Twenty-five years after a homeowner and her late husband built their Fountain Hills, Arizona home, renovating the master bathroom had become a bucket list item for 89-year-old Melba. She wanted a beautiful, updated bathroom.
A contractor had been out to give her an estimate. He recommended the typical basic – granite countertops and new flooring. Melba then thought she should contact an interior designer and called me. That was a wise decision since contractors are trained to build, not design. Yet, homeowners often expect contractors to do the work of a designer – everything from space planning to selecting lighting, plumbing, materials and paint colors. Then they’re unhappy and wonder why things didn’t turn out as functional or aesthetically correct as they expected. The consequences can be worse and even life-threatening if Aging in Place design and construction is not done by specialized, qualified professionals.
Before making recommendations or starting conceptual design, I dove deep to learn Melba’s wishes for her bathroom, her specific needs, and how long she planned to live there. I also interjected the concept and importance of incorporating Aging in Place Design for anyone 55+. Being mentally sharp and physically active, she had not considered that safety and accessibility features should be central to the design. After I suggested it, it didn’t take long for Melba to recall how difficult it was for her husband to maneuver their bathroom while using a walker the last few years of his life. She agreed that it would be valuable to have an Aging in Place-ready bathroom, if I could also make it beautiful.
Design Matters So Much More for Adults 55+
Despite that Melba’s master bathroom was a decent-sized 185 square feet, it didn’t feel large. It felt tight when entering and in front of the double vanity. The water closet was small and confined and the walk-in closet was small. The shower’s excessive length was essentially wasted space. As built, the master bathroom was inaccessible by a wheelchair and nearly that with a walker.
Within the existing footprint of her home, without adding on, I designed a new floor plan that is more functional, eliminated the access and space constraints, and is ADA-code compliant (wheelchair accessible). The plan included moving the shower and water closet, as well as the wardrobe closet to give Melba the larger closet she desired.
Other key considerations for the design included safety (fall prevention and night toileting), ease of daily activities, ease of maintenance, an uplifting aesthetic, and Melba’s mild vision impairment. To address these, the design incorporates: spatial solutions; visual orientation; support solutions; senior-friendly lighting, flooring, colors and finishes; ADA-compliant products; and special detailing.
For example, I custom-designed a wheelchair-accessible vanity, linen closet and wardrobe closet, each with senior-friendly features for ease of use with daily activities. The shower is also designed for wheelchair-accessibility, safety and ease of use with features that support independent or assisted showering, should a caregiver or wheelchair be needed in the future. Additional sources of light needed were calculated and precisely located throughout the bathroom to help Melba with her vision.
I meticulously weigh the impact and outcome of every decision in the planning, construction and design process. Because I understand how important it is.
Creating A Bright Future with Options
Melba is poised to live independently, better and longer following her wise decision to have her master bath professionally designed and remodeled for Aging in Place, beautifully. It will serve her well by significantly reducing the risk of harm or death in the most dangerous room of the house. It will make her daily activities easier, accommodate her needs as they change over time, and make in-home caregiving easier, if ever needed.
Melba now has options and better control as to where she will live in the future. If she needs to use a wheelchair, she has the option to continue living in her home. She also has the option to move to assisted living on her terms if, and when she chooses.
Most people either don’t have or don’t realize they could have had those options, until it’s too late. Once the option to live at home is no longer feasible, there is usually an urgent, abrupt move to assisted living or skilled nursing, which can wreak financial and/or emotional havoc on the homeowner and their family, when unplanned.
According to a 2017 Harvard Housing study, 99% of U.S. homes are not ready for aging in place. Contrary to popular belief, simply adding grab bars does not make a home aging in place-ready, as the study points out. It’s remodeling work that needs to be well-designed and executed by a degreed, professional Senior Living or Aging in Place Interior Designer or Architect and a Certified Aging in Place Contractor who is trained in precise building and installation of features and products for ADA-code compliance, before there’s an immediate need or crisis. Having no plan is planning to fail.
“As a physician, I’m probably more keyed into abruptness seeing episodes occur every day with patients and life can change in a moment,” says William J. Strohman, M.D. of Lifescape in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Hospital discharge planners frequently need to release patients to rehab, assisted living or skilled nursing because their home environment is not safe for them. Otherwise, home care service or a care manager must be hired to help prevent falls and accidents.
Return on Investment for Aging in Place Remodel
Because Melba’s Aging in Place bathroom design and remodel is aesthetically pleasing rather than sporting the typical ugly, institutional-look, it has increased the home’s market value. That will equate to more money to pay for assisted living if Melba decides to move, or more money for her estate if she lives out her life there. Not to mention increased marketability as there aren’t many single-level properties with beautiful Aging in Place-ready master bathrooms, during a period when more Boomers are aging, and the need is increasing.
Melba now has a National Award-Winning Master Bathroom, from the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), that she loves and enjoys every day. It gives her peace of mind knowing that it is safer and is helping her to maintain her independence. She also appreciates that it has expanded her options for the future.
Melba’s adult children and their spouses also enjoy it when they’re in town visiting. Melba said, “Instead of using the guest bathroom, they wait and take turns using my master bathroom shower because it’s so pretty. Everyone loves it.”