Living/Aging in Place – #KBTRIBECHAT Hilites Design Solutions.
This past week I had the opportunity to discuss kitchen and bathroom living/aging in place design solutions with manufacturers and interior designers from across the country when I hosted #kbtribechat. #kbtribechat is a community of kitchen and bath professionals who gather once a week on Twitter to discuss kitchen and bathroom design and trends, network and share knowledge.What is living/aging in place? Living/aging in place is having the ability to live a productive, quality life in your own home. The reality is, we’re all aging (even three year olds…) and we are constantly adjusting our homes to the ever evolving phases of our lives. As we enter our 60’s we begin to notice activities and tasks that were simple and easy, and enjoyable, become less so. At times even annoying, too much, tiring and difficult to perform. Perhaps in some cases, home ownership begins to become a burden instead of a pleasure.
Take heart! For every annoyance and tiring task/activity, there is a solution. Let’s take a look at the challenges and solutions for living/aging in place for kitchens and bathrooms that were discussed during last weeks #kbtribechat tweetchat. I posed 7 questions to the group.
IN GENERAL TERMS, WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES HOMEOWNERS HAVE TO ADDRESS WHEN THEY CHOOSE TO LIVE/AGE IN PLACE INTO THEIR LATER YEARS?
We begin to experience the deterioration of the five senses. Our balance and stamina isn’t what it used to be. As peers pass away, there is huge risk for social isolation. Safety, and well being become priorities. We find ourselves asking, how can we create a safe, comfortable home that is also beautiful. Here’s a sampling of what participants felt were the challenges facing a homeowner who wants to live/age in place.
Let’s look at the five senses in more detail, because they are major contributors to kitchen and bathroom living/aging in place design challenges.
Sight: Eyesight begins to diminish at night. Poorly lit spaces and entering darkened rooms become riskier. A kitchen with only one light fixture in the middle makes meal prep difficult. A poorly lit bathroom will contribute to not seeing the curb in a shower or edge of a tub. It becomes harder to distinguish shapes and forms that are all the same color.Balance: We’re less stable. Area rugs, door thresholds, steps, smooth floors can cause tripping or slipping as can cluttered sitting arrangements and narrow doorways. (Falling is the major cause of injury or death among older people.)Sound: We don’t hear as well, particularly low and high frequencies and/or quiet sounds. Not hearing a timer go off in the kitchen could lead to a burned meal or a kitchen fire. In extreme cases, not hearing the sound of a smoke or fire alarm.Smell: Our noses aren’t as acute. We might not smell smoke or a strange odor emanating from the kitchen. Maybe the trash needs to be taken out…Taste: Taste buds don’t work as well. We may over spice/over season foods. Maybe even mix up the salt and sugar???Seems daunting, doesn’t it?
FUNCTIONALITY IN THE KITCHEN IS A MAJOR LIVING/AGING IN PLACE CHALLENGE. HOW CAN WE MINIMIZE BENDING, REACHING, STOOPING, SLIPPING. ETC.?
Sally and I are currently working on a kitchen with homeowners who plan to live in the house for at least the next 30 years, placing them in their mid 60’s. Living/aging in place is one of their primary planning criteria. The kitchen is organized around activity zones, whose activities speak for themselves – Sink Wall, Cooking Wall, Pantry/Fridge/Freezer Wall and Island. In order to minimize stretching, reaching, etc., we are planning a kitchen without overhead cabinets.
Above the base cabinets, the Sink Wall has open shelves for storage of every day items. Those shelves start 15” above the counter instead of the typical 18” above the counter. (It’s remarkable what those three inches buy you in terms of ease of reach.) The top row of drawers have organizers for silverware, etc. Below are deeper drawers set up for plate, glasses, cup and saucer saucer storage. Even the cabinet under the sink has a pull out so our client won’t have to fish around the garbage disposal to find the dish soap.Cabinets on the Cooking Wall are organized around the 48” Thermador dual fuel range. Spice drawers and pull outs for cooking oil, etc. flank the range. (I have a feeling one of those pull outs will end up being used for cookie and baking sheets.) Cooking utensils are stored in the 6” deep drawers to the stove’s left, with deep drawers below for pots and pans. Not shown is the pot filler above the range.We had fun designing the pantry in the Pantry/Fridge/Freezer Wall. The upper unit of the pantry has storage built into the back of the doors and the cabinet interiors will be composed of pull outs. No reaching over! The bank of cabinets across the top of the pantry and Thermador freezer and fridge towers are intended for large pots and pans and such that are used once or twice a year.At the Island, the under counter microwave and storage below for microwave proof containers is convenient to the fridge. Drawers are designated for food prep utensils and cooking/baking backup storage for pots, pans, etc. Manufacturers such as Rev-A-Shelf, Blum and Hafele offer amazing drawer organizers to meet your every need.
