Aging in Place Row Home Style

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 2.14.45 PM.png

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.  



Every Path Leads to Home Safety


Daily routines consume our lives. Whether you’re a stay at home mom, working dad, high school student, or retired grandparent, everyone has their own schedule. 

We were recently contacted by a client to review and update the interior space for his mother, who had been living in her home for 52 years. Her husband had passed away in the last year, and she was looking forward to remaining in her home and "aging in place". Our job was to create a safe, comfortable and beautiful home to help her remain happy and independent for as long as possible. The son was busy decluttering, going through photos, and clothing in preparation for our work together. As we toured through the home, they both shared some important stories regarding their home and their lives. 

Although we were hired to help with the interior space, we were asked to review some plans that were already in process regarding improvements to the exterior yard. As the story was told, the mother had recently fallen on the front step while running across the front lawn to reach the covered porch to the front door. The son explained that he had just cleared the yard, was installing new sod, and repaving the driveway and pavement and creating an additional pavement from the driveway to the front door to alleviate the issue which had recently occurred. Upon examination of the plan, and review of the space, we discovered that the primary problem with the path to the door was actually the one step up to the front door. To our surprise, one pathway took us in another direction that changed how we were helping our clients.  We brainstormed a few different options and decided to schedule another meeting with the landscaper and the pavement contractor to determine the best cost effective solution. 

At our next client meeting, we agreed that the best solution would be to retain the step, install a railing around the entire raised porch, and install two small handrails next to the step to assist in walking up the step. Although the preferred solution would have been to put in a gently sloping ramp at the front entry, we decided to install a small ramp in the garage in order to create an accessible entryway into the home, so safety mission accomplished. 

At the end of the meeting, we said our goodbyes, got in our car (which was parked on the street in front of her home), and to our dismay we witnessed an entirely separate issue that wasn’t even on our radar. Our client was slowly walking down her front lawn to her mailbox. No walkway, no railings, no safety what-so-ever! She was so sweet, smiling and waving not even realizing our dropped jaws from what we just witnessed. Her daily routine incorporated walking down that unpaved railing-less path to her mailbox and back to her house. Questions began streaming through our heads: 

  • Does she walk to her mailbox everyday or does her son normally get the mail? If so, what is she using for support? Is it lit at night?
  • What does she do if it's raining, or in ice and snow? Does she walk this same unsafe path with an umbrella in her hand? 
  • And the biggest question of all, why hasn’t her mailbox been moved to some place that’s easily accessible (like next to her driveway or mounted to the wall directly outside of her front door)? We actually discovered this unlikely location was "grandfathered in". They went out of their way to keep it in the same place it had always been!

It seems like such an obvious problem right? Yet we didn’t even catch it until witnessing it ourselves right before we left. This brings us back to the notion that we discussed in last weeks' post about staying aware, proactive, and up-to-date on home safety recommendations, and the need for a full safety review to highlight these issues. Sometimes we can catch these things if we, stay long enough in your home, but sometimes a complete Home Safety Review is required to uncover areas we may not quickly observe.  

Since we pride ourselves on providing our clients and others, with cost effective and easy to implement ways to improve home safety and home independence; when we saw our client take this trek to her mailbox we knew our work here was just starting. We suggested moving her mailbox from the street to the front porch. Since collecting her mail is an essential part of her daily routine, it’s important that we ensure the process is convenient, easily accessible, and can be executed safely everyday. Moving her mailbox to the porch will lower the chances of her falling, eliminate any restrictions of gathering her mail in a variety of weather conditions, and ultimately allows her to continue with her daily routine in a safe manner.  

Where is your mailbox located? Whether it’s at your home, your parents home, or the homes of your neighbors in your town, I'm sure everyone could take the time to check it out. All pathways must be clear, accessible and safe (especially those to exterior locations like your mailbox). So, we hope this information encourages to take a closer look at your current routines and make any adjustments to improve your home safety.