the contrary, they can be an activity that gives them purpose. With these steps comes the team to complete them. The team is company that they can look forward to seeing, and sharing information with for an extended period of time; which varies based on the size of the project. 

One of our current clients, is an 82 year old woman living on her own in her home she has occupied for over 50 years. The project has evolved into a complete 1st floor remodeling job, to provide for one level living: a first floor Master Bedroom Suite, a full ADA bathroom, an accessible kitchen, and an open floor plan that is easy to get around. This new construction will provide warmth and light and will serve all of her changing needs. We are somewhere in the midst of #5-#7, selecting all finishes and materials, and we’ve given our client something to look forward to everyday. She loves the comfort of weekly or daily attention, and enjoys making decisions or voicing her opinions when it comes to the changes in her home. So far, she has met with contractors, architects, organizers, and of course us, the designers (all before the daily construction begins, and she will be greeted by an entire crew for a few months).

One of the most important cognitive activities for the elderly is engaging in meaningful conversation. Aside from the actual work of the rehab, we are able to talk and have our client share stories and memories of the time spent in her home. Often as people age, they withdraw from social interaction, giving them fewer opportunities to talk to others about things that are important to them. Therefore, by us asking for her opinions and advice on situations and events, her mind is stimulated, which allows her to experience a feeling of self-worth again. It’s proven that having a new hobby or taking up a craft is an excellent way for elderly individuals to keep their brains active and alert. The construction of our clients home has become an interest that has provided her with enjoyment, a sense of positive self-esteem, companionship, and partnership. 

It’s truly heartwarming; we’re not only helping to make her home beautiful, comfortable, and safe for now and in the future, but we are also providing her with daily attention and companionship that boosts her self-respect and dignity. The result is the same for us though; helping to improve her life, learning from her history, and understanding the true value of communications, relationships, and most importantly her friendship!

Disruption of Construction

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The holiday season is upon us, which can be a crazy and hectic time for anyone at any age. Whether it involves traveling to see family members, running around completing errands, or baking and decorating your home, the holidays are always overwhelming. But what if you add renovating your home to the mix? Home renovations can be stressful at any time of year, so it’s safe to say that stress levels could be through the roof, especially for someone who is in their 80’s and considering a major home renovation during the holiday season. 

This week we are excited to share a story about a current wonderful client, and her home renovation project. Our client is an 82 year old woman, who is currently living on her own in the home she has occupied for over 50 years. She purchased the house with her husband shortly after marrying in 1965, raised their son, created memories and a life there. Her husband passed away in the last year, and her son contacted us to design and plan a home for his mom to live in now and for years to come that will not only allow her to age in place safely, but also to create an updated environment that is comfortable, warm and beautiful. It takes courage and energy to consider any home remodeling project, but it takes a very special person to prepare a home in advance for mobility, accessibility, and safety issues which may or may not occur. 

Deciding to take on any project is a big decision at any age, and certainly, it can be more difficult for the elderly to accept needed changes to their home. However, our client is different. She has been open to every discussion, decision, and plan. With the help of our “chief organizer”, she has been decluttering, organizing, and eliminating things from her space in preparation for the work that needs to be done. The work planned will be carried out in two phases. The first phase is to freshen up the second floor so that she can remain upstairs, while the second phase of the renovations focused on the first floor occur. The primary purpose of the renovations are to create a first floor master bedroom level with the rest of the house, to create an accessible bathroom adjacent to the bedroom, create an accessible kitchen and barrier free garage entry, and provide for a living space that creates more light and access to fresh air through the addition of a three season room. 

We have been working on this for a couple of months, and finally getting closer to being able to start the work, which of course, is right at the holidays. Our client has been working so hard to get ready for the changes and are now so excited about the new space, that they were eager to start the renovations and get phase one completed before the holidays begin. However, with the hectic nature of remodeling, plus the added stress of the holiday season, we had to advise our client on how this disruption would effect her daily routine and her general well-being such as:

  1. Anxiety. Towards the major changes that will occur in her home, as well as, the new faces of those who will be making those changes. Along with fear of the unknown, since she has not been through this before. What if it last longer than expected? 
  2. Change of Routine. The work will require that she be temporarily placed upstairs while the renovations occur to the first floor, and having the house buzzing with activity and people. 
  3. Lack of Comfort. Physical pertaining to having to sleep and live in an area of the home that she hasn’t for a few years, and emotional pertaining to the loud noises of construction that will be all around her daily.   
  4. Privacy. Having strangers in and out of her home on a daily basis for months.
  5. Health. Construction fumes and dust are a major health consideration affecting how she breathes and feels.

After voicing these concerns with her and her son, as well as, describing how the holidays can be an extra emotional time of year, we were able to convince them to begin the construction process at the start of the new year. The end of 2017 is already going to be emotional for our client. It is their first Christmas holiday season, not having her lifelong partner by her side, as she embarks on changing the home she has occupied for a lifetime. 

So, our advice is to think twice before starting a new project in the holiday season. We can see a new year with this new project on the horizon; which means many more memories to be shared and stories to come in 2018!