Last month, I received my Certification as an Aging in Place Specialist through the National Association of Home Builders. When we posted the update on various social media platforms, I was frankly blown away by the number of reactions. This post received 100 times the number of views as my average LinkedIn update. And while Graham Yelton’s photography is extraordinary, I suspect that the reason the post has garnered some interest is the subject matter.
“Aging in Place” may be the least sexy way to describe the work we are bringing attention to here at TPD. (I’ve been joking that my face and name becoming associated with “aging” is not great for my dermatologist.) Other folks talk about “forever homes,” and terms like “universal design” and “visitability” are thrown around as well. Whatever you call this kind of work, I believe that it’s incredibly important. Here’s why.
- The design concepts associated with aging in place help make homes better for everyone. We want to design houses that can adapt to homeowners’ needs as they get older, as they have kids, or as they have family members with physical challenges come to visit or stay.
- Houses designed with accessibility and functionality in mind do not need to look institutional. The principles of universal design are not style-specific and are as compatible with traditionally detailed homes as they are with modern homes.
- Renovations, additions, and new construction all require considerable investments. By creating spaces that more people can enjoy, we not only help homeowners enjoy their own investment for longer, but we also expand the potential market for those considering a future sale.
- Neighborhoods are important. And for some people, staying in their neighborhoods means reduced anxiety, better social interaction and support systems, walkability, and proximity to family and services. By renovating for longer term use, people who want to and are able to stay have the kinds of spaces that support that choice.
I started working on this because of my clients: in particular, homeowners who want to have spaces that allow them to stay in the homes that they love for longer. They are looking for ease and safety, without compromising the design integrity and quality of their houses. They are looking for places for their parents to stay, for a visit or permanently. They are thinking about how they want to remain close to their grandkids, or their favorite restaurants, or their neighbors.
I am continuing to work on this because I think it’s important to people of all ages and abilities. My peers who are investing in their homes aren’t just interested in paint colors and open kitchens; they want to be sure that their parents have a way to negotiate the stairs or that they have a shower to use themselves when they have knee surgery. We want to keep accessibility and longevity in mind with all of our clients.
As architects and designers, we are only a part of a complex conversation that involves caregivers, medical professionals, and family members. I have enjoyed meeting and talking to these other professionals who are making a difference in this area, and I am learning from them daily. We are researching best practices, exploring new materials and technologies, and thinking about maintenance and energy costs as critical parts of the aging in place equation so that we can be resources for our clients.
What I have learned over the last several weeks is that aging in place and universal design are subjects that lots of people want to talk about but may have been uncomfortable doing so: I’ve heard stories from people who have helped their parents think about housing options, who are considering renovations themselves, or who have seen a family member or friend struggle with a tough move. We’ve been talking about our vision and mission here at TPD, specifically what it means to create architecture that can solve real problems for homeowners, and we think this work is an important part of that vision.