Service of Living in Place Even If You Don’t Want To Think About It

October 17th, 2016

Categories: Architects, Interior Design, Safety

I attended a program for interior designers and architects. Subject: living in place. It scotched myths that I and no doubt many others have about accessible design and aging in place and reinforced what I’ve already known for years: Anyone building or remodeling a home or apartment on their own does well to think twice and enroll the help of experts. People use accountants and CPAs for the same reason: to avoid missing beneficial opportunities.

The speaker was Dawn DeLuca of Camille Rossy, a cabinetry and design company. The title of her presentation: “Designing for Independence & Dignity Without Talking About It.” We gathered in the Fisher & Paykel ExperienceCenter, a welcoming space for such informative meetings and a showroom with many of the appliances that address accessibility issues.

Here are some highlights that DeLuca, a certified Living in Place Designer, shared:

  • Accessible design in not ugly. A quick look around the showroom at the handsome, sleek pullout dishwashers—lower than the counter–and stoves with knobs in front that DeLuca had identified as appropriate for people with disabilities promptly put to rest the fable that it is.
  • Did you know that the average American home is built for males aged 35?
  • People live in one home for some 13 years and over a century, the lifecycle of a home, 20 will live in it and in the period, 6,000 guests/visitors will cross its threshold. Of these, 1,000 are at risk of injury.
  • The bill for falls in the US in 2013 was $34 billion and is projected to reach $68 billion by 2018. This does not include indirect costs lost in work productivity and the need to move if the home can no longer accommodate the injured person.
  • Living in place is not exclusively about the elderly
  1. People with disabilities are not just older adults
  2. Designers and architects should consider making homes safe in the initial design rather than focusing on fixing a place to accommodate an injured resident
  • DeLuca asked if any in the audience used a “disability assistance device.” When she gave the example of eyeglasses, many hands shot up.
  • Designers and architects should assemble collaborative teams such as a
  1. medical advisor and physical therapist to detail needs of a disabled person and to address safety issues for that disability
  2. child proofers
  3. contractor familiar with code  
  4. home inspector
  5. Specialists for autistic spectrum childproofing to counsel about elevating light switches and electrical outlets for example and confirming that TVs and furniture are secured to walls. Every two weeks a child dies because a TV falls on him/her.
  6. Structural engineers for people over 250 lbs.
  • Proactive design includes
  1. Installing outlets at the top and bottom of a stairway regardless of the age and physical dexterity of current homeowners. Should anyone in future need a stairway chairlift the installation savings are considerable.
  2. Contrasting colors for stair flooring is essential.
  3. Shower grab bars should be on top of shower controls and installed to withstand 250 lbs in all directions
  4. Kitchen appliances need a landing place either next to or behind them.
  5. Never place a cooking surface under a window that opens. Heat can break a window and with a gas stove, wind can cause fire
  6. Consider raised flowerbeds for gardeners who can’t bend over
  7. While all things shiny are in fashion, reflections cause problems for people with eye issues and the aging
  8. Single leaver faucet controls are cleaner
  9. Lighting inside cabinets and drawers literally shedding light on what’s inside
  10. All levers should have a return not only to address stability but to avoid catching—and ripping–clothes
  11. Reverse door swings: Doors should open to the hallway in case the homeowner faints so rescuers can get in the house/apartment/room to help.
  12. Motion-censored LED strips under handrails
  • Denial about potential injuries is rampant in the land. “That won’t happen to me,” most people say when hearing of a friend or relative’s accident. Statistics prove otherwise. DeLuca said that one in five Americans have disabilities and fewer than 15 percent are born with them. 63 million have disabilities and 11 million need daily personal assistance.
  1. Five percent of kids 5-17 have disabilities; 10 percent ages 18-64
  2. 3.6 million people use wheelchairs

Because so many prefer to avoid discussion of the inevitable of potential accidents, future medical diagnosis of a family member or natural aging, DeLuca suggests interior designers and architects slip in many of the proven precautionary options as a matter of course. Much can be done seamlessly without giving a doomsday speech. So while at first I thought poorly of this approach, it has grown on me. Your thoughts?


