aging in place, in style
recently, I was working with a woman and her designer to design a custom bath. once we got to the shower fixtures, everything essentially fell to sh!t when we started discussing whether or not the client would like a slide-rail for her hand shower. the client didn’t see the purpose; the hand shower, after all, would just be used for cleaning and a simple elbow would do. the designer on the other hand, brought it up: aging in place. “you’re getting up there, and you’ll want to have something to grab onto in the shower.” (pro-tip: slide rails =/= grab rails) needless to say, it wasn’t the most pleasant consult I’ve ever had. the client, in her early 50’s, insisted she’d be out of the house well before she would be in need of a grab rail, and that it was highly unnecessary. “they just make the house look ‘elderly’.”
from a design pov, I would ague otherwise, but it got me thinking about the ever-popular aging-in-place style, and how many clients I work with, usually in their early to mid 50’s, that do want to start considering an aging-in-place lifestyle, but are concerned about their home looking like an assisted living facility. contrary to many a popular belief, there are so many interior hacks that can be used for safety that look amazing, and would never be recognized as an ada failsafe to the naked eye. read on to learn how to age in place, in style!
not only are curbless showers one of the trendiest styles in bath design right now, they’re one of the most important for aging-in-place consideration. a no-threshold, barrier-free shower is so sleek in appearance and is uber practical. don’t let your contractor talk you out of this one due to price or installation constraints, either - curbless showers are exceptionally easy to install with pre-fab pans that are installed straight into the top layer of your subfloor, at a cost comparable to virtually any shower system.
there are so many opportunities for beautiful grab rails on the market, and I try to sell these to anyone doing a bath remodel regardless of age. a bathroom/shower is literally a room filled with water and steam and there is no place in your home that you’re more prone to falling. why wouldn’t you want some beautiful, sleek rail to add some beauty and practicality? especially if you’re doing a unique finish, these are SUCH a fantastic opportunity add a touch throughout the room.
I am so obsessed with consoles right now, and the opportunities are endless. no pun intended, the look is timeless. if you’re concerned about losing storage in your vanity, go for some built-ins along the sides or in another part of the space.
hand showers / slide rails
I rarely find that any client of any age doesn’t want a hand shower in their shower, and when presented with the option of a slide rail, more than half of the time they go for it. not only is it practical for an aging-in-place scenario, hand showers on slide rails make for a dope showering experience; it essentially functions as a secondary shower head or body spray. regardless of aip purposes, consider cleanability when adding a hand shower; just spray the shower down after each use and you’re done. more often than not, clients really want these as dog showers, too. food for thought.
this should go without saying, but is worth a mention. too many times have I had clients bring in this floor that they just love and are dousing their entire bath in it; floor, wall, ceiling. only after they’ve purchased do they realize that it’s not rated for wet locations. a wet location rating is important for not only the integrity of the material, but also for the safety of the bather.
okay, so this one doesn’t sound so glamorous, but it’s surprisingly easy and logical. when you’re choosing fixtures, be sure that you’re choosing those with the appropriate controls. the handles, basically, should be accessible to those with a brittle grip. think of it this way; if you would have an issue using it with soapy hands, it’s prob not the best for an aging-in-place home. it’s also prob just not the best in general, because you’re going to have soapy hands when you use said fixtures regardless of age, and you’ll get real sick of that circular knob that looked neat in the store real fast once you realize you can’t operate it for sh!t. keep a look out for cross and lever handles, basically.
comfort height toilets
check out our guide to toilets, which is super comprehensive and provides some pretty valuable info. in summation, there are three heights of toilets: class, comfort/chair height, and custom. when it comes to ada/aging in place toilet heights, you’ll generally be best suited with the highest toilet you can find, and this is going to come in the form of a wall-mounted toilet. don’t fret, these can hold (officially) 800lbs, but that’s a minimum, cover-your-ass legal claim (they can hold a lot more, if you’ll ever encounter the need). they also are super easy to clean and maintain. don’t disregard it!
generally when someone is at the age they start considering aging-in-place design, they’re not ready to succumb completely to seniority; this is mostly a failsafe and a justification for a remodel later in life. I find this primarily manifests when it comes to the bath. for a custom bath remodel, many aren’t willing to sacrifice a tub, and understandably so. bathing grandkids, wanting to soak, etc., yo - you’re still young! for this situation, I recommend going with a drop-in (or under-mount) tub. these tubs will allow for a customizable tub-deck, which will give you the opportunity to create benches, steps, or whatever you feel will be the best for you as the years go on.
I’m going to be blunt here: the majority of those over the age of 40 at this point are afraid of technology. hell, these days, I’m afraid of technology. however, technology in the bath is evolving, evolving fast, and evolving in crazy ways. for an aging-in-place bath, smart bathing technology should be something utilized by those looking for convenience in their senior years. with the ability to turn on your ideal, customized shower with a voice command, it’s the perfect solution to operating “too many knobs and do-dads.” I’ve mentioned this in many posts before, but kohler’s konnect system is voice activated, and will give you the ability to turn your shower on with your voice, operate your toilet, make memos on your mirror while you’re getting ready, fill your tub, etc. for the elderly to maintain complete control of their life without sacrificing style, this is a fantastic option. sure, it may take some guidance and a few tutorials by some grandkids, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing like being your grandparents’ favorite. (hi grandma! hi grandpa!)
when it comes down to it, aging-in-place style is both a need and a want for many, but so many are willing to just succumb to the hospital-looking fixtures they’re used to seeing. don’t fall victim to a hospital in your own home when you can revel in beautiful interior style, well into your later days!
x - mk