It’s a lucky few who find the home of their dreams at any point in their lives. In the perfect part of the country. In the perfect neighborhood. A place that’s easy to call home. It’s even more unusual to find a dream home that ages well as you move into your senior years. The second floor bedrooms and basement laundry that never posed a challenge when you bought the home could actually become a barrier as you move into your late sixties or seventies.
If you’ve had the good fortune to have lived in your dream home for many years and are transitioning into your senior years, then you can probably relate to our Carlisle clients, a couple who have lived in their Cape Cod, nestled in a quiet street, for over 25 years. Originally built in the 1960’s, the two floor home had a traditional layout with bedrooms on the second floor and a formal dining room and living room on the first floor in the front of the house. The 60+ year-old-home underwent a major renovation in 1974 with the addition of a family room in the back of the home. The new addition, while adding needed space, placed the kitchen in the center of the home. This limited natural light and sightlines to the beautiful wooded yard in the back.
Aging in Place: Changing Needs For Our Senior Years
While I’m not the biggest fan of the term, design professionals have adopted the phrase “Aging in Place” to describe the process of making a residence more friendly to those in their senior years. With the desire to truly make this their forever home, our clients determined that if the house was to work for them in their 70’s and beyond some changes were required.
The first thing the couple wanted was single-floor living. To accomplish this, the plan was to move their second floor bedroom down to the first floor, eliminating the stairs as a possible barrier. Similarly, moving the washer and dryer to the first floor from the basement would also eliminate a set of stairs to be navigated on a regular basis.
With these goals in mind, the location of the master suite, laundry room, and renovated kitchen became the focus of the conversations.
The original floorplan, shown below, highlights the position of the formal living room and dining room typical of Cape Cods of the era, and the placement of the kitchen in the center of the home during the 1970’s renovation.
Selecting Mother Hubbard’s for the Project
Over the years, the homeowners and Mother Hubbard’s worked together to upgrade the appliances, replace working surfaces with Corian, and to remodel a bathroom. These improvements, while not changing the footprint of the home, provided an opportunity for the owners to work with John and his team. The decision to select Mother Hubbard’s for the remodel was an easy one.
With the largest of decisions made – the design team – the couple and Mother Hubbard’s got down to work.
Originally the homeowners imagined that the first floor bedroom might be best positioned in the existing dining room space. Viewing the space with the couple, John suggested that the dining room might be better utilized as part of an open kitchen. The large windows in the dining room would create a bright, airy kitchen space with spectacular wooded views of the back yard. The owners laughed that in the existing kitchen the view from the corner mounted sink was a wall!
The ”After” floorplan highlights how the moving the kitchen into the dining space – and the removal of the wall separating the living room from the newly expansive kitchen – resulted in an open floorplan that removed physical barriers, encouraging single-floor living.
What had previously been a traditional floorplan with separated rooms was now an up-to-date open floorplan that not only provided great views across several rooms, but also great access for a couple that might have special needs as the years roll on.
Design Features With An Eye Towards Growing Comfortably Older
Moving the bedroom and laundry room to the first floor were the initial steps in making the home friendlier for the owners’ senior years, but that alone would not have made the new spaces aging-friendly.
First, significant planning went into the selection and design of the cabinetry to ensure that heavier items were accessible and that the bending and lifting required was minimized. For example, roll-out shelves were almost exclusively used in the base cabinetry so that pots and pans come to the owners rather than the other way around.
You’ll also notice that the wall cabinets situated on top of the larder’s base cabinetry are sized to allow for several inches of countertop space. The 18 inch depth of the upper cabinetry also creates the visual sense that this is a custom piece of furniture and not simply bulk storage. The strip of counter space allows the safe, easy placement of dry goods and other items retrieved from the cabinets.
Another example of good design for seniors was the appliance garage located on the base cabinetry next to the sink. The husband, a big fan of smoothies, wasn’t a fan of having to reach up in the old kitchen to pull down the blender. With the new design he simply opens the waist-level “garage” doors and slides out the blender onto the countertop. Easy!
A not-so-obvious feature of the new floorplan was allowing enough space around the kitchen for wheelchair access, should that ever be required. Done poorly, the wider spaces that allow wheelchair access can often make a space seem institutional and disconnected. However, the smart use of colors and the owners’ choice of flooring give the wider walkways a warm, comfortable feel.
In the Master Bedroom Suite, a zero-barrier shower with a floor-to-top glass door was designed as the focal point of the bathroom. Not only is the shower entry free from potential trip and fall barriers, it also provides a dramatic, continuous flat plane for the basketweave tile that stays true to the other bathrooms and original design of the home. Of course, to ensure a safe, senior bathroom this design features strategically-placed grab bars throughout the space. They are of a style that matches the towel bars and racks, maximizing both style and functionality.
The Best Version of What The Home Could Be
One of the phrases that the better half of the couple often repeated was that she wanted the remodeled kitchen and each room to reflect the best use that their beloved home could possibly have.
Removing the wall that separated what was the dining and living rooms, and transforming the now combined spaces into an open floorplan kitchen and living space, truly reflected the best that this home could be. Not only did the removal of the wall open up the key living spaces to bright light and beautiful views, it created the opportunity for a large central island that provided a delightful entertaining space, expansive storage and easy access to key parts of the home.
In looking at the remodeled spaces you might be forgiven for thinking that everything in the home was new. In truth, the homeowners had the vision of re-purposing existing cabinetry in the new spaces. For example, the cabinetry in the new first floor laundry room was re-purposed from kitchen and looks beautiful in its new incarnation!
The dark wood colors of the older cabinetry provide a nice contretemps to the veined white quartz countertops and bluish-green finish of the new kitchen cabinetry. Combining the best of the existing with the new, this thoughtful re-use of cabinetry and built-ins saved money that could be used in other parts of the home.
In the end we like to think that the owners will share many future years in the home surrounded by all that they love and in a space that’s familiar and aging friendly.