The Accessible Home

Designing and building a custom home, for many, is a chance to realize their dream home. We frequently have clients who search for every convenience and pore over floor plans in the quest for that perfect layout. It’s not unusual for a client to declare, “This is the last home we’ll ever live in.”

They look for designs that will create comfortable living spaces, areas for entertaining, and room for friends and family to gather.

But if you’re nearing or at retirement, have you considered the accessibility of your home?

For many, “accessibility” means a simple ramp leading to the front door. But true accessibility stretches throughout the house. Studies show that every other person over the age of 65 has some form of disability – perhaps cognitive, but more often than not, an issue with mobility. These folks still have plenty to life to live, but may rely on hand rails, walkers, wheelchairs, and more.

So, how do you design a custom home with an eye towards future mobility issues?

Obviously, getting into your home is the first consideration. Do you have a sweeping grand stairway leading to the front door or something that leads directly into the foyer? And once in the home, accessing the living areas is crucial. Many newer multi-story homes have opted for a personal elevator. This comes in handy for both those with mobility issues and simply moving things like groceries and laundry from one floor to another.

What of the kitchen?

While many home designs feature a wide-open space from the kitchen to the den or living room, the actual work space in the kitchen is often a bit tight. Imagine a back counter with a stove, and then an island with a sink. While many are separated by around 36 inches of floor space, someone navigating with a walker or wheelchair needs at least 42 inches. Would that person be able to retrieve an item from the refrigerator or pantry and then turn around to return to the stove or sink? If designing for someone in a wheelchair, lower cabinets and appliances may require a set-back, allowing the user to roll right up to a counter. Lastly, those counters should be lowered from the standard of 36 inches to a more accessible 30.

Many of these same considerations come into play for the bathrooms.

While it’s nice to have a wide vanity for toiletries and storage, a pedestal or bottomless sink makes it easier to roll right up to the mirror. A hinged mirror that rotates up and down will allow someone who is sitting to see themselves clearly. The vanity height is also important.

Once the user is in the restroom, will they be able to close the door and turn around? This can often be an issue in a powder room. Any spot where someone may leave their walker or wheelchair should have readily accessible grab bars for support. And while there is some benefit to having a lovely soaking tub, a step-in shower is likely more practical. Even someone who still has good mobility may find it difficult to get into a deep tub, and even more difficult to get out.

Creating an accessible home doesn’t mean sacrificing on quality, design or décor. You can provide accessibility without it seeming institutional. And you may not need the conveniences now, but if you’re eyeing retirement or seeing your custom home as a place for someone growing older, it’s easy enough to make a few simple decisions now.