FUNCTIONALITY IN THE BATHROOM IS A MAJOR LIVING/AGING IN PLACE CHALLENGE. HOW CAN WE MINIMIZE BENDING, REACHING, STOOPING, SLIPPING. ETC.?
#kbtribechat participant, Living in Place, LLC, put it very succinctly. “Keep it all between the nose and the knees. If outside that range, use pulldowns, etc. to access items.Their comment made me rethink the design of a family bathroom we are designing right now. In the bath, is towel and linen storage. Now the base cabinet will have pull outs and the open cabinet above will have pull out shelves.In our own recent bathroom renovation, we made sure door openings were maximized and we improved circulation by reconfiguring the plumbing fixture layout. Towel bars and hooks are now within easy reach of both tub vanity. There’s even floor space for a small chair opposite the toilet.DXV’s Equilty wall hung vanity has ample space on either side of the sink for “stuff” and it’s pull out drawers provide easy access/storage below the sink. A fringe benefit is how easy it is to clean the floor around the vanity.
Part of any aging in place strategy is the exit strategy. Since this is the only full bath in the house we chose a tub with a low rise instead doing a curbless shower, making the home more attractive to potential future buyers with young children or who are planning on children. In addition, we had blocking placed in the walls for future grab bars should they become necessary.
SLIPPING AND FALLING IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF INJURY OR DEATH AMONG OLDER ADULTS. WHAT FLOORING SOLUTIONS IN THE KITCHEN AND BATH CAN WE PROVIDE THAT WILL MINIMIZE THE RISK.
I would suggest that slippery floors are a hazard for all of us, including small children. Consider your floor selections carefully. While that hi gloss marble tile may look fabulous in your bathroom or kitchen, it is not the safest solution.
Slip resistance ratings for flooring materials can generally be found in the specifications of the floor material you are considering. For example, Sally and I selected a 12” x 12” textured tile from Daltile for our bathroom based on the slip resistance rating of the tile. Look closely at the specs in the image below. The tile is rated “Acceptable” for Wet and Level Interior Floors, but not for showers unless it is installed as a 2” x 2” tile. (More texture and grout lines.)While kitchens may not be as “wet” as bathrooms, you need to consider the occasional spill. Avoid hi gloss tile or hi gloss wood finishes. Here’s an example of a porcelain floor tile pattern we are considering for a kitchen we are designing. It’s a 12” x 12” “Versaille” porcelain tile pattern, with plenty of texture and no glare.Investigating slip resistance of various floor materials has been “interesting”. As noted in the article via this link, there are testing standards for ceramic and porcelain floor tile. Natural stone and wood floors are much more difficult to quantify, other than factory finished laminate flooring. For example, DuChateau‘s European White Oak laminate (engineered) flooring has a COF (not DCOF) rating of Static 0.59 and Sliding (or Dynamic) 0.43. I’d feel comfortable specifying this floor for a kitchen. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, quick call to the manufacturer will answer your question.DuChateau also has very interesting and good looking rubber wood-look plank floor product with good slip resistance.
AS WE AGE, OUR EYESIGHT CHANGES. WHAT LIGHTING SOLUTIONS WILL MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR SOMEONE TO USE THE KITCHEN OR BATHROOM?
Lighting is so critical in any kitchen, and becomes more so when designing with living/aging in place in mind. Our friends from Garcia Cabinetmakers tell us we need three types of kitchen lighting in a well designed kitchen – ambient, task and accent lighting.I would add decorative lighting to the list. We all need a little eye candy! This is a kitchen we designed for a Boston area client. Notice how the down lights are set directly over the counter edge below. Now you won’t see your shadow on the counter top! Another little aging in place tip. Note the contrasting color between the counter top and the floor, making the counter edge easy to see and find.Consider lighting your cabinet interiors with LED lighting, as suggested by Hafele during the twitterchat.
Switch location is critical. Place switches near entrances and exits to the kitchen or bathroom. Use three way switches when there are multiple entrances and exits into the room. Sally and I will do switching for a kitchen or bath based on zones of use, so no more light than necessary is being used. We always use dimmable switches such as Lutron’s Diva or Ariadni switches.Although much smaller, bathrooms have similar requirements – good ambient, task and decorative lighting. Recessed LED downlights (specify adjustable heads if you are renovating) provide terrific ambient light. Don’t forget the tub/shower light! We specify WAC’s 2” moisture proof downlight. Another “designer tip” are mirrors/medicine cabinets with integrated LED lighting in the mirror. We source Kohler and Roburn. The light on your face is AMAZING!!! Putting this on a dimmer is a must!
TECHNOLOGY OFFERS THE POTENTIAL OF BEING A GREAT ENABLER FOR THOSE WHO OPT FOR A LIVING/AGING IN PLACE LIFESTYLE. COMMUNICATION/ENGAGEMENT, HEALTH/WELLNESS, LEARNING CONTRIBUTION AND SAFETY/SECURITY. HOW CAN IT HELP? WHAT ARE RISKS?
