Have you noticed that kitchens are not just for cooking meals or washing dishes these days? They’ve become the heart of the home, command central, and the place where everyone wants to hang out.
For those of us in the Sandwich Generation, with grandchildren, adult children and elderly parents visiting on a regular basis, a one-size-fits-all type of kitchen doesn’t always serve everyone. When that happens, it’s time to take a look at the details that can make life a little easier for everyone.
Whether you’re planning a kitchen remodel or a simple kitchen make over, the details make all the difference in how comfortable you and your guests will be while you’re cooking, playing, or working.
- Room to easily move around. In the kitchen above, the space between the sink cabinet and the island is 42”. The National Kitchen and Bath Association has set 36”-48” as the standard distance to use when planning your kitchen. I like to think of a 36” space as a “one butt” kitchen…only one person can pass at a time. At 42”, two people can work comfortably, but 45” would be better. Now think about your family. Is someone using a walker or a wheelchair? Even if it’s temporary, they’ll need a little extra space to maneuver.
- Rugs. I love to soften the look in my kitchen by adding accent rugs at the sink and cooktop. But, unfortunately, they can become an accident waiting to happen. Be sure to use a rug pad to keep them from sliding…or don’t use them at all.
- Think of the little ones. If your grandchildren are like mine, they love to help out in the kitchen. A little detail that I’ve discovered to make everyone happy is a step stool. They can easily do it themselves (which is a HUGE thing to a 2 year old), and they now feel like they’re part of the cooking crew. Another little detail with big safety features are cabinet locks to keep the toddlers away from cleaning supplies and things that can hurt them.
- Lots of good lighting. This includes all the natural light you can get from windows. After that, I like to make sure that there is at least one recessed can at every work station for direct task lighting. Next, is the ambient lighting provided by island pendants. And last is the light provided by under cabinet lighting. Be sure to either put them on dimmers or have separate switches for different areas.
- Use levers instead of knobs. Levers aren’t just for our arthritic hands. Think mom-holding-a-toddler or yourself trying to open the pantry with an arm full of groceries. What would make life easier? A door lever that we can operate with our elbows.
- Bye-Bye stationary shelves. Adding roll-out shelves to your base cabinets and tall pantry cabinets will make your life SO MUCH EASIER!!!
- Faucets. Single handle faucets with pull-down sprays have been around for a while. But the latest faucet technology includes motion sensors so you can work hands-free.
- Heights matter. When making plans for your dream kitchen remodel or make over take the time to consider the heights of your major appliances, especially the microwave. When it’s too high, remember that for some people, it could be a problem. Have you ever tried to pull a bowl out of the microwave and forgotten that the bowl might be hot? You drop it, or even worse, spill the contents…and you get burned. Think about this happening to a child or your elderly mother. My least favorite location for a microwave is over the cooktop. I realize that many of you may have this configuration in your own home (we had it in our townhouse). But when you finally get to plan your dream kitchen, try to avoid this. Maybe select a microwave drawer.
- Other important dimensions to make life easier.
- Your Design Homework for this week:Compare these dimensions with your own kitchen.
- From the list above, make a list of the little details you can add to your own kitchen that will make life a little easier for everyone you love.
Well, it finally happened! The need for me to put into practice what I’ve been helping my clients to do for the last few years. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Are you wondering what I’m talking about? Let me tell you my story………..
Once upon a time a young, healthy Boomer couple purchased a three-story townhouse. They loved their spacious new home. But knowing they wouldn’t live in it forever, they chose not to modify it. After all, they were relatively active. The stairs were no problem. They were good exercise!
Then one day the husband could no longer tolerate the pain in his knee. Walking had become unbearable, which meant no sight seeing on vacations. Once he decided to have his knee replaced, the questions began. Where would he sleep and bathe and live during his rehab? “Of course,” they said,”the lower level is perfect! It has a bedroom, a bathroom, a family room, and the ever important TV and recliner.”
But when he returned home from the hospital reality set in for everyone. The walker he required could only fit sideways through the bathroom door. The bath tub had a sliding glass door, no grab bar, and no hand-held shower. The floors were high gloss ceramic tile, and the toilet was too low for the knee that couldn’t bend.