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12 Responses to “Service of Living in Place Even If You Don’t Want To Think About It”

  1. Martha Takayama Said:

    This is a brilliant posting! The designer and the article cover a multitude of very salient points that any adult should bear in mind. It does so with sensitivity acknowledging the hesitations, inhibitions and failure to take these issues into account many us have.

    My large condo building has a certain number of designated handicap units with the differences most evident in access from the hall and the bathroom layouts. This may be a result of the nature of the financing the developer obtained. A friend’s daughter is working closely and painstakingly with a carpenter renovating a newly purchased house to adequately allow for movement since she requires a power wheel chair most of the time. Calling attention to these ideas provides a major service to just about anyone selecting, designing, or renovating a home.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That’s what I thought. I was torn between “Too much information here” and “this was all interesting to me so why not share?” It might help out someone which is the point.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    As one ages, one becomes more aware of the process.

    As a young designer I used to specify type size very small. The older I got, the larger the fonts did as well!

    Stairs? Ever notice, and I know you have, how many more buildings and shops have ramps now? The Riverdale section of the Bronx now has ramps for almost every store. Steps? Stairs? A thing of the past?

    If we’re lucky, we get older, but it certainly isn’t fun!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love your font example. And as to your comment re “It isn’t fun,” as my mom used to say, “it’s better than the alternative.”

    It may very well be that the ramps are a requirement of the city when a building undergoes major remodeling. I notice that 98 percent of all people entering the large apartment building in which we live use the ramp. It’s as handy for people with baby carriages and dragging groceries in a cart as for those who dislike stairs.

    I think the city is more forgiving for older people than those in suburbs or country where it’s essential to be able to drive. Folks can get around on public transportation as never before. There are elevators at some subway stops and most busses accommodate wheelchairs: A wonderful development. Not everyone can afford cabs and car services.

  5. Dawn DeLuca, AKBD CLIPP CAPS Said:


    Wow, thank you for such an in depth post! It’s gratifying to know you found value in the information we shared. My business partner Barbara Roth and I work diligently to bring accessible design into as many projects as we can.

    Also, the Living in Place Institute offers an incredible certification course for Living in Place. It is a certification geared to Designers, Architects, Contractors, Occupational Therapists and Real Estate Professionals. NKBA Manhattan is Sponsoring a class on Nov 2nd & 3rd in NYC. Details here:

    Here are some information sources:

    Thanks again!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Avoidance is one of my many faults and I trust I’m not alone. Yet when spending money to remodel or build a house or update an apartment it just makes sense to include accessories and details that make the spaces and appliances appropriate for any number of future residents regardless of age, health or flexibility. While we might all like to remain robust and 35–male or female–we can’t expect to do so forever therefore to hold up a person of this age as the model for such jobs makes no sense.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Bad things happen to anyone, and the sooner one understands that, the better it is for everyone concerned. Society realizes this to a greater degree than in the past, so many apartment buildings as well as private residences and public places are made to accommodate the disabled. Unfortunately some go overboard, such as the local Target store whose parking lot explodes with hundreds of empty handicapped spots, leaving everyone else to spend unnecessary time to reach the store.

    As an older person, I appreciate the efforts made to make life easier, however, the world should not be turned upside down for the elderly and/or the disabled. The 35 year old also has rights, and the house designed for him in mind, fits just about everyone, as long as adjustments can me made in the event misfortune strikes.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The local Target store’s manager isn’t paying attention, unless there are regulations in your town about the numbers of spots for disabled people that must be reserved.

    Sure the 35 year old has rights, but he/she won’t mind a door handle that doesn’t catch a pants pocket and rip it [which the ones with returns won’t do]; won’t notice that there is or isn’t an electrical outlet at the top and bottom of the stairs and if sloppy and/or in a rush, will welcome lights in pullout kitchen cabinets.