That’s a pretty open ended question, so I am limiting myself to tech in the kitchen and bath. Smart kitchen technology is evolving rapidly. Sorting thru what’s useful as opposed to gimmicky is daunting, even for a designer. For living/aging in place, tech that simplifies, makes life less stressful and safer is my primary yardstick – whether in the kitchen or bath.Currently you can find appliances that communicate/interact with you via an app on your phone. The app can learn your habits, has recipe libraries, does guided cooking, enables appliances to communicate with each other, inventory food in your fridge enabling you to easily create a grocery list, etc. (It’s unclear to me whether you can then order groceries for delivery to your home.) Some appliances will even self diagnose when there’s a problem.
Ideally, whatever the app is, it needs to be part of a larger integrated home automation/control system, such as Control4, HomeConnect, Crestron or Savant. For example, we recently researched smart tech for a kitchen we are designing. We researched Sub-Zero/Wolf, Thermador, Miele and Jenn-Air. To keep track of it all, we created this comparison chart.
For the most part, they all do the same thing and can be integrated with a more powerful app/program, enabling you to control music, TV, security, heating and cooling, etc.
Let’s drill down into this a bit more. You might ask yourself these questions.
- How often will I need to preheat/turn on the oven from my phone while I’m out of the house? If I’m in another room, would it be useful to be able to do so?
- Do I need remote monitoring of what I typically cook?
- Is it be useful/helpful to me to be able to cook multiple dishes in the oven at the same time?
- Are the recipes that come with the app recipes I will use? Can I add my own recipes?
- Create a shopping list on my phone? Okay… But then what? If I could then place the order via Pea Pod, Whole Food’s Prime Now, or Insta Cart. Somehow the two need to be integrated.
- If at the end of the day, after the self diagnostics, where I end up is needing a service call to determine what the appliance’s problem is, how would I feel? It feels like we’re still at the check engine warning light phase of development. The goal is remote diagnostics with the service person arriving at your front door with the correct part.
- Do I really want Alexa or Google listening to you all the time?
After all this, you decide, yes I want a smart kitchen with an app on my phone. Let’s see what the apps look like. Think bifocals, progressive lenses, hard to read small print, etc. Which app would you prefer?
For the aging in place consumer, it feels like the graphic interface needs further development.
I guess what I want is my cook top to notify me before I explode my hardboiled egg or my oven to tell me the pot roast is medium rare. Maybe even turn off if things get really bad… I do love the fact that I could be notified if the fridge door is ajar. But what I really want is a self cleaning fridge!
At the other end of the spectrum are “the little things” in the kitchen, like American Standard’s Beale Measure Fill faucet, that deliver measured amounts of water. This Sally and I can use.
At the end of the day, Garcia Cabinetmakers summed it up best. “Technology has the potential to be a huge help in the kitchen.” I would emphasize the word “potential”. Kitchen tech is here to stay, but there’s room for improvement, refinement and growth.
Interestingly, bathrooms were not mentioned during our discussion. Yet, hi-tech can be found there as well.
Smart toilets are offered by most major bathroom product manufacturers. Kohler’s Veil wall hung toilet is one such example. It’s integrated night light is a bonus!
Kohler has just introduced a bathroom suite called KohlerKonnect, which with an app on you phone or via voice control enables you to control/access bathroom fixtures. Presently a smart mirror and toilet are available. In the near future you will be able to preset shower and tub water temperatures.
To be honest, I first pooh-poohed these hi-tech items, until I made myself stop and consider. Water temperature control assures protection for scalding. A smart toilet provides hygiene and the touchless faucet means there will never be a sink overflow and water is conserved.
Worried about water leaks? Frozen pipes? Who isn’t? Grohe’s Smart Sense Water Sensor may very well be the answer to your prayers. It will “alert you when water leaks appear with a pulsating red light and buzzer, in addition to an alert sent to your smart phone via their Ondus app.”
The last question of the tweetchat was:
WHAT FEATURES IN THE HOME WOULD HELP FACILITATE A GOOD AGING IN PLACE ENVIRONMENT?
Participants offered a number of great recommendations.
Domotex spoke to technology.
Garcia Cabinetmakers added planning suggestions about stairs and bedroom locations.
Rev-A Shelf and Living in Place Institute, LLC spoke to making homes safe and accessible for all ages. I agree. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.
Truly “the devil is in the details”, right down to the door and cabinet hardware in your home.
In closing, the mention of lever handles reminds me, you do not have to sacrifice beauty when you choose to live/age in place. Just look at these ADA compliant lever handles by Belgian hardware manufacturer Van Cronenburg. Isn’t wonderful that something you touch and use every day can be so beautiful?
If you would like to read the complete tweetchat transcript on living/aging in place, go to the following link, click on Transcript and look for the date 3/20/19.
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