This made the wife worry that he would fall. His world shrank, and he became dependent on others to bring him everything he needed. While the wife was being “nurse”she began noticing other areas of the house that should be changed to make life easier for her husband. Wider doorways into every room, roll out trays in all the cabinets, smooth flooring to move the walker easily. So many changes needed for one unexpected surgery. If they had only thought ahead when they bought the house, or made the changes when they moved in, they wouldn’t be facing these challenges today. Oh how they wished they had been proactive!
The moral to the story: Life is full of changes, and our environment affects our life. Think of areas in your home that could be changed to make life easier for someone else. Universal design doesn’t only apply to the elderly or physically challenged. When you lower a vanity cabinet so your small daughter can wash her own hands, brush her own teeth, and learn independence, that’s universal design at work. And when you add more lights to your kitchen because your eyes aren’t as sharp as they once were, that’s universal design.
Basically, Universal Design is changing lives, one room at a time, and allowing us all to age gracefully in this place we call home.
Homes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are spacious, and some are small. Some are clean and simple, while others are cluttered with things we love. When we’re young and active, we never give a second thought to feeling confident and safe doing everyday basic things around this place we call home. It’s a given…right? You’ve set it up and decorated it exactly the way you love. So, how do you know when your home isn’t serving your needs? It happens when you least expect it, and not always when you’re ready.
Several years ago I became a Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS). During the two day course we learned how to modify homes so that clients can live there as long as they choose. Basically, we learned how to make life easier in our homes as we age. Little did I know, how several years later, we’d be needing these design tweaks in our own home!
Since helping clients remodel their kitchens and baths is my all-time favorite thing to do, I always recommend putting these Universal Design principals into place in these rooms. But I also know that as aging Boomers, we think we don’t need them. We still have the image of the institutional bathroom in our minds, and can’t face the thought of installing grab bars just yet.
Well, that’s what I thought too, until the unexpected happened. When my husband had his knee replaced a few years ago, we discovered all kinds of design issues with our three story townhouse. This was certainly something we never considered when we bought it. The doorways were only 28” wide when a walker is 30”. There were no grab bars in the bathroom, and too many stairs to maneuver that required him to stay in the lower level for weeks. Check out my blog post to learn more about it.
I was determined that all of these issues would be corrected when we designed our new home. Every shower wall and toilet area was prepped for grab bars. No need to actually install them now. We’re healthy and active. Doorways are 36”…check. Plenty of good lighting…check. Wide open walkways…check. Appliances at a user friendly level…check. We are good to go!
Or so we thought. Until my own foot issues kept getting worse and worse. I put off the much needed surgery for as long as I could, asking friends what to expect.
I learned that I needed a knee scooter and crutches. I learned that to maneuver the stairs, sometimes you just have to sit down and scoot. Crazy, I know. But sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to make it all work.
What I didn’t hear from anyone was some basic advice that we all know and just don’t think about.
- A curb-less shower would have made entering the shower so much easier, and I would have felt more confident. No problem with the actual showering, because a bench seat and hand held shower have made it so easy.
- The beautiful accent rugs gracing our floors had to go. Yes, they are rolled up and sitting on the sidelines waiting for full recovery day. Again, safety and confidence is an issue.
- Grab bars in the shower would help the fear of losing balance and falling.
- Grab bars next to the toilet, or even a temporary raised toilet seat with built in grab bars, would make life easier.
- And this one thing, that has nothing to do with your home but everything to do with your physical body, is to exercise. For me it’s yoga…a strength building intense yoga…at least two days a week. Had it not been for my yoga instructors Karen, Nancy, and Caren always stressing the need for balance and strong bodies as we get older, this journey would be a struggle.
As recovery continued, life got a little easier each day. My “recliner office” was all set up, and I was plugged in to all my devices trying to get work done. Life’s an adventure, I always say. And now I know how to be prepared for “the next time.”
Your Design Homework:
- Take a walk around your home. Check the doorways, the bathrooms, the floors.
- Now make a list of the little things you can put in place that will make your life easier if you need to have an unplanned surgery…or an accident. Can you add grab bars to you shower or toilet areas? Are your doorways at least 32” wide? Do you have rugs that might cause you to trip if you were on crutches?
Shopping at antique and flea markets can be a hit or miss thing. One time you might not see anything that you love. And then another time you see something that you just have to buy. That’s how it was with me the last time I went to one of my favorite antique markets.
