Aging in Place Row Home Style

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Our job is to help our clients understand the benefits and challenges associated with making home improvements to “age in place”.  Often, we are called in to perform Home Safety Reviews, to evaluate the issues and offer solutions to help someone remain safe and live independently in their home for as long as possible. We encounter many different types of homes; ranging from single family homes, to apartments, to town homes, as well as city row homes. Each home comes with different design limitations, cost implications, as well as overall neighborhood concerns. The topic of this story relates not only to our ability to help our client create a beautiful and safe environment in her row home at a price that she can afford, but how to best help her address the overall safety in a neighborhood that has changed.

We recently met our client at one of our workshops, “Designing for Home Safety”, where we educate seniors, care providers and loved ones on how to keep a home safe.  The presentation focuses on fall prevention, as falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations for seniors, and eventual health decline. She approached us after the presentation and asked if we would help her not only freshen up the interior design of her home, but to provide recommendations and solutions to to help her safely remain in her home.

We were happy to help, and quickly scheduled an appointment. As we drove into the neighborhood, we noticed many homes in disrepair and many stairs to get to the front door. As we walked through the front door it was like taking a time machine back into the 70’s; the layout, decor, and overall feel was one that has been lived in and loved. For those of you who have never stepped foot in a row home, they are typically extremely narrow with few rooms per floor, very steep slender steps, little natural sunlight, and few, if any first floor bathrooms. 

Some significant home safety issues that we discovered on our tour of the home:

Exterior Steps : There are two sets of stairs leading to the front door, the concrete paving is uneven, cracked and in need of repair. We would recommend repairing the paving, installing rails on both sides of the steps, and installing motion detected security lighting.

Master Bedroom and Bathroom: Both located on the second floor, up very steep narrow steps. Although there is a double railing on the stairs, it’s so narrow that putting a chair lift in may be problematic when she is no longer able to walk up the steps. We typically recommend a first floor bedroom and full bathroom to avoid the safety issues surrounding steps, but due to space constraints, this may not be possible. 

Laundry Room in Basement:  Remaining independent involves performing your daily activities, including doing your laundry. Here, the laundry room is down poorly lit, steep stairs with no rails. We would recommend reconfiguring the kitchen and installing a small stackable washer/dryer to eliminate the need to use these stairs. 

Elevators and platform lifts are now a more affordable option, can add to a home’s equity, and can be one of the best investments homeowners can make, especially for seniors planning to age in place and remain in their home for several years. Since our client's home is so narrow, this  solution would take up a significant corner of a room on each floor and may not be an acceptable design solution. 

These are only a few of the issues and safety solutions we noted inside the home. In addition to the safety problems inside her home, we noticed that the neighborhood had changed. Once a vibrant and convenient neighborhood to both Center City and the Suburbs, it has become more transient, and she no longer has the long standing relationships in her neighborhood that could offer support and oversight in the case of a home emergency. 

Our client story is a common one; she has lived in her home for almost 50 years, raised her family there, and has been living alone for a number of years, since her husband's  passing. She remains independent and active in the community by volunteering and attending classes at a senior community center, and has family and friends in the local area. She can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point in time, but may not be able to afford either making the needed home improvements or moving to a new living situation, even if her home no longer supports her, a reality many seniors face. 

We work with our clients to help evaluate the cost and benefits of making these much needed home modifications, and also provide a much needed connection to other resources to help evaluate other living situations that may better support your age and lifestyle.  



New Year, New Master Bathroom


With a fresh 2018 calendar hanging on your wall and all of its empty boxes yet to be filled with to-dos, the start of a new year is naturally an optimistic time. Resolutions can come in all forms: eat healthier, become more patient, establish an exercise routine, get more sleep, or make changes around your home. For our client, the new year means a new, safe, aging in place home. 

You’ve followed us so far on our journey to making an 82 year olds life at home easier. We’ve shared our remodeling plans and heartwarming personal stories, but this week is going to be more technical. We are going to discuss planning for safety in the bathroom, and how these tips can improve independence and reduce the risk of falls in the bathroom. 

 Most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible. The trouble is, their homes may not be aging as well as they are. So, take your bathroom for example. Due to its hard and slippery surfaces, thousands of people visit the emergency room each year with injuries suffered while bathing, showering, or using the facilities. Despite that, many homeowners resist even small changes that would make the room safer because they fear their beautiful bathroom will end up looking institutional. However, the time has come for that fear to no longer exist. The very things that make your bathroom safer and easier to navigate— walk-in showers; higher toilets; grab bars— are also some of the latest design trends for any home! 

Bathroom modifications to safely age-in-place can be seamlessly integrated into any design plans, and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of an individual, while following general guidelines offered by ADA standards. Here are some practical yet aesthetically pleasing ways we will be transforming her master bathroom into a safe place to keep her independent and loving her new room:

Barrier Free Shower

A curb-less shower provides an accessible approach for anyone, with no tripping hazards. A pitched floor with a linear drain allows the water to drain toward the back of the shower and looks great.  Additional shower safety items include a handheld shower (the hose should be at least 6 feet long), and a seat (whether it’s a built-in, fold up or the most flexible: free standing). Make sure you have good light in the shower, and hang a shelf or install a cubby that keeps toiletries within easy reach.

Double Duty Grab Bars

Properly installed grab bars provide the assistance needed to navigate through the bathroom, to pull yourself up, and to maintain balance. In case you slip, you should place these at the entrance and inside the shower or tub and around the toilet at a comfortable height. Bars are typically hung horizontally, but hanging them vertically or on a diagonal is easier to reach if you’re on the floor after a fall. Grab bars are now showing up undetectable in bathrooms, camouflaged as part of many common bathroom fixtures such as toilet paper holders, towel bars, soap dishes, and as shelves. All of these are available in a variety of styles and finishes to match any decor and color scheme.

Tile Style

Tile shape, color, and size add to the design and personal style of any bathroom. For floor tiles, be sure to check that the coefficient of friction for wetness exceeds .60 as a general indicator of slip safety, and also select a tile rich in texture. Shower floors also benefit from smaller scale tile as increased grout surface will provide more grip. It’s also helpful to include an “orienting” border of tile in the shower so that it’s easy to understand where you are in the space (instances where there is vision or other cognitive impairment). 

Keep It Handy

Open shelves can be attractive if they’re tidy. Putting glass-front doors on your cabinets lets you see what’s inside without opening them. Look for cabinets with easy-close doors, interior pull out drawers, and all drawers using D-shaped pulls instead of knobs.

Re-Think The Sink

Sinks can be wall-mounted, pedestal, or open with a space underneath the cabinet.  Many cabinetry lines now offer standard accessible options to compliment your style, so ask while you are planning your bathroom.  Automatic faucets or ones with lever handles are best for ease of operation.

Toilet Envy

Personal hygiene toilets are all the rage, offering a modern all-in-one toilet/bidet option. These toilet seats go up and down as you approach, are heated, include multi area wash and dry functionality, and even offer a night light. If you are remodeling make sure you have your electrician provide an outlet near the toilet so you can upgrade from your basic toilet at any time. They are offered in a variety of styles and colors, and you can purchase the complete toilet or just the toilet seat, which provides the same functionality at a much lower cost. All toilets should be “comfort” height or 18” height for ease of use.

We are excited to incorporate many of these features in our client’s new first floor Master Bathroom, which will allow her to continue living independently and remain at home.  There’s nothing more rewarding then knowing you’re making a New Years resolution a reality while creating a safe, comfortable, and beautiful environment!