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Your Home for Living, Your Home for Life

Create an Accessible Home

Planning for retirement opens up a world of opportunities to get more out of your home. Whether embracing a new gardening hobby or creating a quiet refuge to enjoy the morning paper, your home should be your oasis. Applying a few simple design ideas now can help to ensure that your home remains perfect for you and your loved ones as you age, and frequently, these changes will enhance the overall style or functionality of your home now. Keep these ideas in mind as you take on both small and large home improvement projects.

Crank Up the Color Contrast

One of the quickest ways to update your home's look is with a coat of paint. Look for opportunities to use contrasting colors to create a vivid look for your home and to assist people who have difficulty identifying different surfaces in a room. For example, you can paint stair risers a lighter shade if the treads are brown, or use dark carpeting in a room with light furniture.

  • Today's Benefit: You get a vivid interior design that highlights your furniture, fixtures and other accessories instead of them blending together in a dull monochrome.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Your rooms will be livable for years to come and for older relatives, minimizing the risk of trips, falls or other household injuries.

Create Accessible Bathrooms

Too many bathrooms are cramped, awkward and inconvenient. The typical bathroom offers a less-than-optimal design for almost everyone. Vanities may be too low or too high, tubs and showers may be difficult to enter and exit, and doors and dual-handle faucets require two hands to adjust.

Fortunately, it isn't difficult to improve on some of these design flaws without having to consider a complete bathroom remodel. Here's an approach that can make any bathroom a more comfortable experience for all:

Pick the Perfect Toilet

While standard toilets are 14 inches from the floor, some manufacturers make "comfort height" or "chair height" models that are 17 to 19 inches tall.

  • Today's Benefit: All adults will appreciate the added height, which creates a more natural seated stance. Children can easily reach the toilet with a step-stool.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Aging knees will thank you for the extra height, making it easier to sit down and rise up unassisted from the toilet.

Shower Safety

A walk-in shower is a sleek, stylish solution for your bathroom. It is easy to get in and out, and the uncluttered look will add a Zen-like feel to your bathroom. Make sure the shower door is at least 32 inches wide, and keep the shower and bathroom floor heights on the same level. A zero-clearance glass door, which will extend fully to the floor without a threshold to step over, will prevent a slip-and-fall hazard and help keep water inside the shower. A built-in bench will allow added convenience for storing shower items and shaving while preparing your shower for your aging body.

  • Today's Benefit: What could be more soothing than a shower with multiple shower heads? Also, it's easy to convince the family dog (or toddler, for that matter) to walk into a shower without having to leap over a ledge or hop into the bathtub.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Enjoy the ease of walking straight into your shower without the risk of slipping and falling. Sit down on your built-in bench and relax, or have easy access for a caregiver to help with bathing.

Grab Bars Can Be Glamorous

Modern manufacturers offer elegant alternatives to the institutional look of old-school grab bars. These accessories add functionality to your home, decreasing slip-and-fall risks for young and old alike.

  • Today's Benefit: Instead of supporting yourself on a slippery shower door while shaving or washing your feet, grab onto a bar that is sure to support your weight and allow you to balance.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Installing grab bars now will allow you to get used to using them in future, and incorporating them into the design from the beginning will make sure they are exactly where you want.

Design Accessible Kitchens

There's plenty of moving about, reaching and lifting in any kitchen. In a kitchen designed for accessibility, however, all of these activities are much easier for everyone  from the fittest family member to the chef in a wheelchair.

To ensure that you can enjoy your kitchen for many years to come, make sure you include a design with plenty of lighting and easy-to-reach controls, features like touchless faucets with anti-scald technology, slip-resistant flooring, low or no thresholds on doorways and easily cleanable countertop surfaces such as granite, solid-surfacing or laminate. Other tips for enhancing your kitchen with universal design principles include:

Choose Slide-Out Storage

Slide-out wire baskets and other cabinetry solutions will increase accessibility for everyone. Easily organize your appliances, pots and pans, and more with convenient, clever accessories for your cabinets.

  • Today's Benefit: Enjoy a clear, uncluttered kitchen with storage spaces that will make gourmet cooking fun. Staying organized is easy when there's a designated space for everything, and busy families will appreciate the no-fuss approach to housekeeping. Drawer appliances installed below the counter make it easy for family members of all ages to load and unload dishwashers or cook food in the microwave without having to lift hot foods above their heads.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Reduce the need for bending and reaching with slide-out storage. Even family members with limited mobility will be able to reach items stored in the back of cabinets and enjoy the use of appliance drawers, minimizing the risk of injury.

Clear the Clutter

A clean, uncluttered floor plan will allow a person using a wheelchair the necessary clearance to maneuver in your kitchen. Instead of a fixed island, add a peninsula or a freestanding island that can be removed down the line to accommodate your changing needs.

  • Today's Benefit: A peninsula will give family members and guests a place where they can hang out while you cook without getting in the way. The open floor plan will give your kitchen a modern, airy look, creating a refreshing space for your family to gather.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Your kitchen will have no barriers to people with limited mobility, allowing them to enjoy preparing food for themselves well into advanced age.

Vary Counter Heights

One of the easiest ways to keep your kitchen functional for everyone in your family for years to come is to create workstations at several different heights. Creating counter spaces at standard height (36 inches), bar height (42 inches) and table height (30 inches) will create an environment where everyone can be comfortable.

