I've been doing a lot of traveling lately, seeing family and friends. I've also been working with lots of new clients on various projects. This means I've been in a lot of other people's homes and seen different ways of living. One thing we all have in common, despite our differences, is that we all will age. How will our homes respond?

Some things to think about:

  • How will you get into your house if you become disabled, or are simply too weak to climb stairs? Remember, this can be the result of age, or of something temporary like an injury or surgery.
  • How will you get to the bathroom and bedroom if you can't climb stairs? What about the laundry?
  • Would your kitchen and bathroom accommodate you if you needed extra space--for a wheelchair, for example?

Don't let your living room floor become your bedroom!

When designing a new building or large-scale renovation, these things are pretty easy to work out, assuming you take the time to think about them. You could set your first floor at ground level, so that there are no stairs at the front door. Alternatively, you could set aside an area that could accommodate a ramp in the future. Inside, you could leave a space for the future installation of an elevator, or you could put a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. Another idea is to leave accommodations in place for the future conversion of a first-floor room if needed. The kitchen can be laid out in a way that accommodates everyone.

It's tougher when you're working in a tight space in an existing home. You may need to get creative, or use less-than-optimal solutions. On a narrow row house, for example, you may need to use a chair lift instead of a ramp. In the kitchen, you may need to give up some cabinet space to give yourself room to maneuver.

Part of what an architect does is figure out solutions to tricky problems. Many situations require creative thinking in order to find answers that aren't obvious. This is especially useful with a small renovation, but it's also important to have a strategy for new construction. It would be a shame to design and build your dream house, only to be forced out of it when you're older!

So, what have you seen people do to help their home work for them? What have you done?