I was walking along the aisles, I was stopped in my tracks by these beautiful and very unique vases. Hanging below them was a sign that said “TRENCH ART.” I had never heard of it before so I asked the dealer, and this is what I learned…
Trench art first appeared in 19th century wars during Napoleon’s wars. During WWI (1914-1918) it was an art that flourished in the trenches of the Western Front. Notice the “1917” engraving on the bottom of the vases.
Soldiers would transform whatever scrap metal littered the so-called no man’s land, as well as behind the lines. Usually it was empty cannon shells.
Because they were confined to their trenches, they needed to keep themselves busy during the long lulls between deadly attacks. Brass cannon shells were changed into vases for dried flowers and often sent home to loved-ones.
At the end of the war, those living around the devastated battle-grounds crafted commemorative vases and other mementos which were brought back home by war veterans.
Bathroom Safety: Have you ever thought about what life would be like if you were nervous about the most common things that you do every day? Instead of venturing wholeheartedly into a new activity, you find yourself being tense and a bit anxious. Well, imagine if this was your “normal”.
I’d just returned from vacation. And after a couple of minor slipping incidents, I started to think about what accessories could have been in place to prevent them. Since we all want to feel totally confident and safe in our homes and the places we visit, what could have been different?
We all know about grab bars in bathtubs, showers, and around a toilet. But I have to admit that, until recently, they’ve been pretty drab and hospital-like. Most of my clients think that grab bars are for their parents. Not for them. After all, they’re not “old” yet. So instead, we find ourselves in denial that we might be able to use them now. We reach for the towel bar when we slip getting into the bathtub. And if we’re lucky, it will support our weight! We walk down the stairs with an armful of laundry and hope the dog doesn’t run up behind us and cause us to fall.
So imagine my surprise when I opened an email from Delta Faucets, and discovered that they just might have the answer to this dilemma. A new introduction to their company is Delta Decor Assist Accessories.
The Décor Assist™ Collection offers a line of decorative accessories with “hidden-in-plain-sight” assist bar functionality for homeowners who need functional bathroom safety products that don’t look industrial, specialized or modified.
Décor Assist™ Product Features:
- Three stylish designs disguise dual functionality
- Towel bar and tissue holder also function as assist bars & meet ADA load requirements when properly installed
- Corner shelf offers assist bar functionality
- The assist bar wall anchor included with every Décor Assist™ accessory guarantees a secure mount, when properly installed, while also allowing for easy removal without additional damage to the drywall
Offered in five finishes
° Champagne Bronze®
º Brilliance® Stainless
º Venetian Bronze®
º Polished Nickel (Traditional Only)
Now imagine installing this product in your home, your parents’ home, or your daughter’s/son’s home. Active grandchildren could get in and out of the shower without slipping. And so could you!
How many times have we worried about our parents living alone in the big “family home?” Or maybe it’s not that big, but we worry anyway? Since most houses have been built for growing families and not growing old, staying in the home that we love, in the community we’re familiar with, gradually becomes a problem for us.
Master suites are on the second floor requiring many stairs to climb. Laundry rooms are in the basement, where we face even more stairs…and the poor lighting is often the norm.
Our parents want to remain independent, and we want this for them too. But often this requires making modifications to their home that they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge even if it would make life easier and more convenient. Because, after all, who wants to admit that they aren’t as “quick on their feet” as they once were?
Are they still active and want to make these decisions for themselves? Do they resent the fact that you’re concerned and turn down any ideas that you come up with? This seems to be a common complaint from the adult children I’ve spoken with. But I guess that if the roles were reversed, I would feel the same way. Who wants to be told by their children how to live their life and where to live it?
There are 5 levels of dependence that each require different methods of care.
1. Still active and independent – appreciate the concern but want you to stay out of it and let them live their life, even if you can see some ways to modify their home to make life easier and more convenient
2. They recognize a need for modification and are beginning to feel less confident or secure living as they have been
3. Assisted living or nursing care has been agreed upon and the family home needs to be modified, redecorated, or staged to sell
4. Your parent has decided to move to a smaller home in an active adult community, independent care, or assisted living community and needs help with the downsizing process. There’s a lifetime of possessions to sort through, redistribute, move, and set up in their new home.
5. Your parents are moving into your home and you need to make modifications or remodel to make life comfortable for everyone.
In which of these groups does your parent fall?