  • Today's Benefit: Varying the heights of your countertops will make your kitchen a multi-functional space where family members of all ages can gather for food prep, snacking or working on homework.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: As your needs change, your kitchen will have lots of options for sitting or standing comfortably at various counter heights.

Include a Desk in Your Design

If you have the space in your kitchen, build in a bill-paying desk using cabinet and counter material that will match the rest of your design.

  • Today's Benefit: Enjoy a convenient, organized space to pay bills, keep track of mail and conduct other business right in the heart of your home.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: You will appreciate this workstation with open legroom underneath, allowing you to sit comfortably to prepare meals.

Incorporate Modular Elements for Easy Modifications

Even if you have decided to include custom cabinets in your kitchen, make sure you use standard sizes so that it will be easy and affordable to modify your kitchen cabinetry as your family's needs change.

  • Today's Benefit: Your easily customizable, stylish kitchen cabinetry will have a seamless look.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Upgrading to accessible appliances (such as drawer-style microwaves) will not require you to tear out all your cabinetry.

Enhance Exteriors and Entryways

There's much more to creating a home that welcomes all visitors than simply adding ramped access. Other entry measures, such as nonslip flooring, an easy-to-reach doorbell and a motion-sensor lamp that switches on and off automatically will enhance your home for the long haul. Also consider the suggestions below:

Low-Maintenance Exteriors for Long-Lasting Enjoyment

For the home's exterior, choose low-maintenance materials for siding, decking, landscaping and even gutters. Long-lasting, prefinished siding means less cumbersome repainting; composite decking means never refinishing again; the right shrubs and plants can mean less trimming and watering; and gutter guards eliminate an often-dangerous fall cleaning chore.

  • Today's Benefit: Spend weekends and vacations enjoying your home instead of maintaining it. These low-maintenance solutions will accommodate your busy lifestyle.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Experience lasting beauty and enjoyment in your home without worrying about costly repairs or slip-and-fall hazards.

Prepare the Path

For the path to the house, create a smooth walkway to the front door that anyone can take, regardless of their overall mobility. Ensure there is a way to enter without using stairs by incorporating ramps or other means to create a barrier-free pathway. Ramps can be integrated seamlessly into the overall exterior in a manner that is both practical and unobtrusive.

  • Today's Benefit: Seamless design and spacious, uncluttered landscapes will welcome you home every day.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Smooth walkways and barrier-free access to your home will allow the entire family easy access for many years.

Ease the Entry

At the entry, consider the size necessary to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, and look for door handles that are easily manipulated by hands of all ages. The front door should be at least 35 inches wide, and the door handle should be a lever. The change in level from the exterior entry floor to the interior floor should be no more than a half inch. The entry door should be protected against rain and weather by an overhead covering such as a roof extension, a broad overhang or an awning.

  • Today's Benefit: A wider door makes it much easier to bring in large boxes from your car. Parents and grandparents of small children will appreciate the wider door when bringing kids in and out of the home. A dry spot at the front door makes it more pleasant to find the keys on a rainy day. And wouldn't you appreciate a reasonably flat threshold if you were returning home with a sprained ankle?
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: An inviting entryway that can accommodate changes in your mobility will help you live at home longer.

Clean Up Your Laundry Room

Laundry rooms are areas that are frequently forgotten, but a few design considerations can open up your laundry room for a lifetime of easy use. Make sure that the space is large enough to avoid trip hazards and to accommodate a wheelchair. Consider a front-load washer to make it easier for the mobility impaired to be able to access it from a seated position.

Also consider combining the laundry room with a master closet. Use this area for washing, drying, ironing and storing clothing. This tip will save you floor space in your home and make a much more efficient laundry day.

  • Today's Benefit: Use the extra space and the logical arrangement of laundry-related items to save you time and energy on laundry day.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: Mobility-impaired family members will appreciate the extra space, allowing them to move around the laundry room with a walker or in a wheelchair without banging into walls. Older family members will appreciate that these accommodations allow them to enjoy their independence much longer.

Lighten Up

Our aging eyes gradually lose their ability to see well in dim light, so installing more lights now will reap benefits in years to come. Include ambient lighting to brighten up every room, but also install spot-focused and adjustable lighting that will illuminate countertops, bathroom sinks, stairways and other working areas.

  • Today's Benefit: Adjustable light fixtures will allow you to set the mood for a party or a romantic dinner for two and give you the flexibility to increase brightness when you have work or projects to tackle.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: As your eyesight naturally declines, you will enjoy the ample lighting and its adjustability to accommodate all your essential tasks.


One popular home upgrade is to refinish a basement as a playroom, home theater or rec room. If you're thinking of upgrading your basement, it would be wise to include a bathroom and a kitchenette, creating the perfect space for an aging parent or adult child to come to stay with you for a while. This arrangement creates a sense of privacy for everyone while allowing the family to stay close. Rebuilding basement stairs to include dual banisters to avoid the risk of falls on steep staircases can also enhance anyone’s ability to enjoy this valuable space.

  • Today's Benefit: Your whole family will enjoy the extra space for games, movies and more, and guests will appreciate the privacy of your basement suite.
  • Tomorrow's Bonus: It's the perfect space to accommodate an aging parent while allowing them to retain some privacy. Also, if you choose to sell your house in the future, the guest area in your basement will be a great selling point.