How do you create a forever home?
Since it’s the last house the owner plans to own, any remodeling project intended to live up to that objective should be carefully considered.
Scott Rappe thinks about forever homes a lot.
As the principal of Chicago-based Kuklinski+Rappe, the AIA and LEED AP architect leads a team of four designers that are frequently asked to answer the “forever question” on behalf of area homeowners.
The topic can be a sensitive one. It usually starts with an initial conversation that may have little to do with design and a lot to do with lifestyle and personal outlook.
“It’s usually a frank talk,” says Rappe. “We’ll chat about their lifestyle and how they see themselves using the house. I invite them to share their thoughts about any health concerns. I find those issues generally come up pretty early. Many times our approach to accessibility already anticipates their questions. Accessibility is integrated into our practice.”
What does Rappe advise home remodelers and replacement contactors to think about when the question of universal design comes up? Here, his top five ideas to consider:
- Uniform Lighting. Rappe says some remodelers think simply adding more lighting is the answer. “The best way to light something, especially for older people, is to minimize contrast,” says Rappe. “You don’t want one area bright and another area in shadow. Make sure the light is bright and uniform.” He says his team often specifies adjustable can lights. That allows the owner to tailor lighting to their preference, which may change over the years.
- Shower Convenience. Handrails, of course, are expected. That’s why blocking (short piece of 2x4 installed between the studs) behind the drywall is always specified in shower redo’s. “Hand sprays that can slide up or down a bar or detach are another helpful thing. We also specify a lot of fold-down seats, especially if blocking is present. Stainless steel seats are very attractive and fold-up flat against the wall. Make sure the hand spray is within easy reach of the seat,” suggests the architect.
- Abundant Daylight. A view to the outdoors is critical according to Rappe. He recommends two or three locations within the house that offer different visual experiences. Rappe’s team likes to specify push-out casement windows from Marvin Windows and Doors with a retractable screen. The push-out feature makes the window easier to open and adjust for hands with limited dexterity. The retractable screen presents a more attractive view when the window is closed.
- Low-Profile Doorway Sills. “The homeowner should be able to go outside with a minimum amount of interference and risk,” observes Rappe. “A low profile sill on a patio sliding door reduces a fall hazard or obstacle to a wheelchair or walker. Rappe singles-out Marvin Windows and Doors for their low-profile sill option on several sliding door models.
- Wider Doorways and Halls. “It’s a little more difficult in an existing home, it just depends if you’re doing a gut-rehab or upgrading interior finishes. Expanding doorways and halls makes it easier for 180-degree turns in a wheelchair or walker,” Rappe says. “Adding four inches to doorways, for example, makes a world of difference,” says Rappe.
No home remodeling project can anticipate every future need. However, with careful listening and planning, a forever home can successfully live up to its name for owners of all ages.