  9. JS Said:

    Sixteen years ago when we bought our townhouse, we thought we’d be able to live here for the rest of our lives. Everything we need is on one floor (there is a loft level with a bedroom, bathroom and office, too) but kitchen, master bedroom, large living/dining/four-season porch area are on one level. There’s a crawl space that we use for storage. Now that my husband is handicapped (a broken hip and two minor strokes), I’m not sure how long he will be able to stay or for that matter I will be able to stay. He uses a walker now, sometimes a wheelchair. Should he need a wheelchair all the time, we’d have to reconsider. (That might mean a move to a care center since he is having cognitive issues, too.) At any rate, we moved from a four-level split because of concerns about my back. I can still go upstairs, but he certainly can’t and I would have had to move five years ago without any help from him. This makes it easier for both of us but especially for him, and we didn’t know his issues were even in the picture. (He’s 82, I’m 76 so those issues arise for everyone.)

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    It’s about smart planning, JS and you surely were on top of your future. Kudos. Your experience also illustrates that we can’t control everything. With technology and all advancements we now enjoy some think–or hope–that they can. Dawn DeLuca’s statistics show otherwise. And other things, such as turns in the economy, also impact where people think they will live and how they will live for the rest of their lives. Bad example, perhaps, but I often wonder how Bernie Madoff’s wife is doing on $3,000/month.

  11. hb Said:

    I’d like you to know that your post, in all its common sense detail, has had a delayed reaction impact upon me. I now realize several things I had not thought through before.

    Somewhere, sometime during the 1950s, I read that almost all the millionaires who had made their fortune since the war had done so by investing in property. During those years some of which I lived in Washington, D.C., I found all around me tales of Georgetown houses bought for $10,000 and sold a decade or so later for $250,000, or of nearby Leesburg, VA, farms that had done even better. Being young and optimistic, I became convinced that the way I was going to make my fortune was by investing in property.

    As I’ve moved often, I’ve had plenty of chances not just to invest but also to buy and sell properties. With a couple of exceptions such as a Capitol Hill brownstone in the early 1960s, on which I doubled my investment in six months, and a landmarked Waterbury, Conn., brass factory, converted into old age apartments, that has now, 30 years later, turned into a modest cash cow mostly because of our crazy tax laws, I’ve lost money in real estate. There are many reasons for this, but a very important one, I now realize, is the one you describe. I did not think through when I bought a property whether or not its design features were adaptable and would have appeal to a future buyer five or ten or twenty years hence.

    Two specific “improvements” I made in one house I bought come to mind as small examples of such shoddy thinking:

    I love big fireplaces with roaring fires. They may be inefficient, a fire hazard and maintenance intense, but they are romantic. In an era of energy self-sufficiency being a positive goal, efficient wood stoves are now “in” for heating; fireplaces are “out.” When I spent a lot of money rebuilding the fireplace and chimney, I made no provision for its eventual conversion to a functional wood stove heater. Now, I’m not sure it is even possible.

    I’ve always liked shiny brass window fixtures, and when I upgraded the windows to expensive custom wooden Marvin six over six sashes, I replaced the plastic latches that came with them with brass ones. It was fine to upgrade the windows, but I never thought that a prospective buyer might see all that brass and think, “Uh-oh, that is one more thing which has to be maintained!” Besides, brass fixtures which look great in old fashioned New England homes don’t necessarily work in a 20th century ranch.

    You should have written this post fifty years, but, of course, you weren’t old enough to write then. Thanks.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It sounds as though you are blaming yourself for adding details that you enjoy which is silly. It’s your house and something like a window lock isn’t going to turn off a future buyer.

    I lived in an apartment with two bathrooms. When I bought the place there was a sink in one of the bedrooms that had to be removed. The person who did this suggested I let him break through the wall from that bedroom to the next-door bathroom. I refused as this would not improve my life but it would serve to indicate that the bedroom was the master and I didn’t want to inflict such a decision on future buyers. That said, like JS, at the time I bought the apartment I adored I thought I’d live in it until dragged out feet first, but life happens and I haven’t lived there for years.

    What I find strange is that every real estate agent I’ve met has warned me not to remodel a kitchen just before selling a house or apartment as 10 times out of 10, the buyer will rip it all out and start again so it’s a waste of money. Makes sense. But I’ve also noticed that people looking at houses or apartments to buy SAY they don’t want to do any work and reject a property unless it has the newest or latest. So what’s the story?

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