You live in your own house, but it was designed for a different stage in your life. You’re growing older, it’s less easy to maneuver, harder to navigate the stairs, the doors, the bathroom.
Your children have left the nest and you need less space on a day to day basis, but you want your home to remain your own, your children (and grandchildren) to have a place to stay when they come to visit, and you want to remain in the neighborhood that you’ve lived in for years.
Your parents need a place to stay—for a visit or long term—and your home just isn’t practical—there’s no easy entrance, there’s no bathroom on the ground floor and there are too many stairs.
You or your loved one suddenly needs a more accessible home—a room for a carer, wider doors for a wheelchair, support rails by the stairs or an elevator.
There are so many reasons that we are going to need a fully accessible house at one time or another that it’s hard to imagine why we don’t think of it from the outset. Are we young and carefree? In denial? Do we think it will happen to someone else? Or do we just not think about it until it’s too late?
I have so many projects right now that are based around this one simple principle —how do we make our home an easier place to live in when things are not the way they always have been?
Designing from scratch
The first and best way to design for accessibility is to design right from the get go,as much as possible. Getting the major components of the house onto one accessible level, or incorporating an elevator into the design, will allow us ease of use through all phases of life and many changing conditions.
Major concerns are parking, entrance, width of halls, doors and rooms, bathrooms designed for accessibility, contrasting colors at changes in level (like stairs) for failing eyesight, and many more.
Using what you’ve got
Of course, most of us already live in our homes before we think of these things, and don’t want to (or are unable to) move when the need arises. So, we need to look at the best ways to adjust the existing situation.
Reviewing your existing home’s layout, an architect can assess the adjustments required to make it more accessible—basically more user-friendly for a new kind of user.
If difficulty arises requiring the use of a wheelchair, often your house will need wider doors than it currently has, redesigned bathrooms to allow for the turning radius of a wheelchair, switching out a tub for a sitting tub with a door or a shower with a level floor and changing out a vanity to a sink with space underneath for your knees.
At the same time, additional support rails at key points in the house will make getting up and down easier, while adjusting counter heights can make kitchens and work benches usable.
If the trouble involves a walker, the changes may be less significant, but need to be no less well thought out.
If you need a live-in or daytime carer in your house, you’ll need to create an appropriate place for them, as well as ensuring privacy for both yourself and them.
Bringing together the most important functions
What happens when you want to stay where you are, but some of the house simply becomes inaccessible to you? What if you live in a multistory house but an elevator or chair lift is not achievable for you? Or what if you are planning your house now but don’t want to limit yourself to one floor?
It’s important to recognize and prioritize those parts of the house that everyone must get to, and those that can be more peripheral. When designing a new house for families, I try to make sure that living, dining, kitchen, laundry and master bedroom are all on the main floor. Additional bedrooms, bathrooms, studies or family spaces can be on other floors and not be a major obstacle if circumstances change down the road.
Often, people come to me with the desire to allocate part of their home as a separate, independent living space for their parents to come and live in, to be in their own space but near enough to be easy to assist when necessary. Redesigning an existing home or an addition to one that allows for this is often a solution that makes sense for all involved—the parents who want to maintain their independence and dignity, the children who want to be there for them and even the siblings who want to help out and know that this solution will make it easier for everyone to do so.
Miles Hartog was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, with a short spell in the UK. He started his architecture degree in Sydney and completed it in Israel at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Miles has been working in the field of architecture in Israel and overseas since 1992. His 25 years of experience has provided Miles with an extremely broad palette for design and problem solving, which he now applies to every project–large or small. Miles can be reached at 054-436-4492 or through his website www.mileshartog.com.